It's all about the people in Dundalk.

Located in the southeast corner of Baltimore County, the community remains an anomaly in a day when some people hesitate to become involved with their community.

Not so in Dundalk.

Just ask Thomas Toporovich, who is dubbed the community's "unofficial mayor" because of his involvement with numerous community organizations, because of his knowledge of local history, and because he happens to have lived in Dundalk 48 years.

In 1980, Toporovich was hospitalized after a heart attack. His wife, Edith, didn't drive and couldn't get to the hospital to see him. Toporovich didn't worry because the couple's neighbors volunteered to drive his wife to the hospital to visit him.

After he returned home to recuperate, his neighbors helped out again by mowing the couple's lawn.

"We have people helping people here in Dundalk," said Toporovich, who is a former administrator for the Baltimore County Council.

This waterfront community has long been known as a blue-collar area because of the steel workers from nearby Bethlehem Steel who lived here.

As jobs have dwindled and more residents moved to the outlying suburbs, the community has battled the image of being a dying steel town.

Henry McShane, who moved to the area in 1895 and operated the McShane Bell Foundry, named Dundalk after his hometown of Dundalk, Ireland. His company manufactured cast iron pipes and furnace fittings and was located at a railroad stop. After the Baltimore and Sparrows Point Railroad asked for a name for the depot, McShane offered up his birthplace, according to the Dundalk Patapsco Neck Historical Society.

In 1916, Bethlehem Steel Co. purchased 1,000 acres of farmland and formed the Dundalk Co. to provide housing for its workers. A year later, Dundalk proper was founded and boasted 62 homes, two stores, a post office and a telephone exchange.

With World War I approaching, the government took over steel production facilities for defense purposes.

A first for the county

After the war, Dundalk was back in private hands for development, making it the first planned community in Baltimore County.

It was marketed to steel workers as a blue-collar bedroom community after consultation with the developers of the tony Roland Park neighborhood in Baltimore.

Perched on a peninsula between the Back and Patapsco rivers, Dundalk is home to 62,306 residents, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. The population declined 5.31 percent since 1990 when it had 65,800 people.

By population, Dundalk is Baltimore County's largest community, followed by Towson with 51,793 people, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.

The boundaries

The Greater Dundalk community is considered to be generally bounded on the north by North Point Boulevard with Sparrows Point to the south, Kane Street to the west and Turners Station to the east.

In 1983, the community was designated a national historic district.

"It's like a piece of heaven here," said Pam Piorunski, who has lived in Dundalk with her husband, Jim, for 24 years.

The couple, who live in the neighborhood of Rosewald Beach, grew up in Baltimore, but longed for a more serene place to raise a family. So they bought their first home in Dundalk.

They purchased a row home, where they lived for eight years, from Pam Piorunski's uncle in North Point Village.

They then bought another home in Bear Creek and lived there 16 years before recently purchasing their current single-family home for $103,000.

Ah, the water

One of the best things about their home is its proximity to the water, said Jim Piorunski.

"I like to put my boat in the water, and we can get a lot of good food, including crabs," he said. "We can cruise, and we don't have to fly to Florida."

Dundalk can be characterized as a family town, a place where one finds multiple generations living in the more than 30 neighborhoods.

The mostly row home community also is known as a good place for young families to buy their first home because of the reasonable prices, said D.R. Grempler, manager associate broker at Long & Foster Realty.

Homebuyers can also chose from bungalows and well-manicured single-family homes.

"Some stay here because they have roots in the area, and a lot of people are very loyal to this area," Grempler said.

Average price $93,508

According to the Metropolitan Regional Information System Inc. -- the multiple-listing service for Realtors and brokers -- 101 properties were sold in the community during the past 12 months for an average price of $93,508.

During that same period, homes remained on the market for little more than three months.

On most days in the heart of town, storefront businesses along Dundalk Avenue often are busy with patrons. Across the street, families walk in Dundalk Heritage Park.

And at Scoops, a business inside the Dundalk Village Shopping Center on nearby Shipping Place, residents sip coffee and eat sandwiches while swapping life stories.

Although such Norman Rockwell-like descriptions abound in Dundalk, the community continues to struggle with its identity as a declining steel town.

During its heyday in the 1950s, Bethlehem Steel employed close to 30,000 people at its plant, but that number has dwindled to about 2,000 after declining profits resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and its sale this year to International Steel Group.

Many residents remain concerned about the negative connotation that Dundalk has for some people. And, senior citizens seem to have an increased fear of crime.

"The degree of comfort people once felt in Dundalk [is declining]," Toporovich said.

Crime is actually on the decline, and development is on the upswing in the community, said Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski, who represents the 7th District that includes Dundalk.

"We have an urban design assistance team that's working to [improve Dundalk]," Olszewski said.

Team's suggestions

Among the team's recommendations: a "technology trail" from the water to Dundalk Village Shopping Center and Heritage Park; a heritage center in Turners Station; a street-scaped Dundalk Avenue and a plan to improve Dundalk's connection to Baltimore.

Besides the close-knit families, miles of shoreline and dependable neighbors, the schools keep people in Dundalk, said Toporovich.

The Community College of Baltimore County at Dundalk also is a good resource, added Toporovich.

"It is the heart and soul of the community," he said, adding that the county's police academy is located at the college.

One of the community's biggest events is Dundalk's Fourth of July celebration, a three-day festival that is scheduled this year for July 4, 5 and 6. The event draws thousands of people every year and includes a host of volunteers and donations from throughout the community.

"We have to raise $185,000 every year to put this on," Toporovich said.

And so it remains clear: It's all about the people in Dundalk.

Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 20 minutes

Public schools: Dundalk High, Patapsco High, Sollers Point Southeastern Technological High, Sparrows Point High, Holabird Middle, Dundalk Middle, Gen. John Stricker Middle, Sparrows Point Middle, Dundalk Elementary, Colgate Elementary, Norwood Elementary, Charlesmont Elementary, Bear Creek Elementary, Grange Elementary, Logan Elementary, Battle Grove Elementary, Bear Creek Elementary, Berkshire Elementary, Charlesmont Elementary, Chesapeake Terrace Elementary, Colgate Elementary, Edgemere Elementary, Grange Elementary, Logan Elementary, Norwood Elementary, Sandy Plains Elementary and Seneca Elementary

Shopping: Dundalk Village Shopping Center, Eastpoint Mall, Danville Square Shopping Center, Merritt Point Shopping Center

ZIP code: 21222