Though she knew more than most people about Howard County's history, Joetta Cramm always considered herself to be an amateur historian.
"I really look at local history as my hobby," Cramm said in a Baltimore Sun feature about her work in 1996. "I believe you have to be trained to be a professional."
And yet, when she died on Aug. 18 at age 80, the memories and tributes that poured in from her many friends in the county all applauded the work she did to uncover and memorialize local history.
"Joetta Cramm's love for Howard County, our history [and] her incredible way of sharing that history has touched the lives of so many…. She will be missed," wrote County Executive Ken Ulman.
"Sad to hear of the passing of Joetta Cramm, a wonderful local historian who helped me nominate the name 'Bellow Springs Elementary School' after an ancient spring on the property," wrote District 1 County Council member Courtney Watson.
Cramm was known to many as the county's "unofficial historian." For decades, she led historical walking tours of Ellicott City, hosted history breakfasts and suppers at local restaurants, taught local history classes at Howard Community College and penned two books about the history of the county: "Howard County, a Pictorial History" and "Historic Ellicott City: A Walking Tour."
But Cramm wasn't a Howard County, or even a Maryland, native. Born Oct. 19, 1932, in Moline, Ill., she earned her B.A. in education from Western Illinois University in 1954 and taught English for several years in the Midwest before moving to Baltimore in 1960. In 1962, she moved to Greenway Drive in Valley Mede.
She discovered her passion for local history in 1972, when as president of the Howard County chapter of the American Association of University Women she was asked to organize walking tours of Ellicott City to celebrate the city's bicentennial.
The research she did for that project sparked a passion that would last for the rest of her life.
"She always had a project under way," said Fred Dorsey, who met Cramm in 2000 while doing genealogical research about his own family.
Son Kyle Koppenhoefer remembered tagging along with Cramm as she did her research. Sometimes, he said, she would visit old grave sites to do rubbings on fading tombstones. "I tramped around a lot of abandoned graveyards [as a child]," he said.
As Cramm became known for her knowledge of the area's history, many people came to her for help on their research and genealogical projects.
"She was kind of the godmother of Howard County," said Vicki Goeller, who works at the county's tourism office and had known Cramm since childhood. "One of the best things about her was she was a teacher and historian — if she knew anything about something she would share it."
"Anybody in the county that had a question about is this structure worth saving, is this place important… they came to Joetta," said Valley Mede neighbor Ann Jones, who lived two houses over from Cramm for 27 years.
"Pretty soon it got to be where she knew everyone and everyone knew her," Dorsey said. "There were very few places you could go and mention her name and not have somebody come back and recount how they had met her."
One of Cramm's favorite projects, according to Dorsey, started as a request for help from a Pennsylvania family searching for the grave site of their ancestor, Civil War Col. Ephraim Foster Anderson, who fought for the Union in western Maryland.
During a year and a half, Cramm worked with a team of groundskeepers from Meadowridge Memorial Park in Elkridge, an amateur archaeology group and the Greater Elkridge Community Association to locate the potential grave site at the spot where the steps to the since-demolished Anderson Chapel had stood, probe the ground and eventually discover Anderson's tomb in March 2008. A 2009 Memorial Day celebration commemorating the colonel's life drew close to 200 attendees.
"That meant quite a bit to her to have a project like that turn out that way," Dorsey said.
Dan Wecker, owner and chef at the Elkridge Furnace Inn, where Cramm would stop by with her tour groups and hold supper time slide lectures on Sundays, said she was always willing to get her hands dirty in the course of a renovation or research project.
When Wecker first started renovating the 18th-century historic inn, which has an addition from the early 19th century, he got a hold of brick rubble from a Baltimore church, built in 1810, that had been torn down to make room for Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Joetta was out there on a brick pile, knocking mortar off of bricks all day… so we could use them on a walkway," he said. "She was very much the everyday person that all of us came to know and love, and she was not pretentious or presumptuous."
Cramm won a number of awards for her endeavors. Preservation Howard County bestowed her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003, and in 2007 she was inducted into the Howard County Women's Hall of Fame. She also wrote a column about history for Generations, a monthly county newspaper.
In addition to her historical projects, Cramm was active at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church and as a member of United Way. She worked as a legislative assistant for the County Council until 1989. The council voted to name a road after her – "Joetta Drive," in Elkridge.
Koppenhoefer said Cramm considered Howard County her adopted home. "She lived there more than 50 years… at some point you almost become a native," he said.
"She told me how much she appreciated the history of the county coming from an area where the history didn't go back that far," Jones said.
Cramm believed the county's past had a role to play in its future. In "Pictorial History," she wrote: "Fortunately the history of one's county does not end… Holding onto and preserving the history of our past three centuries will provide a firm basis for those who will come in the centuries ahead."
Cramm is survived by sons Ken Koppenhoefer, of Halethorpe, Greg Koppenhoefer, of Ellicott City, Kyle Koppenhoefer, of Columbus, Ohio, and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Sept. 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the Howard County Conservancy in Woodstock.