Ethel L. Sellman, Harford County French teacher, dies

Francophile enjoyed sharing her appreciation of French culture and food with students and friends

  • Ethel Sellman
Ethel Sellman
May 04, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ethel L. Sellman, a retired Harford County French teacher who was known for her elaborate dinners, died April 28 of complications from a stroke at her Aberdeen home.

She was 92.

Ethel Onetta Estelle Lauterbach was born in a Biddison Avenue rowhouse and later moved with her family in 1928 to Mount Airy, where her parents owned and operated Hillside Poultry Farm.

Mrs. Sellman was 14 when she graduated in 1933 from Mount Airy High School and enrolled at Western Maryland College, where she earned her bachelor's degree in 1937, majoring in French, algebra and social studies.

In 1968, Mrs. Sellman earned a master's degree in education from Western Maryland College, and a year later, studied French and Russian at the University of Toulouse in France.

Mrs. Sellman studied in the French School Immersion Program at Millersville State College in Pennsylvania and studied French at the University of Dijon in France in 1971. In 1973, she attended l'Universite Catholique de l'Ouest in Pau, France.

"I chose to become a teacher because it had always been my dream to teach. … That September I began my teaching career in Poolesville, Montgomery County, Maryland," Mrs. Sellman wrote in an autobiographical sketch. "I taught French, mathematics and social studies to high school children."

In 1939, she married Charles Griffith Sellman, who worked for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. He died in 1997.

The couple lived in Gaithersburg and Laurel before moving to Aberdeen in 1946. After raising her two daughters, Mrs. Sellman returned to the classroom in 1950 as a sixth-grade teacher, filling in for an ill colleague.

While Aberdeen High School was being built in 1953, Mrs. Sellman taught elementary students in a boarded-off area of the school. After the school building was completed and the elementary students were moved out, she stayed on teaching general mathematics and algebra to high school students.

In 1956, Mrs. Sellman began teaching French at Aberdeen High, and several years later presided over the installation of a language laboratory at the school. She also established the Aberdeen-L'Union Jumelage, an exchange program with an English teacher and her students in L'Union, France. She retired in 1979.

"We began twinning our students during their Easter break and our summer vacations. During the summers, I would take groups of students from my classes who were interested and able to afford a trip to France for two weeks," Mrs. Sellman wrote.

"During the French students' Easter, their teacher would bring her children to the United States for a week. Many friendships, fond memories and cultural understandings developed during these trips," she wrote.

"She was quite a gal. I've known thousands over the years in the field of education, and she was just exemplary. She put a lot of time into teaching French and in her classroom," said Alfonso A. Roberty, former Harford County schools superintendent, who retired in 1988.

"She was one of the most prominent ladies I've ever known in education. And she did a great deal outside of the classroom in the community," he said.

"I've known Ethel since 1948, when she came in as my substitute when I had to go to Baltimore one day. In those days, you had to get your own substitute," said Marita W. Watts, who later taught with Mrs. Sellman at Aberdeen High and retired in 1982 as supervisor of Harford County elementary schools.

"We developed a lifelong relationship, and she's my oldest and dearest friend. She was a good teacher, dependable and responsible. She took her job seriously and loved children," Mrs. Watts said. "She was extremely active school-wise and in the community."

She had been president and vice president of the Harford County Retired Teacher's Association and was a life member of the Maryland State Teachers Association, and National Education Association. In 2000, she was elected to the Harford County Public Schools Educators Hall of Fame.

While Mrs. Sellman was studying in France, she was able to indulge her secondary passion for French cooking by taking a number of culinary courses.

Invitations to one of her eight- or 10-course French dinners at her Aberdeen home were eagerly sought after, family members said.

"Her food was just wonderful and so delicious. She prepared such classic dishes as coquilles St. Jacques, boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin," said a daughter, Ethel Mae Sellman, who lives in Aberdeen. "And each course was beautifully placed on a tray and served with the appropriate wine."

To accommodate the preparation of such dinners, Ms. Sellman said, her parents added a larger kitchen to their Aberdeen home. She said her mother also kept a detailed file pertaining to her dinners, arranged flowers and set the tables.

Ms. Sellman said that her mother had honed her baking skills years before studying abroad in France.

"She wouldn't send a birthday card to her friends; she'd send a cake instead. Cakes were always going out of the door," Ms. Sellman said. "And at Christmastime, she'd start baking her cookies in November, and baked 25 different types of cookies."

Mrs. Sellman had been a member for 55 years of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary educational sorority, and had served as president, vice president and secretary of its local chapter.

She was a charter member in 1964 of the Aberdeen Lioness Club and later had served as the organization's president and treasurer for many years.

Several years ago, Mrs. Sellman was chosen an Aberdeen Treasure by the Aberdeen Heritage Association.

She was a communicant of St. John's Episcopal Church in Havre de Grace.

Services were Monday.

Also surviving are another daughter, Sally Anne Sellman Gomber of Annapolis; a sister, Beatrice Lauterbach Ward of Bel Air; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.

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