In West Baltimore, residents recall Schaefer the neighbor

On a steeply sloped block in West Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer is remembered not only as one of the city and state's great leaders, but as a neighbor who meticulously trimmed his rose bushes, received offerings of mud pies from small children and helped neighbors find jobs.

"I actually watched him grow from being a lawyer and a councilman to mayor and governor," said Melody Sayre, 54, who lives in the same house in the 600 block of Edgewood St. where she grew up. "But he was always down to earth. Anything you needed, he would help you with."

It was from a two-story home in this block that Schaefer left for classes at City College, and where he returned after serving in World War II. He lived in the same brick home throughout his years as mayor, when a driver would pick him up each morning to go to City Hall.

"We would always talk in the morning," said Ronald Crawford, a 68-year-old construction worker whose home sits next to Schaefer's former house. "We both left early in the morning, and he would ask about my lawn, where I was working, how the children were doing in school."

Sayre said when she was a teenager, she and her girl friends would sing the Schaefer beer jingle to the political leader: "Schaefer's the one beer to have when you're having more than one."

The then-mayor would wave and laugh as the girls collapsed into giggles, she recalled. When her daughter was little, she would try to give mud pies to Schaefer, the elderly mother with whom he shared the home and the stray cats she tended.

When Schaefer was growing up, the hilly neighborhood just off Edmondson Avenue, was primarily home to European immigrants and their descendents. The first black families moved in the 1950s and 1960s, and today the residents are predominantly African-American.

Although Schaefer is best remembered for spurring the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor and the Downtown, he was a strong advocate for the city's neighborhoods.

Schaefer remained in the home during his terms as mayor and sold it in 1998, a couple of years after completing his second term as governor.

Paula Deadwyler, who bought the home with her husband, Reginald, said she has changed little about the house. The hardwood floors inlaid with darker bands of wood, the abacus-like vent over the kitchen door and the white banister leading to the second floor are all the same. A pine tree that he planted in the backyard has grown tall and bushy.

She has collected stacks of letters to addressed to "the Hon. William Donald Schaefer" over the years, invitations to symphonies and balls on cream-colored stationery.

"Believe me, we were tempted many times to go to these events ourselves, but we never did,' Deadwyler said with a laugh.

"My friends never believed me when I said we lived in William Donald Schaefer's house," said her daughter, Marisa Gardner, 20, a nursing student at Coppin State University.

Neighbors said the neighborhood hasn't been the same since Schaefer left. Crime picked up after police were no longer assigned to guard his home.

"When he left, I was kind of heartbroken," said Sayre. "I was like, 'Well, there goes the neighborhood.'"

Walking home from a corner convenience store, neighbor Diane Scott, 54, said Schaefer's absence had had a visible effect on the area.

"You can see what happened since he left," said Scott, gesturing to the empty candy packages, cigarette butts and cigar wrappers that litter patches of new spring grass.

Cracks gape in sidewalks. One neighbor spray-painted "No sitting" on a concrete wall, a frowning face painted in the "o." A group of young men hunker around a nearby corner, their eyes lingering on an unfamiliar face.

In a 1991 interview, Schaefer told a Baltimore Sun reporter that he had seen his neighborhood weather tough times.

"My street's where I learned about teen-aged pregnancy, saw 14-year-old having babies and treating them like rag dolls. I've seen kids dumped out of the house at 7 a.m. and let back in at night. I saw chickens dumped out of second-story windows. I didn't read about urban life. I lived it," he said.

But Schaefer said Edgewood Street had improved as residents became more optimistic.

"But then people started to take pride in it again. Now the house across from me is as pretty as any house in Roland Park," he said.

Sayre recalled Schaefer, famous for his "do it now" attitude, giving neighbors a hard time if their gutters sagged or steps began to crumble.

Back in Schaefer's old home, the Deadwyler family dragged from the basement a few artifacts that the former leader had left behind.

There was a brittle cardboard stencil for the words, "house of delegates," likely a relic from Schaefer's first (and unsuccessful) bid for public office.

And, from a nook near the washing machine, they pulled out a rusted metal box. Inside, jars and cigar boxes were lined up in neat rows. A box of Amorita cigars held ornate drawer pulls and key holes.

Jars of Barbasol shaving cream and Mrs. Filbert's Mustard (Flavor Just Right) were covered with a thick layer of dust. Inside were packed away rusted nails and screws—the tools of the man who spurred a rebuilding of the city.