Adelaide Rackemann

Former Pratt Librarian Who Wrote Articles For The Evening Sun Enjoyed Tending To Animals And Watching Birds

July 30, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Adelaide C. Rackemann, a former librarian who was also a poet, conservationist, horticulturist, bird watcher and a freelance writer, died Sunday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center after suffering a fall at her Bare Hills home. She was 86.

Adelaide Hardcastle Crawley, the daughter of a lawyer and a homemaker, was born in New York City and raised in Port Washington, N.Y.

After graduating from Port Washington High School in 1941, she earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Wellesley College in 1945.

Mrs. Rackemann came to Baltimore in 1951 to work as a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library after earning a master's degree in library science from Columbia University.

In 1957, she married Francis Minot Rackemann Jr., an Evening Sun reporter who later became the newspaper's garden columnist and feature writer.

Four years later, the couple moved to a three-story clapboard house that was built in the 1880s on Lake Roland's south shore, in a hilly wooded area that borders Robert E. Lee Park.

They named their home Copper Hill Farm, and through the years they raised Sicilian donkeys, goats, chickens and vegetables.

In addition to being a prolific contributor to The Evening Sun's op-ed page, Mrs. Rackemann also contributed music reviews and was the author during the 1970s and 1980s of the "Friday Book Review," which was later moved to Mondays.

She also wrote travel features and in 1975, her cookbook, Culinary Treasures, was published.

Sarah Fenno Lord, a longtime friend and neighbor, recalled meeting Mrs. Rackemann for the first time after moving to the neighborhood.

"It was over a fence, and she was handing me a fresh pecan pie that she had baked," said Ms. Lord, a writer and community activist who now lives in Bolton Hill. "She was a generous friend, an amused, indomitable, kind spirit."

The two friends shared a mutual interest in environmental, horticultural and neighborhood issues. They both enjoyed swapping information about gardening, cooking and farming.

"Adelaide was a leader of early-morning bird walks around Lake Roland, was good at tennis, bridge, canoeing, needlepoint, gardening, of course, and cooking," Ms. Lord said.

For years, Mrs. Rackemann had been a member and on the board of Cylburn Arboretum Association, where earlier she had been the organization's librarian.

She was also a longtime member of the Baltimore City Forest Conservancy District Board and the Baltimore Bird Club.

Her husband died in 1996, and in 2000, Mrs. Rackemann moved from her home of 40 years to a new one-floor house that had been designed by Ed Hord, a neighbor and architect, and built just 100 yards away from her former residence.

In her new home, Mrs. Rackemann continued writing and following her usual routine of exercising and walking the Robert E. Lee Park loop road accompanied by her black dog, Lady.

"She didn't go the distances she used to go and often carried a cane, but she was still a strong lady," said Chala Sadiki, who lives in Mrs. Rackemann's former home.

"Adelaide refused to learn how to use a computer. She wouldn't hear of it and continued using a typewriter. Then she just wrote her articles in longhand," Ms. Sadiki said.

Mrs. Rackemann had been writing an article for the forest conservancy board newsletter the day she suffered her fatal fall.

"On Saturday morning, she followed her usual routine of reading the newspaper on her terrace, with her dog by her side, and then going for a swim in her pool. She swam every day in the warm weather months," said her niece, Sally Williams, of Philadelphia.

A lifelong Democrat, Mrs. Rackemann was proud that she had cut her political teeth as a campaign worker during Adlai E. Stevenson's 1952 presidential campaign.

"She was an uncompromising democrat - small and large D," Ms. Lord said. "She was among the very first volunteers to walk into [Barack] Obama's Maryland campaign office the minute it opened up."

Recalling her friend's robust life, Ms. Lord said: "She tutored in literacy programs, gave money to the homeless, took in stray dogs and cats, enjoyed a puckish turn of phrase, hated bad grammar, was annoyed by high-handedness, loved the Baltimore Opera and disliked modern-dress Shakespeare."

Mrs. Rackemann willed her body to the Anatomy Board of Maryland. Plans for a memorial service to be held in September were incomplete Wednesday.

Also surviving are a sister, Janet C. Williams of Sharon, Conn.; a nephew; and a grandniece.

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