Nancy L. Bartenfelder

Farmer, school bus driver who became a skilled political campaigner after her son ran for office in Balto. County

April 03, 2010|By Jacques Kelly

Nancy L. Bartenfelder, a retired Baltimore County school bus driver and farmer who was recalled as a skilled political campaigner, died of complications from pneumonia Monday at Franklin Square Hospital Center. The Fullerton resident was 71.

"She was the counselor to everybody in the neighborhood," said her son, Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder. "Her politics were strictly grass-roots. She liked people, and she liked going door to door. Her theory was money does not elect you; people do."

Born Nancy Lee Wilson in Baltimore, she was raised in Reisterstown and Parkville. She attended St. Ursula's Parochial School and was a Parkville High School graduate.

She married Andrew Bartenfelder, a Baltimore County truck farmer, in 1955. The couple ran the family operation together. She also drove Baltimore County public school buses for decades, often on a vo-tech school route that took her from Towson to Chase or on routes along Harford and Belair roads.

She told her friends she knew it was time to retire from driving when she started transporting the grandchildren of her first students.

"She was a born worker," her son said. "She would drive a tractor and pick corn and tomatoes. We'd all be out in the fields, and she'd appear with a bucket of chicken. After a day at the market, we'd go home and pick until dark, then load the truck until 11 p.m. The next morning, she'd drive it to the market for another day's sales."

Mr. Bartenfelder said he and his parents sold their produce at the farmers' markets under the Jones Falls Expressway in downtown Baltimore and in Waverly, as well as from a roadside farm stand.

He said he was coming home from Ocean City after his 1978 college graduation when he told his parents that he had just filed to seek political office in what ultimately was an unsuccessful bid for a House of Delegates seat. He said his mother looked up from picking strawberries and said she did not send their only child to college so that he would go into farming and politics.

"My mother became my greatest campaigner," he said, recalling the fundraiser she put together in an old barn known as the Perry Hall Community Center. "She ran the whole thing."

He said that he lost that first bid for public office by a handful of votes, but she encouraged him to stay in the game. He went on to gain a House of Delegates seat and be elected to four terms on the Baltimore County Council.

"In the era when the political organizations were powerful and dominated by males, she was one of the few handful of women who demanded a lot of respect," said former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen. "Everybody knew Miss Nancy. She was one of the last of the great political activists of that era."

He said that candidates who needed votes in the eastern part of Baltimore County knew to "reach out" to her.

"She had a canny ability to work grass-roots politics," Mr. Rasmussen said. "She had a strong sense of politics. She was strongly opinionated, and she was clear where she stood. She was totally candid."

He said that "you never saw her making speeches," but she was good at getting the word out.

"Her endorsement was very effective," he said. "She could work a network."

Mr. Bartenfelder said that his mother was the family matriarch and that her four grandchildren were the center of her life.

A memorial service will be held at 6 p.m. April 22 at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 8420 Belair Road in Fullerton.

In addition to her son and grandchildren, survivors include a sister, Ann M. Rowe of Abingdon.

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