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Ruth Foard, successful and service-minded retired Bel Air businesswoman, dies at 95

Retired Bel Air businesswoman B. Ruth Foard died Friday, Dec. 9, at age 95. She is shown with County Councilman Jim McMahan in late 2015.
Retired Bel Air businesswoman B. Ruth Foard died Friday, Dec. 9, at age 95. She is shown with County Councilman Jim McMahan in late 2015. (Courtesy of Debbie Button / Provided photo)

A funeral service will be held Tuesday morning in Bel Air for B. Ruth Foard, a retired business owner, whose career was defined by her attention to service, be it for her customers, her employees or her community.

Ms. Foard, who died on Friday, Dec. 9, was 95. She would have celebrated her next birthday Christmas Day.

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Born in the Madonna area of northern Harford County, Ms. Foard spent nearly 70 years working at Lutz Appliances, where she rose to store manager and then president and owner, continuing to run the business following the 1991 death of her mentor and friend, Charles L. Lutz.

She joined Lutz's in 1939 at age 19, after completing business school, telling The Aegis in a 2008 interview that she started working in the office and then became interested in sales and her career progressed from there.

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Lutz's, which was started by Mr. Lutz in 1927 as McComas & Lutz Appliance Store, became a fixture at the corner of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1947 when Mr. Lutz moved the business there from rented quarters nearby and eventually expanded north along the block, naming one of the stone-front buildings after Ms. Foard.

The store was one where the well-worn slogan, "We service what we sell," really meant just that. In the age before computers and long after, they kept an index of every appliance sold and who bought it and rung up receipts on a manual metal cash register.

Shirley S. Klein, a Harford County philanthropist and retired businesswoman, died Monday. A longtime resident of Forest Hill, Mrs. Klein, was the matriarch of the family that established and owns the Klein's ShopRite supermarkets throughout Harford County and elsewhere in the Baltimore region.

Lutz's was known for courteous and loyal employees and for its excellent customer service. Ms. Foard was the principal reason why, according to people who remember the business from its heyday.

"Miss Foard treated everyone fairly, helped a ton of folks get appliances from Lutz's," writer/photographer Todd Holden, himself a former downtown Bel Air business owner, wrote in a post on the McComas Funeral Home website. "She was truly a landmark lady, a lady ahead of her time."

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"I learned a lot about business from her over the years," recalled County Councilman James V. McMahan Jr. "When I was 11 years old I bought a power lawn mower from Lutz's. I gave her a payment every week during the summer until it was paid off from mowing lawns. Little did I know it, but she and my mother worked a deal where mother paid the lawn mower off, but I still had to give Ruth the weekly payment."

Later, when McMahan became a local radio station personality and owner, Ms. Foard and Lutz's were one of his most loyal advertisers, McMahan said.

"She always supported my radio station interest with advertising," he said. "She was straightforward and was ahead of the curve when it came to running a business in what was supposedly a man's world in the early years. She could keep up with the best of them."

Mrs. Foard was one of the surviving members among the individuals and families who owned and operated small businesses in downtown Bel Air during the last century, when that part of the county seat was still a major retail center.

"Friday night everybody came to town and they congregated on Main Street," Ms. Foard told The Baltimore Sun in 2002. "It was a real nice town, a country town.

The businesses and the people who owned and worked in them served generations of the same families. They supported each other and donated generously to community programs and organizations, and Ms. Foard was known as being one of the most generous.

Madelyn Mitchell Shank, a lifelong Havre de Grace resident who was the founder of her hometown's iconic Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses and was instrumental in getting the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum going, died Oct. 12 at age 87.

In the final quarter of the 20th Century, when most shoppers gravitated to Harford Mall and other area shopping centers and then to big box and discount stores, Lutz's continued to compete, but by 2008 Ms. Foard decided it was no longer financially practical to continue. She noticed business trending down, and it concerned her.

"We thought financially it wasn't feasible to keep on going that way," she said. "It's not that we have financial problems, but we don't want any either. It was just not practical to continue."

Ms. Foard lived in a house on South Bond Street for which it was said time stood still, because not even state road builders could uproot her when they tried to reconfigure the congested intersection of Churchville Road and Bond Street to improve traffic flow in the 1990s. They curved the street around her property, instead.

Maryterese Streett, Bel Air's unofficial matriarch and historian and among its best known residents, died Saturday night at a hospice near Bel Air. She would have been 82 on Sept. 4.

She walked to work about two long blocks away almost every day, "except in very bad weather," she recalled in 2008 when she closed the store for good.

"I enjoyed working every minute of working there," she said.

"She was not only a witness to the transformation of business activity along Main Street in Bel Air, but she was an integral part of it," said McMahan, who presented Ms. Foard with a Harford Living Treasure proclamation on behalf of the County Council in late 2015. The proclamation recognized her as "one of our most outstanding businesswomen of the 20th Century."

Ms. Foard, who never married, is survived by nieces and nephews. Visitation will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at McComas Funeral Home, P.A., of Bel Air, 50 W. Broadway. The service will follow immediately at the funeral home. Interment will be in Bel Air Memorial Gardens.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.

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