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Elmhurst Nursery School in Hampden closing after 58 years

When Elmhurst Nursery School in the Hampden area celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005, founder Margaret Louisa "Lou" Pine was still director and showed no signs of slowing down.

It seemed then that only her own mortality could ultimately tear her away from the school, where she was defined by hundreds of children through the years as "Mrs. Pine."

And when that time came, "We'll just carry her out," said her daughter, Peggy Utermohle.

On Thursday, eight years later, Pine, who wouldn't give her age, ran around with the energy of her children, orchestrating the annual Father's Day picnic and the presentation of certificates to this year's graduates on the penultimate day of the 2014 school year.

But this year was different, the happiness tinged with regret and nostalgia. Elmhurst will close its doors today for the last time, except for Saturday, June 7, when the public can buy much of the school's classroom supplies, toys, furniture and memorabilia at a yard sale at 4023 Roland Ave.

"I just decided the time had come," Pine said. "Fifty eight years is long enough."

Pine, a longtime Roland Park resident, was a well-connected teacher at Friends School in the early 1950s, at the height of the baby boom, when she decided to start a school of her own, drawing families from as far away as Mount Washington and Towson.

She opened Elmhurst Nursery School with 13 children — including the daughter of Johns Hopkins University polio vaccine researcher Dr. David Bodian, a colleague of Dr. Jonas Salk — in a house at 2 Elmhurst Road, owned by Roland Park Presbyterian Church and known as Church House.

When a fire damaged the house in 1958, Pine and the school relocated at least three times, including to the old Church of the Brethren on Roland Avenue.

In the early 1970s, Roland Park Country School offered a house it owned in the 4000 block of Roland Avenue, for a token rent of $1 a year, Pine said.

House for sale

Pine has been there ever since, keeping Elmhurst going after the death of her husband, Jonathan Pine. She now owns the three-story, six-bedroom house with cedar shakes siding, located in Rolden on the border of Hampden and Roland Park, near the Rotunda mall.

The house is on the market for $295,000, with no For Sale sign up yet.

"They were supposed to put up the sign a few days ago," Pine said.

The baby boom made Elmhurst a hot school, with as many as 55 enrollees, including the children of author Anne Tyler, state Sen. Jim Brochin and restaurateur Ted Bauer, the owner of the Valley Inn and Oregon Grille.

Now, the school closes with 17 prekindergartners and kindergartners, only a handful of whom "graduated" on Thursday.

Pine attributed the decline to a trend of working parents wanting full day care for their children.

"We're not a day care school," she said.

Now, she will spend more time at her home on Wickford Road.

"I'm going to relax, do some gardening and do some things that have been neglected," she said.

Bittersweet time

Pine leaves behind a lot of memories for parents, former students, her own family members and her staff of five teachers.

"It's definitely been a big part of my life," said 19-year teacher Hannah Morehead, who will be an assistant teacher starting this fall at the Waldorf School in Coldspring-Newtown. She remembers her own children helping out at summer camps that Elmhurst ran.

"It is sad," Utermohle said as the children sang songs like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and "It's a Small World," while parents held aloft phones and iPads with cameras during the graduation ceremony. "I've spent my life here. The school is my mother. My mother is the school."

"It's bittersweet," said Erin Bolton, of Hampden, whose son, Beckett, attended Elmhurst and will enroll at Medfield Heights Elementary School in the fall. Bolton, a cartographer, made a little heart-shaped map of the Rolden area, with a heart denoting the school's location, as a present to Pine.

"It's been such a wonderful place and a special place, It seems like kind of a timeless place" said Kurt Overton, a member of the Roland Park Civic League, as he watched his son, Henry, 4, receive his pre-K certificate.

"It's like a family," said Lauren Sampson, of Hampden, who works for Episcopal Community Services. She is trying to enroll daughter, Sophie, 4, in Hampden Elementary next fall.

"It's got a good vibe to it," said her husband, Adam, a stay-at-home father.

Melissa Green filmed her daughter, Cecelia, 4, singing and reflected on her son, Harry's three years at Elmhurst.

"It was an amazing experience," she said

Now, like Pine, Green is moving on.

"It's done," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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