Elizabeth 'Betsy' Kahl

Grant writer for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services was also a Towson activist

February 18, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Elizabeth Z. "Betsy" Kahl, a longtime Towson community activist and grant manager for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, was found dead Feb. 8 in her home in Towson's Burkleigh Square neighborhood.

She was 73.

Mrs. Kahl suffered a fatal heart attack in her sleep, according to a son, Christian H. Kahl II of Berlin, Worcester County.

Elizabeth Zimmerman, the daughter of a Potomac Edison Co. accountant and a nurse, was born in Hagerstown and raised in Mercersburg, Pa.

After graduating from Buchanan High School in Mercersburg in 1954, she earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1958 from Hood College. She also earned a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Public Policy in 1994.

After graduating from Hood, Mrs. Kahl taught briefly in Baltimore public schools. After her 1959 marriage to Christian M. Kahl, an attorney who later became a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge, the couple settled in Towson, where she raised her two sons and began her activism.

Mrs. Kahl was a member of the Baltimore County Senior Centers Board and chairman of Bykota House when Dale Anderson, then Baltimore County's executive, appointed her to the Baltimore County Commission on Aging in 1973.

Also, during the late 1970s, Mrs. Kahl was PTA president at Towson Elementary School and an active member of the PTA at Towsontown Junior High School.

From 1978 to 1982, Mrs. Kahl served as legislative aide to then-Baltimore County Councilwoman Barbara F. Bachur, a Democrat.

"Betsy's roots in community service go back to Towson Elementary School PTA, where she was a member of the executive board. She also was responsible for bringing after-school child care to Towson. This was back during the 1970s," Ms. Bachur said.

"When Betsy was working with me, no job was too big or too small. She was very flexible and a very special person," Ms. Bachur said.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mrs. Kahl was director of the Liberty Road family resource center.

"Those centers were later dismantled during the administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden, and Betsy came to me in 1993 as our grant writer," said Maureen Robinson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services and a friend of Mrs. Kahl's for nearly 40 years.

"She also led us through one of our accreditation processes and supervised the family violence unit. She was such a dedicated worker and had a graciousness about her," Ms. Robinson said.

In her work as grants manager, Mrs. Kahl was a "hard worker who was detail-oriented, understood budgets and [was] determined to get it in on time," Ms. Robinson said. "Whenever you went into her office and asked her for something, she could immediately put her fingers on it."

She added: "Betsy was responsible for driving straight through the process with great authority, and I always admired her love of people and the work of our department."

In addition to her regular work, Mrs. Kahl worked as a community activist.

She was a founding member and had served as president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations from 1999 to 2000, and in recent years had been the organization's vice president.

Since 2006, she had been a member of the steering committee of Tomorrow's Towson, a nonprofit group that was established that year to facilitate the Urban Design Assistance Team, a group affiliated with the American Institute of Architects, in creating a vision for Towson.

"Betsy worked with other community representatives, county officials, business and development groups to create a plan for the redevelopment of the business core of Towson," Ms. Bachur recalled.

"She believed in the strength of communities and community services. That was very important to her, and she worked wholeheartedly for it," she said.

For the past four years, Mrs. Kahl was an active member of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations' University Relations Committee, which was made up of community representatives, Towson University and county officials to address and find solutions for problems regarding students living in nearby neighborhoods.

For nearly a decade until 2008, Mrs. Kahl had been president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association, where she worked with adjacent neighborhoods to reach an agreement on a proposed development north of Burkleigh Square.

"To begin with, Betsy loved neighborhoods, and she was someone you could always go to. She was an excellent sounding board when it came to proposed development. She could look at both sides. She really was rock-solid," said Nancy Horst, a longtime Ruxton-Riderwood community activist and a member of Tomorrow's Towson.

"She put her whole heart and soul into everything she did. She always followed through with great integrity, and we're really going to miss her," Mrs. Horst said.

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