Esther 'Penny' Love, city guidance counselor

Guidance counselor was advocate for dyslexic and emotionally challenged students for nearly 40 years

  • Esther "Penny" Love
Esther "Penny" Love (Baltimore Sun )
September 21, 2012|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Esther "Penny" Love, a Baltimore public school guidance counselor for nearly 40 years who was an outspoken advocate for emotionally challenged and dyslexic students, died Monday of lung cancer at Sinai Hospital. She was 89.

Esther Shulman, whose parents owned a dry-goods store in the 2900 block of O'Donnell St., was born and raised in Canton. She graduated from Patterson High School in 1941.

The summer after graduating from high school, she took a job washing test tubes in the detection laboratory at Edgewood Arsenal, under the direction of Solomon "Sol" Love, and earned his ire when she dipped the wrong end of a pipette in bleach.

"He yelled out, 'Who washed this bottle?' " Mrs. Love told The Baltimore Sun in a 2009 interview. "That's when he knew I was alive."

Not long afterward, Dr. Love phoned his lab assistant and asked her out on a date.

"We went out and then he proceeded to tell me I wasn't his type. I was too short. I didn't drink and smoke. I was too prim and proper," she recalled in the interview.

After developing a case of jealousy when he heard her talking to another suitor on the phone, Dr. Love demanded that she come to Washington to meet his family.

"That's what I did, and then I married him" after a two-month engagement in 1943, she said.

While a student at Goucher College, where she received a full scholarship, Mrs. Love was employed by the old Baltimore City Welfare Department as a caseworker and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1944 with a triple major in economics, sociology and psychology.

She worked at the Red Cross family division during the remaining war years. After raising her family, she then went to work for city public schools in the late 1960s in early childhood education.

"I then applied for a job as a regular counselor in schools — they were so hard up for people — and said I could have a job if I got a master's degree," she wrote in an unpublished memoir.

In the early 1970s, Mrs. Love earned a master's degree in counseling psychology at the Johns Hopkins University. She worked as a guidance counselor at the Laurence G. Paquin School for expectant mothers, Jane Addams Vocational School, and then the William S. Baer School.

Mrs. Love found great satisfaction in working with special-education students and devoted her career to them.

She later joined the faculty of Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School, "where her office was a converted closet," said her daughter, Sharon Cole of Pikesville, a Baltimore public defender.

"Even though my mother's students were emotionally challenged, she was their biggest cheerleader. She believed that no one could predict what heights people were capable of achieving. She wanted to give them that chance," said Ms. Cole.

"Early in her career, she noticed there were many kids ... that were dyslexic, not emotionally challenged, and her advocacy led to changes in placements for kids with dyslexia," her daughter said.

"She developed a Success Store that was replicated in several other [low-achieving] schools in which students were given points for achieving targeted behaviors each day," said Ms. Cole. "Those points allowed them to purchase items at the store."

"I first met Penny at Jane Addams, where she was a counselor and I was a teacher," said Shirley Saxton, who retired in 1985 from what is now the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, where she had been a counselor.

"She was fantastic and had a gift working with disadvantaged children, and she chose to do so in inner-city public schools in economically depressed areas," said Mrs. Saxton.

"She gave back everything she could. It was her gift," said Mrs. Saxton. "She was a person who had a lot of choices but chose not to go. ... She could have had a less-challenging school, but that is not what she wanted."

When Mrs. Love was 80, she was assigned to the old Joseph C. Briscoe School for emotionally challenged and hearing-impaired students, where she remained until retiring in 2004.

"She was always rooting for people to have an interesting life," her daughter said.

Mrs. Love also taught graduate-level counseling psychology at Hopkins for 17 years.

She was a social liberal who was an advocate for civil rights. In 1946, she joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which picketed Ford's Theatre over their discriminatory seating policy.

"She was egged by hateful onlookers," her daughter said. "That had a profound impact on her. She was the only white member of the initial Martin Luther King Breakfast committee and sat on it for many years. She believed all people were equal, and that is how she lived her life."

The longtime Pikesville resident, who had lived in a Park Heights Avenue condominium in recent years, was an avid Orioles fan and a member of the Oriole Advocates from 1980 until her death. She also enjoyed playing bridge.

Her husband died in 2009.

Services were held Wednesday at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Love is survived by two sons, Dr. Neil H. Love of Miami and Mark E. Love of Lafayette, Colo.; a sister, Reta Sherman of Bel Air; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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