Frances Louise German

Frances Louise German, a homemaker and volunteer who enjoyed collecting antiques, died Monday of heart failure at Morningside House, an Ellicott City assisted-living facility.

The longtime Howard County resident was 91.

The daughter of a farm laborer and a homemaker, Frances Louise Porter, who never used her first name, was born in Woodbine, Howard County.

She attended a two-room schoolhouse in Woodbine, and later continued her education at a school in Lisbon.

Her formal education ended in the ninth grade when she was attending Sykesville High School.

"Her family was very poor, and her father went from farm to farm looking for work. She was visually impaired, and her family couldn't afford to buy her a pair of glasses," said her daughter, Joyce C. German Knell of Sykesville.

After leaving school, Mrs. German worked in an apple butter factory in Sykesville until her marriage in 1940 to Walter Raymond Penn.

She and her husband moved to Barrett, Carroll County, where their first son, Walter Wayne Penn, was born at home in 1942.

Mrs. German's husband was drafted into the Army at the outbreak of World War II when she was pregnant with their second child. While serving in the Pacific, he was killed in a noncombat incident in 1943.

Her second son, Larry Raymond Penn, was born the next month at her in-laws' home in Glenwood. Wanting a home of her own, Mrs. German moved to a house in 1945 at the intersection of Frederick Road and Centennial Lane in Pine Orchard, Howard County.

"She took in boarders, sold eggs from chickens she raised and vegetables from her garden to help out the family financially," said Mrs. Knell.

In 1948, she began dating her future husband, Joseph W. German, a stonemason, and they were married a year later.

In 1965, she and her husband moved to a larger home in Pine Orchard, where they planted a large vegetable garden and apple orchard and raised honeybees.

"They worked hard and sold vegetables, cider and honey they had made at their roadside stand," said Mrs. Knell.

Mrs. German became a well-known figure at the Howard County Fair, where her spice cake won her a blue ribbon in 1962.

For the next 25 years, she continued entering a variety of items, some of which included fresh fruits, vegetables, canned goods, baked cookies, cakes, crocheted items and flowers, at both the Howard County Fair and Maryland State Fair in Timonium.

Mrs. German also actively cared for those in need.

"She took food to a less fortunate family who lived nearby and donated a car to a man who had lost everything in a fire," her daughter said. "She transported those needing a ride to their physician or to a lake to go fishing."

In 1991, when developers threatened St. Mary's Cemetery, an overgrown Roman Catholic cemetery near Turf Valley, Mrs. German and her husband joined Friends of St. Mary's Cemetery and Preservation Society Inc., which sought to spare the cemetery from development. The couple had family members buried in the graveyard. The group was successful when the Howard County Council voted to preserve it in 1993 as open space.

Mr. German died two years later.

Mrs. German enjoyed attending farm and house auctions and "would spend the day bidding on items and bringing home her treasures," her daughter said.

In 2006, she attended an auction of some of her and her late husband's collections, which caused a stir in the antiques world.

One of the items, a rare stoneware water cooler with a blue eagle that had been made circa 1842-1855 by the Henry Lowndes pottery of Petersburg, Va., had languished for years under Mrs. German's cellar stairs.

Burt Long, a New Market, Va., collector who attended the auction, eventually claimed the exceedingly rare piece after bidding $68,000, which rose to $74,000 with the buyer's premium included.

"I felt fortunate to be able to buy it for that amount," Mr. Long told the Maine Antique Digest at the time.

When asked what it was worth, Mr. Long replied, "About a hundred to a hundred fifty thousand. I was prepared to go higher."

There are only four other coolers known to exist.

"When asked how she got this piece, she was unsure of how it came to their home," said Mrs. Knell. "Recently, a client of my father's told me that he remembered him showing him the water cooler that was kept in the barn alongside the garden equipment and tools."

Mrs. German was an active member for more than 60 years of Bethany United Methodist Church, where she worked in fundraising and served at church dinners.

"Going out for her was going to a local church dinner," her daughter said. "Her last one was in the fall of 2009 at Lisbon United Methodist Church. She especially loved fried oyster dinners."

She enjoyed duckpin bowling and playing rummy or pitch. She was also an avid Orioles fan and had attended games at Camden Yards as recently as last season.

Mrs. German remained in her home until she turned 86 and moved into her daughter's home. Since 2008, she had lived at the assisted-living facility.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at her church, 2875 Bethany Lane, Ellicott City.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. German is survived by her son, Walter Raymond Penn of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and four grandchildren. Her other son, Larry Raymond Penn, died in 1994.

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