Eight Over 80

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In the case of eight Baltimoreans, age 80 seems to be the new 64. These eight men and women remain active in work and in Baltimore.  Although official retirees, they could hardly be considered “retired.” 

While Americans are often labeled workaholics, these eight fall into another category. They are still following their passions, passions born sometimes in childhood, others at mid-career. All have received numerous awards for their achievements, some honorary doctorates. While they say they have slowed down physically, all push themselves with regular exercise. All are fully engaged mentally.

Most, in the course of their lives, have had to overcome discrimination because of race, creed or gender. One of these giants said of his peers, “We were fortunate. The world changed so much in our lifetime.”

Three are over 90 and were alive during World War I. All lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the civil rights movement. These eight have experienced the proliferation of the automobile, air travel and computers. They are connected to a world and to times that most of us alive today have not known. Our Baltimore is different because of their work in the past and their work today.

Marion Curtis Bascom 

D.O.B.: March 14, 1925, Pensacola, Florida

Education: Washington High School,’42, Florida Memorial College ’46,
Howard University, B.D. ’48

Career, Present and Past:
The legendary civil rights leader Reverend Marion Bascom continues, in an interpersonal way, his lifelong work for peace, equality and human rights. “I am counsel to a lot of people, a personal counselor, dealing with problems of people living together and with each other…I’m broadly humanitarian. I have no problems with lifestyles. One of my professors said often, ‘Only God knows what comes in one’s birthday basket.’ I’ve taken that for all of these years. I’m very much on the path with John Spong, retired bishop of the Episcopal Church. I’m not a typical Christian. I don’t make demands on how, when and under what circumstances people believe, God included. That’s one I’m free of.”

For 46 years as pastor of the historic Douglas Memorial Community Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Bascom, now 86, says, “I was concerned more with causes than huge places.” Under his leadership Douglas established the first church credit union in Maryland (Douglas Memorial Federal Credit Union), turned a block of decaying Victorian houses into Douglas Village with 48 affordable apartment units and founded Camp Farthest Out, a Carroll County camp for inner city children — all revolutionary efforts at the time. Also revolutionary was the fact that Bascom in the 1960’s was appointed the first African-American on the Board of Fire Commissioners of Baltimore City.

From the garden-surrounded Reservoir Hill home, where he has lived almost half a century, Bascom continues to shepherd people of all races and orientation. He still works with the organization he once led, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, an interfaith group of all races. A proponent of social activism, this group helped found the Maryland Food Committee and spawned today’s powerful BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development). 

“Occasionally, I get involved still in things that are civic,” says Bascom. At 82, for example, he joined friends author Taylor Branch, Reverend Andrew Foster Connors and thousands of others at the 2007 Christian Peace Witness in Washington. On a windy, bone-chilling day he was one of 200 arrested. “I got the worst cold,” he remembers. He hasn’t marched lately but continues, as always, focused on people.

Key to Longevity of Engagement:  In his living room Bascom pauses by signs that say: “Colored Served in Rear,” “Colored Only,” “Colored Waiting Room.”  With characteristic dignity he reflects: “The key is that all of my life I have known that there is something of the ‘thatness’ of God in me very similar to the ‘thatness’ of all of His other creatures.”

Current Challenge:  Personally: “I am caregiver to my wife; she is my caregiver.” His ongoing challenge: “To improve the surrounding community of which I’m a part.”

 

Susan Pardee Baker

D.O.B.:  May 31, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia

Education: Catonsville High School, ’47; Cornell University ’51; Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, M.P.H. ’68, Phi Beta Kappa

Career, Present and Past:
On the porch of the Broadmead apartment Dr. Susan P. Baker shares with her husband of 60 years, Dr. Timothy Baker, a visitor might guess from the perennial gardens and birds flocking to feeders that she might be a retired botanist. No, she is a Hopkins professor with an affiliation in three departments, an internationally recognized epidemiologist and leader in human injury prevention. She leaves this Eden with her husband, professor of international health and former assistant dean, four days a week to go to their offices at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The two work until five, then pick up dinner at the Broadmead Center. “After dinner I sit at the computer and do more work,” she says. While her husband works five days a week, she takes off a day to garden, catch up on correspondence and take advantage of many fine friendships.

A zoology major at Cornell, Baker became an epidemiologist at age 38, after marrying and having three children. She fell into the public health specialty she pioneered, the epidemiology of injury. “It felt like an accident looking for a place to happen,” jokes this soft-spoken, now renowned professor of Health Policy and Management and former advisor to the World Health Organization.

After her husband suggested she look at the relationship between accidents and chronic disease, Baker began a 20-year study of the relationship between alcohol and automobile crashes. “Although 50,000 people died every year, no one at Hopkins was doing any kind of injury prevention.”

Later, her groundbreaking research in occupational, aeronautical and motor vehicle safety prompted not only the requirement for car safety seats for children and helmets for motorcyclists but also the Center for Disease Control in 1987 to fund three centers for injury prevention and control.  Baker was the founder and first director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. There are now a dozen such centers in the U.S.

Last year she became the only injury control researcher ever to receive the prestigious Frank A. Calderone Prize from Columbia University. What she considers her greatest achievements, however, are scores of students she’s taught, “four academic generations who look at ways we can change things.”

A book she recently finished editing, on injury research methods with 35 experts from all over the world, will soon be published.  For her next project she will examine “something that’s falling through the cracks. That’s been the hallmark of my research.”

Key to Longevity of Engagement:  “A job that’s fun, interesting and exciting. Ditto: a husband who is the same…. I’ve had a lot of opportunities and encouragement, first from my husband.… As a colleague once said, ‘I’m on a very small raft. There’s no one on it. Welcome aboard.’”

Current Challenge: “Always the challenge is people who have a vested interest and who are not interested in changing but in keeping things the same.  I am an advocate of putting good data to good use.”

Sidney Silber 

 
D.O.B: January 12, 1918, Baltimore, Maryland

Education: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute ’35
M.I.T. ’39  (Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society)

Service: Non-military, high-priority defense work as experimental flight test engineer for Boeing Aircraft Company, Seattle, Washington, 1939-1946

Career, Present and Past:
Sidney Silber, at 93, is still fully engaged in his art and horticulture, two of three passionate, long-running avocations. (Racing sailboats in Annapolis is the third, from which he now takes leave.) All have paralleled his three careers as engineer, bakery president and commercial real estate developer.

Silber pursues drawing and painting with devotion — he drew well as a child and honed the skill in mechanical drawing courses at Poly, M.I.T., and at Boeing where he did flight analysis. There he flew on 50 test flights, including those of the B-17 and the first pressurized military airplane, the B-29, which was designed to carry the atom bomb. 

After the death of his father and brother, Silber returned to Baltimore in 1946. Using engineering and increasing real estate acumen, he expanded the now-legendary family business, Silber Bakeries, to 25 shops. After leaving the business in 1962, he founded Commercial and Industrial Realty Corporation and for 27 years developed residential, commercial and industrial properties.

The proceeds from the sales of those properties created the Jean and Sidney Silber Foundation. Today cultural and educational institutions, as well as Baltimore non-profits focused on education and poverty, occupy much of his interest, philanthropy and time.

So does horticulture. “We had no garden on Monroe Street,” he says of the home where he and seven siblings grew up above the bakery.  In 1959 he and his wife Jean combined energy, intellect, artistic and engineering talent to begin a six-acre masterpiece in Lutherville. Fifty-two years later it is considered one the finest gardens in Maryland and the U.S.

While he officially retired in 1990, Silber never stopped working. In khaki pants and oxford cloth shirt, he is found early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with a folding pruning saw and clippers, tending his “living work of art” that draws visitors on private tours from all over the country to see the garden and hear its botanically expert owners lecture.

Among many sculptures in the garden are several of his own, all bronze. (His sculpture is also in the collections of M.I.T. and Goucher College.) Besides collecting art, his current passion is portrait painting. Many line the walls of his studio off the garden.

Key to longevity of engagement: “Shall I say, a young wife?” he laughs. “Jeannie keeps me going…. I think you should always be a student,” says the man, just back from a painting class, who studied law at Boeing, real estate and finance in the bakery business and art, horticulture and history for as long as he can remember. “Physical activity is important too.”

Current challenge: In the art: “Drawing it well, mixing the colors right… I draw. I paint. My eyesight is good, but I still can’t see what I’m supposed to see.” In the garden: “What to do with the garden in the future.” In philanthropy:  “How to make the decisions every year.”

Sister Mary Alice Chineworth, O.S.P.

D.O.B.: July 16, 1917, Rock Island, Illinois

Education: St. Joseph School ‘35, Mount Mary College [STET.], B.A. ‘52, Catholic University of America, M.A. ‘62; Ph.D. ‘72

Career, Present and Past:
Sister Mary Alice Chineworth has just returned from her 76th high school reunion in Illinois and has recently celebrated her 75th anniversary with the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which she joined at 19. At 94, she does what she has always done: correct papers. These, however, are not homework assignments, term papers, fundraising or administrative documents but articles for the national newsletter of her order. Established in Baltimore in 1829, the order was the first founded by women of African descent. Its motherhouse is Mount Providence, where Sister Alice lives and works in a community of more than 50 sisters.

Sister Alice has worked in many capacities: elementary and secondary teacher, principal and administrator in Baltimore, Charleston, Alexandria, Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, as well as president of Mount Providence Junior College in Baltimore and superior general of the order, whose mission is education and service to the poor and neglected.

Today her daily routine is precise. She sets her alarm for 4 a.m. to begin 30 minutes of exercise before she washes, dresses and gets her room in “ship shape.”  The daughter of an African-American father and Caucasian, German mother, Sister Alice and her siblings were not allowed to leave their rooms without having their belongings in perfect order. After breakfast she works at the switchboard from 7 to 9 and attends mass. At 9 she goes to her office to do correspondence and editing. At the daily 1 p.m. dinner she, ever the extrovert, lingers to talk until 2 or 2:30. She returns to work until 5, when she goes to chapel for private prayer before the evening Divine Office. Then it’s back upstairs to watch the local and national news before her bedtime of 8 p.m.

Two days a week she goes out with another sister on errands.  “I drove until I was 88,” says the sister who has had a computer since the early 1980’s and a cell phone since they first came out, who served on the National Advisory Council of the National Council of Catholic Bishops, who has met three U.S. Presidents and recently received 75 American Beauty roses from a former student, Camille Cosby, whose husband Bill sometimes writes her into jokes.

Key to Longevity of Engagement: “I’ve never lost interest in life. I love people…. If they didn’t have community  [in the largest sense of the word], they’d have to invent it for me.” Many she has known most of their lives, like her best friend from St. Joseph School that had 600 students and only six African-Americans, four of whom were Chineworths.

Current Challenge: As an editor: “English is so difficult for some, that agreement between subject and predicate!” Personally: “To keep moving; it’s so easy just to sit.”

Clinton Bamberger, Jr.

D.O.B.: July 2, 1926, Baltimore, Maryland

Education: Loyola High School, ’44, Loyola College, ‘49, Georgetown Law School, ‘51

Military Service: Army Air Corps, 1945-46

Career, Present and Past:
Clinton Bamberger recently returned from “Utopia,” a.k.a. six weeks at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. A dedicated Baltimorean with an international reach, he read The Sun every day while there. One item still bothers him: why Baltimore city students are overlooked for summer employment in Ocean City. He’s just e-mailed the executive director of the Baltimore Safe and Sound Campaign to discuss the issue with her.

She’s one of many “young people” who are his focus these days. So is the young man he’s connecting with a brilliant South African judge and the woman who runs a program for young prisoners who were children when they committed a crime and were charged as adults.

“I’m a busy-body,” he says in characteristic humor. That’s why he’s up at 7:30 a.m. emailing before breakfast, which he often postpones to 10:30 when his wife Katharine returns from errands. Many around the world seek his counsel.

The former Piper & Marbury (now DLA Piper) partner in 1963 represented a death row inmate; the case prompted the Supreme Court to write the Brady rule requiring the prosecution to make evidence available to the defense. In 1965 he accepted Sargent Shriver’s invitation to create the first federal effort to establish and support civil legal aid offices. Under his leadership the national budget for Legal Aid increased from $5 million to $25 million with offices in every state. “That year changed my life,” he says.

All of his work since then has stemmed from that experience. “Through my year in Washington, I became involved in clinical legal education where law students, under the supervision of faculty, practice law for people who can’t afford it.” He left Piper to become Dean of the Law School at Catholic University, which then opened one of the first clinical law offices in a nearby depressed area.

In 1979 he became executive vice president of the congressionally chartered Legal Services Corporation and later worked in Harvard’s clinical law office in a depressed area of Boston. He thought he would retire in Boston but was recruited to run the clinical teaching program at the University of Maryland Law School.

After all of his work as Senior Fulbright Fellow in Nepal at 66, with visiting professorships at law schools from Stanford to South Africa and legions of awards, Bamberger feels passionately that more work needs to be done. “Legal Aid still only meets about 25 percent of the need… Any way you calculate it, the United States lags behind every developed Western democracy in its support for legal assistance for the poor.”

Key to Longevity of Engagement: “I just keep moving.”  He’s recently retired from 13 years as a founding board member of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, where a community fellowship was established in his honor.

Current challenge: “My pacemaker,” he jokes then adds, “The direction in which the country is headed…I’m 85. I will help wherever I’m asked.” The phone rings.

 

Beatrice L. Levi

DOB: July 12, 1919, Baltimore, Maryland

Education: Western High School, 1936; Goucher College, 1940

Career, Present and Past:
“I don’t do much,” says Beatrice (Beatty) Levi, age 92, then rattles off a list of books she’s just read. During her 6 a.m. breakfast, she watches Charlie Rose on TV then thoroughly reads The New York Times and tends a massive balcony garden of vegetables, herbs and geraniums, which also grow in her spacious apartment.

In good weather Levi drives out on errands, meets one of a wide circle of friends for lunch, attends a program of the Art Seminar Group whose executive committee she recently left for the first time in 55 years. “I don’t miss a program if I can help it,” she says from a chair in her library that’s her command center, complete with cell phone, land-line, Web TV, printer and iPad she’s had since they first came out.

Because of a nine-month bout with lymphoma, she now “says ‘no’ to everything” like board memberships, but she still travels regionally with the Art Seminar Group which she helped found in 1956. “A group of us, led by Sue Baker, went on the ‘Ladies’ Day Special’ train to New York for $6.75 roundtrip.” Over the next 55 years the group expanded and diversified; it now numbers 299 members, including men.

Most importantly, the Art Seminar Group in the 1950’s was, she says, the first group in Baltimore to bridge the great divide between Christians and Jews. “Deep friendships were made that would otherwise never have been made….Baltimore’s a different city because of the Art Seminar Group,” says Levi whose active life still revolves around its membership.

Levi not only led the Art Seminar Group for more than a half century, in 1971 she also co-founded in Tips on Trips and Camps, an international business that served parents, in Baltimore and abroad, looking for unusual travel opportunities for children. As vice president of the League of Women Voters, still a passion, Levi worked on revision of the district court system and on redistricting to make government more representative of all races.

Key to Longevity of Involvement: “I’m an optimist. I’m not negative.” She attributes that attitude to her leadership accomplishments and to her comeback from lymphoma. “My two daughters keep me challenged. One is a leading art dealer in New York, and one has a chair at the University of Washington and also at the University of Sydney. I’ve learned so much from them.”

Current challenge: “The weather,” she says on a warm late-summer afternoon. “I have to water everything.” Sometimes twice a day.

Martin Laurence Millspaugh

D.O.B: December 16, 1925, Columbus, Ohio

Education: Gilman School ’43, Princeton ’47, (Phi Beta Kappa)

Military Service: U.S. Air Force, 1944-1945

Career, Present and Past:
At 85, Martin Millspaugh, has returned to his roots as a writer. After becoming “sidetracked for four years” making the television documentary Global Harbors, he’s on chapter 13 of a 16-chapter book, whose working title is A New City in Town, a History of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Millspaugh’s first career as a journalist began at The Richmond News Leader. Later, his writing at The Evening Sun turned him into an expert on the then-new concept of urban renewal. As the Baltimore City Hall reporter he covered urban planning issues and was the author and editor of “The Human Side of Urban Renewal.” The combined expertise lead him to become the Assistant Commissioner of the newly created U.S. Urban Renewal Administration under Eisenhower, even as an unwavering Democrat.

In 1965 he began a 20-year career for which he is known internationally. As founder, president and CEO of Charles Center – Inner Harbor Management, Millspaugh “watched every brick go into place in Charles Center and the Inner Harbor… [and] had more to do with it than anyone else…” noted The Baltimore Sun on his retirement. During his tenure, Charles Center and the Inner Harbor received 44 national and international awards and was deemed by the American Institute of Architects as “One of the supreme achievements of large-scale urban design and development in U.S. history.”

Millspaugh’s second 20-year career, as executive vice president, president and vice chair of the Enterprise Development Company, focused on taking Baltimore’s revolutionary Inner Harbor development worldwide, either as a developer or as consultant.

Now in an immaculately organized office at Roland Park Place, Millspaugh writes the history of the greater Inner Harbor on his computer. “It’s fun reliving those days,” he says.

Key to longevity of engagement: “If I have any talent, it’s being able to take in information and synthesize it, use it to create a plan and to implement what is necessary. It’s the problem-solving process that I like best.”

Current Challenge: “Getting it down while I still have time.  It’s a huge volume of information.” Plus 3,000 photos to cull through and select for the book, whose publisher is still undetermined. “I love to play golf, but I like this better.”

 

Iris Kahn Rosenblatt

D.O.B.: November 15, 1930, Baltimore, Maryland

Education: Forest Park High School ‘47; Goucher College ’50, University of Maryland School of Law ‘59

Career, Present and Past:
After finishing chemotherapy and radiation in June for a second bout of lung cancer, Iris Rosenblatt completed in September the Swim Across America one-mile benefit swim for a second time. A lifelong recreational swimmer, she swam to benefit the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Research Center. At 81 Rosenblatt has had emphysema, melanoma, and previous cancer in the other lung. “I swam because it’s a good cause. They need more research.  When I see 40-year old people dying of cancer, it’s heartbreaking that they can’t be saved.”

Last winter, as Rosenblatt was headed with fellow senior swimmers to Arizona for the over-80 division, a routine x-ray revealed lung cancer in the opposite lung. “I didn’t need all of this,” she says, but undaunted, she underwent treatment, swam, worked out and did Pilates when she could.

As soon as her treatment concluded, she returned to her normal, daily routine of driving to Meadowbrook Aquatic Center and swimming every morning at 7 a.m. “I used to play to tennis. When I couldn’t play anymore [because of emphysema] I concentrated on swimming.”

Cancer is just one challenge Rosenblatt has faced in her lifetime. One of a handful of women in her law school class, she married, had three children and a private practice specializing in real estate and criminal trials. “‘Little lady’ they’d call me. ‘Come see HER,’ they’d say,” when she tried criminal cases.

After getting divorced at 33, she worked as an Assistant City Solicitor involved in litigation and opinion-writing, later at the Highway Acquisition Division of the City Department of Public Works and as a closing attorney in the Baltimore Area Office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While training for this year’s benefit swim, someone suggested she didn’t have to finish.  “I will not quit,” she says. “If you say you’re going to swim a mile, you swim a mile.”

Key to Longevity of Engagement: “I was born this way. I’ve always felt: enjoy life, do good. People don’t realize we’re not going to be here forever…I like to laugh and make everyone feel good,” she says passing cookies she just baked. These are not just any cookies; they are made from scratch and are anatomically correct men and women, “My nude cookies, or Adams and Eves, my neighbors call them.”

Current Challenge: “To stay healthy. To get some energy. After Swim Across America I’m getting in shape for the next. Hopefully it [cancer] won’t come back…Every day is a gift.”

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