Mildred K. Sheff

No-nonsense Latin Teacher At City College Drilled Future Leaders And Was Active In Promoting Liberal Causes

November 07, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Mildred K. Sheff, who for more than two decades made sure that City College Latin students thoroughly knew their declensions and conjugations, died Oct. 30 of a stroke at Atrium Village, an Owings Mills assisted-living facility. She was 96.

Mildred Katz, the daughter of a candy manufacturer and homemaker, was born at home on Gough Street in Fells Point.

She later moved to Forest Park with her family and graduated in 1930 from Forest Park High School. She was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Goucher College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1934 in the classics.

Mrs. Sheff began her teaching career the next year at Garrison Junior High School and in 1946 earned a master's degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mrs. Sheff joined the City College faculty in 1947, and for the next 26 years taught Latin. She retired in 1973. Near the end of her career, she also taught French and history.

Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, now dean of the Howard University School of Law, was one of Mrs. Sheff's students his freshman year at City.

"Oh my, ninth grade was a very, very long year for me because I didn't share Mrs. Sheff's enthusiasm for 'Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars,' " he said with a laugh.

"She was very old-school and an outstanding teacher, however, I would describe her as lovingly terrifying," Mr. Schmoke said. "She was one of my teachers that I came to appreciate the further I got away from her."

He recalled that Mrs. Sheff "always gave me high marks for character and low marks for Latin."

Mr. Schmoke also said that "she was a big supporter of mine when I was in the state's attorney's office. She was always talking me up."

During his years as mayor, Mr. Schmoke would often meet his former teacher at public meetings.

"I remember meeting her for the first time at a community meeting in Northwest Baltimore, and my palms started sweating again," he said, laughing.

"I loved her, but boy, was she tough," said University of Maryland law professor Larry Gibson. "I had her my first year at City in 1956, and she taught the 'A' course students. There were also very few women teachers at City then.

"Mrs. Sheff had fiery red hair and a smile that she tried to hide. She was always trying to look stern, but her sparking eyes gave her away," he said.

"It was also Mrs. Sheff who gave me the lowest grade I ever got at City. It was during my first semester. I later turned it around by just studying more," said Mr. Gibson, who graduated in 1960.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg studied Latin with Mrs. Sheff for two years.

"I had family members who had gone before me and said that Mrs. Sheff was part of their City College experience, and she became an essential part of my City College experience," said Mr. Rosenberg, who graduated from City in 1968.

"When you were in the 'A' course, you had to take Latin for two years, and the third year was just too tough for me. I had to screw up my courage to tell her that I was dropping out, but she didn't hold it against me," he said.

Mr. Rosenberg recalled that there was "no nonsense in Mrs. Sheff's class."

"Listen, I had a cousin who told me he had left out a comma in a translation, and Mrs. Sheff gave him a zero," Mr. Rosenberg said.

Mr. Rosenberg saw Mrs. Sheff often in recent years because she lived in the same Pikesville condominium complex as his parents.

Mr. Rosenberg said he was visiting his parents last week, before he learned of Mrs. Sheff's death, when a Latin question came up in a crossword puzzle.

"I said, 'Let's ask Mrs. Sheff,' " Mr. Rosenberg said.

Mrs. Sheff was an active volunteer and "very political and into many liberal causes, including abortion rights," said her son, Ronald B. Sheff of Roland Park.

A lifelong Democrat, Mrs. Sheff was an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women, and the Edward A. Myerberg Senior Center.

"I'd see her in Annapolis, where she was active in pro-choice issues," Mr. Rosenberg said. "She brought the same passion and intelligence to public issues that she had to her classroom and boys at City."

Mrs. Sheff was a longtime member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and its Sisterhood. She was a life member of B'nai Brith Women and was also a member of Women of Reformed Judaism, Jewish Women International, Federation of Jewish Women's Organizations and The Associated.

Mrs. Sheff enjoyed attending City College reunions.

"She really hit the City College reunion circuit," said Ted Lingelbach, who edits the City College Alumni Association Newsletter. "I know she was there last year for the reunion of the Class of 1958 and this year for the Class of 1959."

Her husband of 50 years, Joseph A. Sheff, who taught at Polytechnic Institute, died in 1990.

Services were held Monday.

She is also survived by three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

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