Ellen Irene Rhudy, a writer and activist for Patapsco Valley environmental causes who also performed in community theater productions, died of complications from leukemia Nov. 24 at Howard County General Hospital. The Marriottsville resident was 69.
Born Ellen Strauss in Baltimore and raised on Greystone Road in Arbutus, she was the daughter of Charles F. Strauss, a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory model builder, and his wife, the former Irene Stephan, a homemaker.
She was a 1962 graduate of Catonsville High School. After raising her family, she enrolled at the University of Maryland. Baltimore County and earned a bachelor's degree in theater.
She met her future husband, Robert Rhudy, at the Triple L, an Arbutus restaurant, during a lunch.
"I was working at Westinghouse, and she was working at a bank," he said. "I introduced myself and asked if I could sit at her table."
She became a contributing writer for The Baltimore Sun's Howard County bureau and wrote numerous feature stories about people in Ellicott City, Columbia and Elkridge.
While a student, she appeared at the Baltimore Zoo in an improvisational theatrical situation, "engaged in fascinating Homo sapiens ... behavior," according to a 1987 Sun article.
She played a mother of two children, with an actor husband, in a living room set built within a former elephant house — and behind steel bars. She appeared weekends during the holiday season.
The Sun article described the scene in Druid Hill Park: "On stage, the Homo sapiens were wrapping Christmas presents, reading comic books, ... teasing some and nagging a little."
She appeared in four-hour periods and was instructed to ignore the humans who observed her.
"Acting is not as easy as some people think," Mrs. Rhudy said in the article. "You just have to be comfortable being observed. You just have to divorce yourself from what's happening out there."
Mrs. Rhudy appeared as Charlotte in Howard Community College's production of "A Little Night Music" in 1998 and was also active in the Axis Theatre Company in Meadow Mill in Woodberry, the Limestone Valley Theatre, the Spotlighters, Pumpkin Theatre, and the Loyola College Evergreen Players. She appeared in a scene of the TV series "Homicide: Life on the Street."
She also sang in a 1990 television commercial for the 10th anniversary of Harborplace aired by WMAR-TV.
Family members said Mrs. Rhudy opposed development in Howard County. She appeared at numerous zoning hearings and before the County Council. She spoke out against the building of Waverly Woods in Woodstock.
"She was strong-willed, and when she wanted something, she was not going to stop," said her daughter, Robyn Rhudy, a Marriottsville resident.
She also wrote letters to The Sun and questioned a local plan, the Patapsco Heritage Greenway.
"Sounds uplifting, downright green. It's words, just words — words cleverly crafted by a group using marketing skills to mask real intent," she wrote in 1999. "It wants to commercialize a natural area known in past years as the forest preserves. ... Don't turn the Patapsco Valley State Park into McPark. Don't make the verdant river valley into a cash cow for a few cunning entrepreneurs."
In the same letter, she admonished readers: "Remember what happened to Rocky Gap in Cumberland, where the privatization of public land led to a situation where families could no longer afford to picnic there. Hands off the forest preserves."
Family members said Mrs. Rhudy, whose home was near the Alpha Ridge Park, opposed killing deer in managed hunts in parkland.
"Last year, in Montgomery County, deer were hunted by trained police sharpshooters," she wrote to The Sun in 2003. "But instead, our county has actively recruited recreational hunters, including those who have passed proficiency tests but have yet to kill a living animal. Is this the kind of recreation we want in our Recreation and Parks Department? Do we want our public parks turned into butcher shops? Do we want to see animals bleeding from shotgun blasts, or with arrows sticking out of their bodies, in excruciating pain, right on our own properties or on our residential streets?"
She was a past president for a decade of the Alpha Ridge Homemakers Club.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Ambrose Funeral Home, 1328 Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include her husband of 50 years, a retired Northrop Grumman engineer; a son, Roger Rhudy of Ellicott City; a brother, Richard Strauss of Ellicott City; a sister, Linda Bateman of Woodlawn; and a granddaughter.