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Lola Baxter

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Lola M. Baxter, a retired telephone operator and receptionist who greeted guests at the WMAR television studios, died of complications from a broken hip Aug. 26 at Gilchrist Hospice Care of Howard County. She was 101 and had lived in Towson.

Born Lola Marie Annen in Baltimore, she lived in the 2900 block of Greenmount Ave. in Waverly and could recall how the International League Orioles played their games immediately behind her family's home at old Oriole Park. She told her children that she watched Babe Ruth play baseball there. She remained an Orioles fan throughout her life and attended games when she was 100.

She was a graduate of St. Ann's School and as a young woman worked at the old W.W. Lanahan investment bankers and brokers in the Calvert Building in downtown Baltimore.

"She prided herself at getting the stock orders through to New York," said her son, John W. Baxter of Catonsville.

While at the investment firm, she learned to operate a telephone switchboard and later worked in the same capacity at the old Hochschild-Kohn department store at Howard and Lexington streets and at its Belvedere Avenue location. She also ran the store's electric call bell system.

"She had an uncanny memory for numbers," said her daughter, Mary G. Mansperger of Columbia.

When WMAR-TV moved to York Road in Rodgers Forge in the 1960s, Mrs. Baxter became the station's receptionist and telephone operator.

"My mother really came into her own and loved being in the fishbowl and meeting all the actors and actresses that were in town to perform at the Lyric, Painters Mill Music Fair and at the Mechanic Theatre," her daughter said. "Her most challenging time was the period after President John Kennedy's assassination. Most of the programs were affected, including the daytime soap operas when the news coverage extended over several days."

She said that callers were angry that the programming had been interrupted. She said her mother recalled receiving nearly 200 calls of complaint.

"Her cool, professional manner soothed the callers," she said. "She would read the plot lines of the soap operas to them."

Her daughter said she was on a first-name basis with WMAR's on-air personalities — Jack Dawson, Nancy Claster of the "Romper Room" show, as well as its piano player, Miss Elaine, Sylvia Scott, Eleanor Arnett Nash, Susan White and Jack Bowden.

"She was an old-time telephone operator who connected the wire cables," said former WMAR studio technician John Ziemann. "She stayed at her post late on election nights. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, she never left."

He recalled that host Stu Kerr, who played Professor Kool on a morning children's show, would address her on-air as Lola when using a prop telephone during a comedy skit.

"She was the Louella Parsons of WMAR. She knew everyone, and she knew how to reach them," said Ziemann, comparing here to the entertainment columnist.

Many years after retiring, she could recall where staff members sat in the building and their phone extensions.

After she retired in the mid-1970s, she traveled to Europe and Canada.

From the 1950s through the mid-1980s, she attended Baltimore Colts football games. She then became a Ravens fan and, after donning the team's colors, she watched games on television.

She bowled duckpins Tuesdays with the Optimist Bowling League at the Stoneleigh Lanes. She also competed at tenpins with the OWLs, the Older Wiser League, at the Colt Lanes on Padonia Road. She was also a fan of golf and watched televised tournaments. At 92, she attended the Senior PGA Tour at Caves Valley to root for Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.

A Roman Catholic, she had been active in the parish churches where she lived, including SS. Philip and James, St. Mary's in Govans and St. Pius X, where she was a founding member. After moving to Towson, she became a member of Immaculate Conception Church.

She was also active in the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and volunteered at Mercy Medical Center and Good Samaritan Hospital.

A memorial service was held Tuesday at Oak Crest Village, where she had lived for the past 13 years.

In addition to her son and daughter, survivors include another son, Stephen J. Baxter of Timonium; and a granddaughter. Samuel Baxter, her husband of more than 50 years, died in 1990.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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