Don’t miss the ultimate foodie event, The Baltimore Sun's Secret Supper

Carolyn Donkervoet, preservationist

Carolyn M. Donkervoet, a retired director of the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, died of complications from dementia Dec. 15 at the Broadmead Retirement Community. The former Bolton Hill resident was 85.

Born Carolyn Eugenia Moore in Philadelphia and raised in Bethlehem, Pa., she was the daughter of John Moore, a Presbyterian minister, and Helen Smith, a homemaker. She earned a degree in chemistry at Bucknell University and later received a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University.

While traveling on the Holland-America line's Volendam to Amsterdam, she met her future husband, Richard Donkervoet, who became a partner in the Cochran, Stevenson and Donkervoet architectural practice on Charles Street.

A chemist, Mrs. Donkervoet worked for an RCA facility at Lehigh University. She was part of a team that developed color cells for early color televisions.

"For that background as a scientist, she learned organizational skills and problem-solving perspectives," said her daughter, Daral Boles of Lancaster, Pa.

The couple moved to Baltimore in the late 1950s and lived on Falls Road Terrace. She became active at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Woodbrook, where she held numerous posts, including treasurer of the congregation. She also taught religion at St. Paul's School for Girls in Brooklandville.

In 1979, she became the preservation society's executive director. Her daughter said that she often discussed architecture and planning issues with her husband. As a preservationist, she occasionally disagreed with him.

"She worked on the unglamorous side of preservation. With her, it was about context and neighborhood — about scale and fabric. She wanted to keep the character of a street. It was not about the star buildings," said her daughter.

Mrs. Donkervoet handled local issues such as the successful preservation of London Coffee House, Belt's Wharf, the George Wells residence, and Brown's, Chase's and Miller's wharves.

"She was a wonderful manager who could understand complex situations and how to deal with people," said David H. Gleason, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and former preservation society president. "Carolyn set a tone for both development and preservation. She was an industrious worker who would attend all the meetings patiently and worked to come up with solutions."

He said that Mrs. Donkervoet arrived at the job after the question of whether to build an interstate highway through Fells Point had been resolved, but the neighborhood needed much repair and reinvestment.

"Carolyn arrived after the road fight had been accomplished and the society was looking for a leader who could take the neighborhood to the next level. She turned out to be the perfect person," he said. "She had a clear and concise vision. Her background was in chemistry, and she felt there were formulas to get you where you needed to be."

He said she worked diligently to keep high-rise structures out of the heart of the historic districts and tried to keep development to about 30 feet, the height of a three-story rowhouse.

"We were lucky to have her there at that pivotal moment," said Mr. Gleason, who lives in Baltimore. "She had high standards."

She also ran the Fells Point Fun Festival each fall, an event that drew 100,000 people and was the principal fundraiser for her group.

"It was never about her. It was about the neighborhood and community, and the people who lived there," said her daughter. "Preservation is taken for granted today, but it was still controversial then. My mother understood the importance of building relations not only with those who supported preservation, but with people who were ambivalent about it. She could be combative when she needed to be, but more often she took the route of negotiating, persuading and relating."

She recalled that her mother once got a call that a property owner was bulldozing a home in the middle of the night.

"She got dressed and went down and got him to stop," her daughter said. "The next morning, she got an injunction."

Mrs. Donkervoet was also a member and treasurer of the 16 East Hamilton Street Club. She and her husband enjoyed visiting European cities, including Prague.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Broadmead, 13801 York Road in Cockeysville.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, John Cornelius Donkervoet of Honolulu; another daughter, Sharon Donkervoet Credit of Hunt Valley; and eight grandchildren. Her husband of 48 years died in 2005.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad