Mary Louise Bennett, a longtime Anne Arundel County educator who was a founding member of the Chesapeake Academy, died Sunday from complications of an infection at Genesis Health Care Facility in Severna Park, where she had lived for the past three years. She was 94.
"Mary Lou Bennett was a wonderful person who made a great contribution to the educational system of Anne Arundel County," said former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Holt, a longtime friend. "She was also very active in our church and was just a good all-around citizen."
"Mary Lou was a very major part of the founding of the Chesapeake Academy, even though she wasn't one of the four legal founders," said Patricia H. Troy, a founder of the academy.
"She was always very encouraging and kept our eye on the big picture. We used to meet at her home on Avondale Court, where we sat on her back porch doing business and stuffing envelopes," said Ms. Troy. "She was a lot of fun and was always full of energy and was such an inspiration. She was the kind of person that made you feel good when you were around her."
The daughter of a United Cigar Co. manager and a registered nurse, Mary Louise Boley was born in Lynchburg, Va., and moved with her family to Norfolk, Va., where she lived until she was 10.
She moved to Baltimore in 1928, when her father was sent to the city to open a new cigar store, and settled with her family in Brooklyn. She was a 1935 graduate of Southern High School.
"She was a very bright student and had graduated from Southern at 16. It always hurt her father that there was no money to send her to college," said her son, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, who lives in Ruxton. "Not many people were buying Cuban cigars after the 1929 stock market crash."
In 1940, she married Douglas A. Bennett, who was serving in the Navy. After the war, the couple settled in Old Severna Park, where they raised their two children.
Mrs. Bennett established Bennett's Nursery School in the early 1950s.
"It became so popular with young mothers in Severna Park that she had both morning and afternoon shifts, with waiting lists of future 4-year-olds for both groups," said Judge Bennett.
"In those days, the pipeline for children in Severna Park was Bennett's Nursery School, then Crowley's Kindergarten, run by my mother's good friend Lib Crowley," said Judge Bennett. "Young women who became pregnant contacted my mother and Mrs. Crowley to put their children on waiting lists before they were born."
When her husband, who worked in the construction division of the DuPont Co., died in 1968, Mrs. Bennett closed the school and accepted a position of kindergarten teacher and administrator at the Wroxeter School.
When Wroxeter closed in 1980, she assisted Ms. Troy, Helen Braun, Ethel Rew and the late Louise Sivy, who had been elementary school teachers at the school, in founding the Chesapeake Academy.
The school opened for business in the fall of 1980 in a former beauty parlor on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard.
"She was often called the 'fifth founding member,'" said Jay S. Scheurle, who is head of school at the Chesapeake Academy. "She was its first registrar for the first decade of its existence and was the glue that kept the original founders together."
He said that Mrs. Bennett was a "huge part of the commitment" that resulted in the establishment of the school and did a "great deal of work behind the scenes."
Mrs. Rew recalled those early days in the beauty parlor. The school later moved to a campus in the 1100 block of Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. in Arnold.
"She was our registrar and sat where they used to make appointments. One day a man walked in and wanted to make an appointment for a haircut and Mary Lou told him, 'We don't cut hair anymore, but if you have a child you want to enroll in school, we'd be glad to hep you,'" said Mrs. Rew, a former Arnold resident who now lives in Leesburg, Fla.
"She always had a positive attitude and would do whatever she needed to do to help," said Mrs. Rew.
"Mary Lou was a funny, humorous, warm, bright and a very engaged person," added Mr. Scheurle.
Mrs. Bennett had quite the reputation as being a gifted storyteller, said Mrs. Rew, who added that she was "delightful" when telling an off-color story.
"She had such a beautiful smile," she said. "She was such a character. There was only one Mary Lou."
After surviving colon cancer when she was 78, Mrs. Bennett sold her home and moved to the Sunrise Retirement Community of Severna Park, where she lived for 13 years before moving to Genesis in 2010.
Mrs. Bennett was an active member for more than 60 years of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, where she had been a deacon.
Mrs. Bennett's family will receive friends from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday in the library of the Chesapeake Academy, 1185 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at her church, 611 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd, Severna Park.
In addition to her son, Mrs. Bennett is survived by a daughter, Jacqueline Bennett of Grand Junction, Colo.; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.