Mary G. Oelke dies at age 89

She and her husband established a Dundalk weekly newspaper 41 years ago in the kitchen of their home

August 02, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Mary G. Oelke, longtime publisher and co-founder with her husband of the Dundalk Eagle, a weekly newspaper, died Friday of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 89.

Mary Georgina Jarboe was born the seventh of 11 children in Louisville, Ky. After graduating from Presentation Academy in 1938, she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago.

During World War II, she returned to Louisville where she riveted nose cones for C-76 Caravan cargo planes and C-46 Commando transport planes that were built at the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Corp.

Mrs. Oelke met her future husband, Kimbel E. Oelke, a Navy veteran and Louisville native who had grown up in Dundalk, on a blind date when he was visiting relatives in Louisville.

The couple married in 1946 and moved to Dundalk. Mr. Oelke returned to work as a reporter for the old Community Press, where he had started his newspaper career in 1937.

In 1952, they left Dundalk and moved to Ilchester, where they raised their 11 children. In 1966, the couple, who collected antiques, established Carriage House Antiques on Main Street in Ellicott City.

Mr. Oelke was later promoted to editor of the Community Press and the Eastern Beacon, which were eventually purchased by Stromberg Publications.

When Mr. Oelke complained in 1969 about the diminution of local coverage, he awakened one morning to see his name stripped off the paper's masthead and found out he had been demoted to advertising manager of the Essex Times, another of the chain's holdings.

Angry and disgruntled, and with a large family to care for, Mr. Oelke made the decision to launch his own newspaper.

Using proceeds from the sale of the Ellicott City building and savings, the couple used $20,000 to launch the Dundalk Eagle.

While her husband reported and wrote articles, Mrs. Oelke did page layout and pasteup work on her kitchen table.

The first issue of the tabloid rolled off the press on May 15, 1969, with its namesake logo designed and drawn by Mrs. Oelke. Its slogan was "Of the People, By the People, For the People."

Her husband's first bylined article was headlined: "Dundalk Now Has Its Own Paper."

"It was amazing," Mrs. Oelke said in an online history of the newspaper. "We didn't expect the newspaper to take off like it did. But we knew from the beginning it was going to go. There was a need."

"My mother was always the power behind the throne," said a daughter, Deborah I. Cornely of Dundalk, the paper's former managing editor who is now associate publisher.

In addition to her layout work, Mrs. Oelke helped with the subscriber labels and distribution and oversaw the newspaper's books.

Underscoring the newspaper's appeal, Mrs. Oelke said in the online history, "We ran all the stuff the Sunpapers wouldn't. The Sunpapers couldn't fool around with all that 'itsy-bitsy' stuff. We could."

Barbara E. Oelke, a daughter and a Monkton artist, recalled the newspaper as very much a family effort.

In the early 1970s, the couple moved to White Marsh, and since 1997 had lived in Dundalk.

The Dundalk Eagle's first editorial office was in the old Skyview Restaurant at 38 N. Dundalk Ave., and since 1980, it has been located in the former Dundalk courthouse on North Center Place.

"I used to work there as a proofreader and now I'm an artist, but I still go in once a week," said Ms. Oelke. "It was great in those early days — there was always something going on with the paper at the house. It really was a joy."

She said that her mother and father stressed and maintained a family atmosphere with their employees.

"The newspaper and its employees was their 12th child," she said.

When her husband died in 1998, Mrs. Oelke took over as publisher, a position she held until her death.

During her 12 years as publisher, she oversaw the acquisition of What's Happening, a monthly magazine, and served as its publisher.

"They were just a pleasure to work for. They were the kindest and most hardworking people I've ever known," said Stephanie M. Cooper, who has worked for the newspaper as a classified advertising representative for 21 years.

"They were always fair-minded and family-oriented," she said. "And I never saw Mrs. Oelke lose her temper because she just took everything in stride. We're really going to miss her."

"Though Mother suffered a debilitating stroke in 1996 and again in 2002 that took away her ability to express herself well, she remained sharp as a tack and insisted on coming to work regularly until her last hospitalization in May," Mrs. Cornely said.

Mrs. Oelke was an accomplished painter and enjoyed writing poetry.

She was a longtime communicant of St. Rita Roman Catholic Church, Dunleer Road, Dundalk, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Also surviving are three sons, Timothy W. Oelke of New Freedom, Pa., James A. Oelke of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Andrew P. Oelke of Leader Heights, Pa.; six other daughters, Kim E. Boone of Parkton, Elizabeth A. Conklin of Fawn Grove, Pa., Kerry A. Munafo of Whitehall, Mary Jane Oelke of White Marsh, Suzanne C. Oelke of Seattle and Amy K. Oelke of Seattle; 15 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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