Thelma G. Reagan

A food plant worker who enjoyed needlework, she was chosen to christen a Baltimore-built World War II ship

December 30, 2008|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Thelma G. Reagan, who christened a Baltimore-built tank landing ship during World War II, died of kidney failure Saturday at her daughter's Riderwood home. The longtime Rosedale resident was 96.

Born Thelma Conner in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown, she completed the eighth grade at Hampstead Hill Elementary School. As a young woman, she worked at the Crosse & Blackwell fancy foods plant. She worked in the production of mayonnaise.

She met her husband, John E. Reagan, a master machinist, at a dance in Patterson Park. They married in 1937.

During World War II, her husband was employed at the Maryland Drydock Co. and was a member of a labor-management production committee. He was part of the huge U.S. shipbuilding effort that would include a ceremony as a vessel was launched.

"My father's name was picked, and he selected his wife to do the honors of the launching," said Mrs. Reagan's daughter, Colleen MacDonald of Riderwood. "That day was talked about in the family for years. She told me, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Mrs. Reagan arrived in a fur-trimmed wool coat on Nov. 30, 1942, at the Fairfield shipyard to christen LST-419, a tank landing ship leased to the British Royal Navy. She was presented with a bouquet of roses and a Benrus wristwatch set with diamonds and rubies, family members said.

She launched the vessel by smashing a bottle of champagne against its hull. She was later presented with the remains of the bottle and a U.S. flag flown that day aboard the ship mounted inside a mahogany case. Her husband retired from the shipyard in 1975.

Mrs. Reagan raised two daughters and was a longtime member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Highlandtown.

"The secret of my mother's life was that she never drank, she never smoked and she never drove a car," said her daughter. "She walked everywhere. She walked to the grocery store. She walked to church."

She said that her mother insisted on climbing stairs and not using a chair lift when one was available.

"She did not deliberately walk for her health," her daughter said. "Good health came as a result of her walking."

Mrs. Reagan was also a busy needleworker. She knitted and crocheted dozens of baby blankets, afghans and sweaters, and antimacassars that were used on sofas and living room chairs in the 1940s. She and her husband remained active in dancing and took polka lessons. They danced at the Polish Home Social Club on Broadway.

Services were held yesterday in Rosedale.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Patricia Bentley of Catonsville; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1991.

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