Couple's journey of 44 years continues at Charlestown community

John and Dawn Strumsky reminisce as they retell the story of how they first met from the couch of their apartment at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.
John and Dawn Strumsky reminisce as they retell the story of how they first met from the couch of their apartment at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (Emma Patti Harris/Baltimore Sun / Patuxent Publishing)

After meeting "cute" at the inaugural Baltimore City Fair in 1970 and getting married two years later, John and Dawn Strumsky have built quite a life together as they approach their 44th year of wedded bliss.

The couple first thought about selling their house in Millersville and moving to the 110-acre Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville after Dawn, 69, visited a friend there and came away with a very favorable impression.


Even so, John was more inclined to check out other retirement communities before making a decision.

After all, he's the duo's financial guru.


"I wanted to make sure we would be moving to a place that is financially secure," he said, noting that at one point he toyed with the idea of moving to Houston until Dawn nixed the plan.

Dawn and John Strumsky are "living large" at Charlestown. Dawn, the "wacky weather girl" for the Catonsville retirement community's in-house TV station, and John, an ex-Marine and avid runner, appear to be the perfect match. But the couple’s first encounter, 45 years ago, wasn't love at first sight – at least for her.

At that point, Dawn was more than leaning toward the Catonsville complex as a future domicile.

"To this day, I can't really explain it," said Dawn, who grew up in the Woodcroft section of Parkville. "I just had this feeling. I thought Charlestown is the place were John and I are meant to be."

Besides, as John says, his wife "just couldn't leave her friends here" and move to Texas.


Having no children and no other family to speak of, in 2011 they decided to make the move to Charlestown, where they would be well taken care of in case any serious medical issues arose.

"We were retired and happy with our little house in Millersville," Dawn said. "But then we thought, 'What happens if something happens to our health?' We wanted to get in here and get settled while we're both in good health."

Nearly five years later, the couple have embraced a lifestyle that suits them perfectly.

For one thing, Dawn — and this is a biggie for her — never has to cook, considering the couple has the pick of eating at any of the facility's six restaurants.

To that end, the stove in the Strumskys' spotless two-bedroom, two-bath apartment sits virtually untouched.

"Dawn calls it a 'virgin oven,'" John said. "She opened the door to the oven the other day and saw that it had a light in there. She thought she might want to use it as a file cabinet."

Regardless, the way the community is set up, with more than 300 clubs boasting a wide variety of interests, there's hardly time to cook for people as active as the Strumskys.

Moreover, the couple enjoys exploring Catonsville eateries such as the Ship's Cafe and the Little Phoenix Chinese Restaurant.

"We go over to the heart of Catonsville all the time," said John, 75. "We really enjoy the shops and restaurants on Frederick Road."

They also can be found hunting for goodies at the Village Junction Bakery-Café on Sulphur Spring Road in Arbutus.

The couple has made a major impact at Charlestown in a short time, owing to their high visibility on the community's in-house TV Channel 972.

Dawn's "wacky weather girl" character has made her a celebrity of sorts; she's known to don a goofy wig and sport a fake red nose while giving the local forecast.

Though she has a natural talent for making others laugh at her own expense, there's a technical part of the process that she has yet to master.

"I still can't do it," said Dawn about trying to coordinate her movements while standing in front of a map that viewers see on TV but in reality is just a blank green screen. "So I just wing it. I don't really think about what I'm going to do until I'm on the way to the studio."

Professional TV weather broadcasters have monitors to guide them, and, of course, they have a whole lot more practice.

For Dawn, though, having to pretend a map is behind her makes for a disorienting time, yet it makes her goofy schtick more effective.

"I thought at some point I might stop doing it," she said about her three-year gig in front of a camera. "But then when I see the people at Continuing Cares (section of the complex), they seem to be enjoying it so much."

"Dawn has a knack for doing the weather in a really fun way," said Ann MacKay, the current president of Charlestown's residents council. "John and Dawn are our TV stars."

Each year Feb. 14 marks the celebration of Valentine's Day, a holiday that began as a Christian celebration and evolved into a day of romantic expression.

A self-described history buff, John's solo show on the TV channel is called "Looking Back: Eyewitness to History," and something for which he does daily research on subject as wide-ranging as the Revolutionary and Civil wars, biographies, Christmas paintings by old masters and Route 66.

He recently broadcast a show he called "Fleeting Fads and Passé Objects," which included segments on washboards, hand-operated calculators and other anachronistic items.

Dawn's solo show, "Through the Keyhole," allows viewers an inside look at how selected residents' apartments are designed and decorated.

Together, the couple hosts a third show called "Our Charlestown Neighbors," featuring stories and photos from residents' earliest years to the present.

Like many of their interviewees, the Strumskys also had rich and varied careers.

Dawn, for example, was on the executive staff of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland before becoming the coordinator of volunteers for the 1984 Olympic soccer games held at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Eventually, she was the program coordinator for the Maryland You Are Beautiful program during the administration of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

John, who was raised in Little Italy, cut an even wider swath in the business world, starting as a bank teller while moonlighting as a meat cutter for the old A&P food market chain.

From there, the Johns Hopkins University grad was a successful bank executive, stamp shop owner and life insurance salesman.

As busy as he was, at age 42, John started running marathons and ran a minimum of 1 mile every day for 25 years, topping out at 46,000 miles. He ultimately snapped his Achilles tendon in 2009 when he slipped on ice.

Although he won his age group in the inaugural Charlestown 5K Field of Honor race earlier this year, these days he limits his road work to walking.

Nevertheless, the Strumskys' vigor and sense of community make others take notice.

"Both of them are very involved in what needs to be done," McKay said. "They are ambassadors for the community. They're young and vital, and they represent the kind of people prospective buyers would like to meet."

Added Phyl Lansing, the former president of the residents' council: "They are just so full of life and fresh ideas. They help to put a smile on the face of Charlestown."

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