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Clara Mae Boender, teacher

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Clara Mae Boender, a retired reading specialist and elementary school teacher who taught for 54 years, died of multisystem organ failure Jan. 12 at Howard County General Hospital. The Ellicott City resident was 86.

Born Clara Mae Crouch in Baltimore and raised in the Paradise section of Catonsville, she was the daughter of Harry Crouch, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad worker, and Ruth Crouch, who founded the Kinder Kraft Kindergarten, a school located in Catonsville and later Ten Hills.

She was a 1943 graduate of Catonsville High School and earned a degree at what is now Towson University. She later received a master's degree at what is now Loyola University Maryland and studied education at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Due to teacher shortages from enlistments in [World War II], Towson condensed the four-year program into a year-round one," said her daughter, Dr. Debra Ruth Boender, who lives in Ellicott City. "My mother was in this program and graduated in 1946 at age 19."

She immediately found a post as a first-grade teacher at Catonsville Elementary School.

"In early years, there were two shifts of classes daily," her daughter said. "There were too many children and not enough teachers, so for a year she taught on that half-day schedule, two shifts each day."

After her first child was born, Mrs. Boender began teaching first grade at Maiden Choice Elementary School. When Westowne School in Catonsville opened a few years later, she was asked to join its faculty. She taught first grade and later, third grade.

"My mother instilled the desire to learn in me and placed no boundaries on what I could do in life," her daughter said.

Dr. Boender said that when Howard County began to hire reading specialists, her mother moved to that county's system and split her time between St. John's Lane and Rockland elementary schools.

"She knew how to teach and brought her own warm personality and a sense of love to the classroom," said Wilhelmina Oldfield, the retired Howard County supervisor of elementary education. "She truly enjoyed children, and I counted her as a close friend."

After a few years teaching in Howard County, she took on an additional project. She became a curriculum writer for the state and prepared a functional reading guide.

"She was bubbly and upbeat," said Nancy Mendoza, an Ellicott City resident with whom she traveled around the state giving instructional workshops on reading. "Everything she did was for her children in the classroom. She was a nice mentor to me. I would call her and ask, 'How would you do this?' "

Mrs. Boender also taught at West Friendship Elementary School and retired in 2002 at age 75.

"There was nothing fake about her," said Jay Berwanger, a music teacher at St. John's Lane Elementary. "Clara Mae was a wonderful person. She loved her children and she loved reading. I visited her at home once and saw stacks and stacks of books. When her eyesight deteriorated, she switched to the large-print editions. She still read."

At her retirement, Mrs. Boender was honored with proclamations from the governor, the Howard County Council and the county executive.

She enjoyed fishing in the Chesapeake Bay. In retirement she read, traveled and cared for her grandchildren. She also dined out at restaurants, including the G&M and the Double T Diner, where she was a regular.

A funeral service will be held April 12 at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, Ellicott City. The time has not been set.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include another daughter, Rebecca B. Barbusca of Laurel; and two grandchildren. Her husband of 43 years, Walter Eugene Boender, a Western Auto store manager, died in 1991.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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