Below is the second installment of our “9 Over 90” series in which Baltimore nonagenarians share their stories, challenges, and wisdom. Check out Part One from Monday, and be sure to come back for Part Three on Wednesday.
D.O.B. May 5, 1924; Baltimore, MD
Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University, B.F.A.
Career, present and past:
Baltimore’s internationally famous designer and jeweler, Betty Cooke comes into her Cross Keys store, The Store LTD, from her longtime Riderwood home six days a week. She lives independently in the house where she and her late husband, Bill Steinmetz, raised their son. “We lost our son when he was 28,” she says. Then in 2016, she lost her husband, but Cooke continues to do what she’s always done: make jewelry and run her store.
“My garden falls apart,” she says. “My store is my garden.” There she continues to design the jewelry and oversees each piece. As for other items at her store: clothing, leather goods, accessories, china, glassware, etc., Cooke curates each selection. “Good design is timeless,” says the 98-year-old, who herself seems timeless.
As a Girl Scout growing up in the Walbrook neighborhood of Baltimore City, Betty Cooke learned how to work with metal, wood, fabric and clay. “I stuck with metal.” After graduating from Western High School, she studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art in a joint program with Johns Hopkins University. She then taught for 22 years at the Institute, as it was called then. In one of her classes, “Design and Materials,” she met Bill Steinmetz. He was a veteran, and she was his teacher. They each had a small place on Tyson Street and began dating. After marrying in 1955, they set up a partnership, Cooke & Steinmetz Designers and Consultants. For an early project, Mishanton’s restaurant in East Baltimore, their style and modernist lines incorporated the avant-garde Bertoia and Eames furniture. They also designed 26 Fair Lanes bowling centers throughout the country, using their clean, colorful signature to elevate the spaces.
“We did this for 20 years, but we also painted and won awards in the Baltimore Museum of Art and Peale Museum shows. I was always doing the jewelry,” says Cooke.
In 1965 they moved their business to the new Village of Cross Keys, where The Store LTD was among the first shops to open. “I had known Jim Rouse [the developer]. He came into the Tyson Street store, and we’d done some detailing for him at Mondawmin [shopping mall] and design work on Talbot Town [an early Eastern Shore shopping center], as well as his Christmas cards.”
The jewelry collection Cooke designed for Rouse personally over decades became one of the largest commissioned bodies of her work. It was featured in “Betty Cooke: The Circle & the Line,” a 2021 Walters Art Museum retrospective. In addition to private collections worldwide, Cooke’s jewelry is in collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Cooper Hewitt, Cranbrook Art Museum, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Arts and Design, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Rhode Island School of Design Museum and The Walters Art Museum.
About her artistic contribution, Cooke says, “This kind of jewelry is special; you’d call it art jewelry. There is a personal relationship, and I’ve made so many people happy. Jewelry can do that. There are always more ideas, more approaches. It would be a pleasure to see it all come together.”
Key to the longevity of engagement:
I never think of stopping…. The people have been a big part of it. I wasn’t sure there was an end to me. There’s always a vision. Designs come to mind, and the act of design is important. It’s a very personal thing. It gives me great pleasure. When I see a piece come in on a young person, I’m happy. The fact that it has gone on for generations now, since the ‘40s … all of a sudden it’s a long time.
Current challenge: At my age, I just want to get everything finished that I want to do…a lot of new pieces. There’s a saying, ‘You’ll never finish everything.’ But I hope to.
James J. Albrecht
D.O.B. September 21, 1932; Chicago, Illinois
Illinois Institute of Technology, B.S. and M.S.
University of Illinois, Ph.D.
University of Chicago, M.B.A.
Career, Present and Past:
“As the saying goes, I don’t know how I found time to work,” says Dr. James J. Albrecht, a long-time Cross Keys resident who retired from McCormick & Company in 1998. He had served there in various management positions, the last being Vice President – Science and Technology and as a member of the corporate board of directors.
Albrecht continues an intense international reach with fellowships, which he established at the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, and his mentoring of students at Zamorano College in Honduras. This reach extended through his long career at International Minerals & Chemical Corp., The Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, Libby’s and McCormick, where he also served as vice president of the International Group and the Asia Pacific zone. His art collection reflects a continued interest in Asia. His phone, ringing non-stop, reflects his connection to young people in South and Central America, Asia and throughout the United States, especially in Illinois where he grew up.
“I grew up in the middle of the Depression. My dad was out of work for two years. We saved everything: cans, brown bags. From the get-go, I learned to appreciate what we had. My parents were very giving people. You share what you have.”
Now Albrecht shares himself daily with people he has mentored in business and in the classes of two fellowships he established five years ago. These fellowships introduce, prepare and mentor students for careers in business. Both Albrecht fellowships are administered by the World Trade Center Institute: Youth Diplomats (for high school students) and Global Pathways for Students (for undergraduate students).
Through his long-held position as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois, he was introduced 11 years ago to Zamorano College in Honduras. Since then, he has developed close relationships with dozens of food science students there. “They are so dedicated,” he says. “And most are on scholarships.” Albrecht sponsors two undergraduate students and one graduate student each year.
In addition to his work with students, Albrecht, for 15 years, has volunteered at GBMC. He plays the piano every Monday and works in the family waiting room each Thursday; He has also served as president of the GBMC Volunteer Auxiliary Board. Since 1988 he has been the president of the Harper House condominium association. “At age 90, I should be working on nothing but retirement, but that hasn’t caught on.” This year he made a start by retiring from seven boards; he remains on two.
Key to Longevity of Engagement: I’ve always been very busy. There’s the trite line, ‘use it or lose it.’ And I’ve been using it a long time. I’m a people person and spend most of my time thinking about other people. That’s a rewarding modus operandi, the reward being that you make a difference… A lot of people depending on me, not just financially, is what keeps me going.
Current challenge: Personally: “In a word, overextended. Everyone wants a piece of your time. I had an 8 p.m. Zoom meeting last night, an appointment this morning and a 3 o’clock afternoon meeting.” Globally: “I worry about the sustainability of our food and water supply around the world. We are putting another one billion people on the planet. That will take us from eight billion to nine billion. Where will we put them? How will we feed them? A person can live about two weeks without food. Without water, it’s two days. There’s no substitute.”
Sister Magdala Marie Gilbert, OSP
D.O.B. November 22, 1930; China, Texas
Spring Hill College, B.A.
Towson State University, M.A.
Since 1949 Sister Magdala Marie Gilbert has been an Oblate Sister of Providence. Today she lives in Catonsville in the motherhouse, Our Lady of Mount Providence Convent. “I’m director of The Cause of Canonization of Mother Mary Lange. It’s a process,” says the diminutive sister who has upheld her order’s vows of charity and poverty for 74 years.
Over decades she has taught in Mobile, Alabama; Orangeburg, SC, Charlotte, NC and Baltimore. She was director of religious education in Washington, D.C., and at the historic St. Francis Xavier Parish in Baltimore City. She has served as a librarian and a notary public.
In 1829 in Baltimore, the Cuban-born Mary Lange (then called Elizabeth) founded this order, the first successful Roman Catholic order established by women of African descent. At a time when it was risky in this slave state to teach Black people how to read, the primary mission of the order was the teaching and caring of Black children. “That was more than 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation,” says Sister Magdala Marie. “The fact that they survived is a miracle…Mother Mary Lange is my idol. I talk to her every day.”
Since 1989 Sister Magdala Marie has worked with many others to canonize Mother Lange, whom some consider the patron saint of literacy in America. Since Sister Magdala Marie became director of the Mother Mary Lange Guild, it has expanded nationally. She writes a column in the organization’s newsletter, which comes out three times a year. She works on events supporting the work of the Guild: a fundraising tea held every October, a yearly walkathon and a February Recommitment Ceremony and concert, which is broadcast live via Facebook from the motherhouse. “It’s a business,” she says wryly.
She has also published eight volumes of poetry as well as two non-fiction books about Mother Lange. World events often figure in her work. The mass murder of school children in Uvalde, for example, hit close to home in a poem by this native Texan.
Key to Longevity of Engagement: I’m too stubborn to say, “Quit.” I get up in the morning, and sometimes it’s hard to start moving. [She suffers from a form of dystrophy and uses a motorized wheelchair.] I say, “Lord Jesus, I have to go to work.” I feel much better when I get up and get dressed. I have a lot of medical problems, but I refuse to let them get in the way of what I want to do.
Secondly, Mother Lange’s legacy needs to be continued. If no one is here to continue it, it’s bad business. I pray the Lord will send more women to join us…. When we have workshops and we talk to the parents, they all say they want grandchildren.
Current Challenge: How the church cannot see that it is a miracle: Mother Mary Lange’s work in the time of slavery. It wasn’t just two years. They could have taken all of those good nuns and put them in slave camps. The fact that they survived and did not hate or hold a grudge against anyone for the way they were treated…That is a miracle.