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Harford's APG Book Club celebrates 70 years

Special to The Aegis

Aberdeen Proving Ground has been a catalyst for many things in Harford County, since its opening in 1917 during World War I. Tens of thousands of people have been involved with APG over the years, most staying for a year or two. But many made Harford County their home, raising a family and eventually retiring here.

Among them were the highly specialized mathematicians and engineers brought in to work at the Ballistic Research Laboratory, where they were pioneers in the use of computers. They came from all over the country and they brought with them their spouses and families.

During the war there was not much of an opportunity for BRL wives to get to know their surroundings and those in the area with similar interests. The war had ended and a group of women from the laboratory family decided it was time they got to know the county they made their home.

Grace Sterne was one of those women. In the fall of 1946 she put out a call to several of her friends suggesting a meeting to discuss some ideas. What they decided to do was form a book club. It was a simple idea but it worked. And as a measure of its success, it is still going strong after 70 years.

It was decided at that first meeting to limit membership to no more that 15 or 16, and that has been the case over the past 70 years. The hostess at the monthly meeting would serve refreshments, and perhaps wine, which everyone agreed would be another good idea.

They created a protocol for the meetings: A topic would be decided on for the entire year. Each member would choose a book to read and review and then make a recommendation to the other members. Only one book would be reviewed at each meeting. A luncheon would be held at the end of the year to decide the topic for the next year.

Over the years topics included The Italian Renaissance, 20th century literature, Arabian culture, biographies, Maryland history and many, many others. Authors included Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, James Joyce, Walt Whitman, Fydor Dostoevsky, Arthur Schopenhauer as well contemporary writers. These are serious topics and serious writers; there are no romance novels or formula mysteries.

The topic for this year is current events, and during an election year, there is much to read and discuss.

The original charter members included Muriel Jones, Lenora Frazer, Anne Rodman, Doris Brown, Ruth Dederick, Marcia Kuhn, Pat Tomlinson, Vilma Zaroodny, Grace Lampson and Sterne. These women were in Harford County because of their husband's work, but they had talents and accomplishments of their own.

One of these pioneers was Zaroodny, who had studied piano and violin at the Julliard School of Music in New York and the Leipzig Conservatory in Germany. While at APG she performed concerts for the war effort, formed a string quartet with APG scientists and mathematicians and performed recitals in the Baltimore area. In addition to her book club activity, her other interests included sculpting, painting and writing. She died in 2006 at the age of 99.

Other members over the years included Sara Brumfield Polk, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, who worked on airplane wing design at MIT during the war and later became co-founder and Head of School for Harford Day School. And there was Mary Poe Lang, a distant relative to Edgar Allen Poe, who was active in conservation activities with the Maryland Conservation Council, The Harford County Garden Club and the Committee to Preserve Assateague Island.

Membership also included the artist Eloise Wilson, whose greatest passion was the Harford County library system, where she served as a member of the board of trustees. Her close friend, Rowena Fahrney, longtime chief librarian for the Harford system, was also a Book Club member.

Current membership includes four former teachers, a former writer for The Sun and a former candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland and Harford County executive: Marti Crouse, Cathy Heimerl, Diane Ruckman, Lynne Owen, Sandra Tracy, Mary Corddry and Ann Helton.

The Book Club members have been, and continue to be, women of talent and accomplishment who had a thirst for knowledge and a need to expand their horizons and share it with others. They have been at it for 70 years and they are still going strong.

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