Alvin H. Levin

Journalism teacher and model trains enthusiast also worked as wedding, portrait photographer

March 06, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Alvin H. Levin, a retired Pikesville photographer and teacher who enjoyed collecting vintage trains and toys, died Sunday from complications of Parkinson's disease at a hospice in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 86.

Mr. Levin was born in Baltimore and raised in Hollins Street, where his grandmother was a neighbor of newspaperman and author H.L. Mencken.

After graduating from City College, Mr. Levin earned a bachelor's degree in 1943 from what was then Western Maryland College and a master's degree in education in 1951 from Arizona State University.

Mr. Levin began his teaching career at Garrison Junior High School and later at Polytechnic Institute before moving in 1946 to Phoenix, Ariz.

From 1946 to 1952, he taught English and journalism at Glendale (Ariz.) Union High School, while also contributing articles and photography to the Arizona Republic newspaper.

"He was the best in the world, and I never let go of him after I graduated in 1952," said Eva M. Magnus, a retired American Airlines stewardess, who lives in Seal Beach, Calif.

"He directed and mentored so many lives during his mere six years at Glendale Union High School," said Mrs. Magnus, who writes and edits a newsletter for her high school class.

"George Ridge went on to become dean of the journalism school at the University of Arizona, and Jerry Jacka, and his wife, Lois, became an award-winning photographer and writer team, whose work was published for years in Arizona Highways."

Mrs. Magnus had kept in touch with Mr. Levin for the past 57 years.

"We loved and respected him so much that we anointed him, 'Sir' Levin. He grinned and liked it," she said.

Dr. Ridge credits his professional success to Mr. Levin's journalism class.

"If I hadn't taken those classes back in high school, I don't think I would have been considered for the copy boy job on the Arizona Republic in 1952. Six months later, they made me a cub reporter," Dr. Ridge said yesterday. He is retired from the University of Arizona and works as a newspaper consultant.

"He started me on my career in journalism, and I never left. He was a great and an inspirational teacher," he said.

In 2004, Mr. Levin was inducted into the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association's Distinguished Adviser Hall of Fame as "a true Arizona pioneer in the field of teaching journalism."

Mr. Levin returned to Baltimore in 1952 and for the next three decades worked as a wedding and portrait photographer until retiring in 1982.

He also enjoyed writing freelance newspaper articles and in the wake of the 1990 controversy surrounding the publication of H.L. Mencken's diaries, reflected on the writer's anti-Semitism and bigotry.

In an article published in The Evening Sun, Mr. Levin wrote that the diaries "stirred powerful emotions in me. Anguish, outrage and sadness were replaced in turn by puzzlement. ... We were the Jews on Mencken's block."

He added: "I didn't think that my family being there annoyed him - he seemed to like us. And we revered him. We didn't suspect the hidden side so arrogantly revealed in the diaries. The duplicity hurts."

Mr. Levin was a noted collector of pre-World War II Lionel and Ives electric trains as well as Marklin mechanical toys.

He also had a layout in the basement of his Pikesville home, where he liked operating his collection for family and visiting enthusiasts.

"He had hundreds and hundreds of engines and cars," said a daughter, Denyse Lieber of Fountain Hills, Ariz. "He liked his Lionel and Ives trains and Marklin toys because of their beauty and quality of workmanship."

Mr. Levin was a well-known dealer and appraiser of antique toys and trains, and served two terms as national president of the Train Collectors Association of America, an organization that has more than 25,000 members.

He also had a second home in Phoenix, Ariz., where he was an active member of the Desert Division of the Train Collectors Association of America

Mr. Levin participated in the organization's biannual shows that are held in York, Pa.

"Al and his wife, Selma, were fixtures at York for years. He was a real gentleman," said James A. Genthner, a Timonium model rail enthusiast. "I bought a nice old tin Lionel City station from him back in the early 1990s, at a train show in the Reese fire hall out near Westminster. I still have it."

Mr. Levin also collected gold commemorative half-dollars, lead figures and slot machines.

He was a member for more than 50 years of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Services were held yesterday.

Also surviving are his wife of 65 years, the former Selma Cooper; two other daughters, Marlene Levin of Baltimore and Lisbeth Levin of Bethesda; a brother, Harry Levin of Woodland Hills, Calif.; a sister, Marsha Poliakoff of Spartanburg, S.C.; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Vicki Levin Miller, died in 1998.

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