'Professional volunteer' honored


Like lots of people, Katherine DeGrange used to see problems in her community and say, "Somebody ought to do something."

Three and a half years ago, she stopped saying that.

It was Nov. 11, 1988, a date she remembers well, when her daughter came home from Glen Burnie High School and said a student had been killed crossing Ritchie Highway at lunchtime.

DeGrange, who was then a member of the school's Citizens Advisory Committee, said she had just talked about how unsafe it was for students to cross the busy thoroughfare.

"We were conscious there was a problem. We could have done something," she said. "Now, whenever I hear that, that somebody ought to do something, it's like a charge to do something."

TC Since then, DeGrange has become involved in improving pedestrian safety at schools as well as numerous other community issues.

The Glen Burnie resident of 24 years will be honored Sunday for her efforts with the second annual Richard H. Carter Memorial Award, for outstanding service to the community. The award will be presented after the annual Memorial Day Parade, which ends at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association building on Crain Highway.

After the fatal accident at Glen Burnie High, DeGrange and other volunteers set out to improve crosswalks around the school, which they achieved several months later.

But DeGrange believed her work was far from done. For two years, she lobbied for state legislation capping speed limits in school zones. Although unsuccessful, the attempt to get legislation passed has led to the formation of a state-wide task force to study the problem of safety around schools.

DeGrange is also hard at work on efforts to renovate the Glen Burnie Health Center and improve the design of the light rail station to be built off Dorsey Road in Glen Burnie. She serves as the chairwoman of GBIA's public works committee and on several subcommittees.

The 44-year-old Glen Burnie resident works on so many projects, she jokes that she's "a professional volunteer."

DeGrange, a graduate of the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, trained as a biologist and worked for five years with the county's health department as a sanitarian.

"It sounds like a garbage collector, I know," she said, although she worked on environmental issues, such as enforcing air-quality regulations.

After she had her first child, Jennifer, now 19, DeGrange decided to stay at home with her children. She also has a son, Ward III, now 16. She has been married for 24 years to Ward DeGrange Jr., whose family business is the DeGrange Lumber Co. on Ritchie Highway.

DeGrange first started volunteering in her children's elementary school, helping out as a reading aide. But she didn't swing into high gear until after the accident at Glen Burnie High. "That was a turning point," she said.

A committee of six, chaired by GBIA First Vice President Richard Wengert Sr., selected DeGrange from among five nominees for the award, which is named for Richard H. Carter, a long-time civic activist who died in 1990.

"This makes me feel very proud," she said. "But it also challenges me to do more."

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