All around the edges of East Towson, the growth and development that community leaders say will change the face of Towson is evident at every turn.
But in the tiny African-American enclave just east of downtown Towson, more than 200 people gathered Saturday for a community picnic where they simply celebrated the tight-knit community many had known all their lives — and the woman who helped keep it that way.
"It was beautiful," Adelaide Bentley, 84, president of the North East Towson Improvement Association and a lifelong East Towson resident, said during the gathering, which she organized.
"I do it every year, just to invite the community to come and visit with one another, meet friends that we haven't seen in a long time. It's just something that we do to enhance the community and let the people know we love them."
Bentley, whose tireless planning for the annual picnic represents just a fraction of what she does for the community, was stunned to find out that a portion of the picnic would put her in the spotlight.
Before many of the guests arrived, Bentley was honored for her service to the community by NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, the nonprofit land preservation group. On Saturday, NeighborSpace named a half-acre plot of open space right next to Bentley's home on East Pennsylvania Avenue as Adelaide Bentley Park.
The North East Towson Improvement Association currently maintains the property, and on the NeighborSpace website, a description of the site says in the future it could be used as a meditation space and community garden.
"Too many times, community activists don't get any thanks at all … so NeighborSpace thought it would be nice to recognize your years of service to this community," said Eric Rockel, a NeighborSpace board member and president of the Greater Timonium Community Council as Bentley was presented with a County Council citation announcing the dedication.
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said he asked NeighborSpace to consider the dedication because "few people have had such an enduring impact on East Towson."
"She's worked with Baltimore County government to make sure East Towson is protected, even as growth transforms much of the area around it," Marks said. "She is a perfect example of the can-do approach among so many of Towson's community leaders."
The small dedication ceremony, which was also attended by Del. Steve Lafferty, preceded the annual summer picnic in East Towson, which was held behind the Carver Community Center.
But before anyone dug into the food, everyone stopped to say hello to Bentley.
"It stems back to her mother and father," Bentley's son, Luther Bentley, said. "We all were born and raised here, and it was one of those things where if you're not related, everybody knew everybody. It's always been a tight-knit community, everybody always looked out for each other.
"Like any other place, we've had problems, but I can honestly say growing up here, I grew up in the best place a kid could grow up," Luther Bentley said.
Bentley, who said her faith drives everything she does, worked at Black & Decker for 15 years before she retired in 1988 and took a job at Villa Maria in Timonium. She left that position in 1998. Since then, she's striven to keep the community intact, though she said it hasn't always been easy.
"She just cares a lot about the neighborhood and it's people, and she really does a great job," said state Sen. Jim Brochin, who lives in East Towson. "It's not here and there, it's every day. I get up in the morning and go get the paper and see her opening the community center early in the morning. She's very hands on, and she's a remarkable woman."
Around 10 years ago, the community was coming under pressure from developers and neighbors "that were trying to come into the neighborhood, buy all the homes, and get us out," Bentley said..
"There's no other way to put it," Luther said. "A lot of the older folks died out and their children, people waved a few dollars at them and they sold. They'd buy the homes and put students in."
Since then, the community's historic designation has helped protect it from development, and Bentley said over a dozen new houses were built so some displaced residents could move back.
Currently, her time is spent running a summer camp at the Carver Community Center, where 50 county children enjoy trips to educational sessions, along with trips to local pools and bowling alleys.
At 84, Bentley is as active in the community as ever. Luther Bentley said he doesn't worry about her doing too much — mostly because even if he did, his warnings would likely be ignored.
"You can tell her," he said. "But it's not going to work."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun