Ruth Wallenstein, 94, house 'Mom' at Northeast Baltimore ++ orphanage


Ruth Mary Elizabeth Brown Wallenstein, superintendent of a Northeast Baltimore orphanage, died April 14 of heart disease at the Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. She was 94.

Known as "Mom Wallenstein," she raised 36 children during her 16 years as house mother of the John F. Wiessner Home for Children in Hamilton. She retired in 1970.

"My mother was 53 when she saw an advertisement in the paper looking for a superintendent of the home, and since she had cared for Sheppard Pratt's first mental outpatient, she felt qualified and they hired her," said a daughter, Lee Hoover of New Smyrna.

The orphanage and foundation were named for its benefactor John Frederick Wiessner, the unmarried scion of a Baltimore brewing family.

Under the terms of his will, the orphanage was established in 1904. It was at Eastern and Highland avenues, and, in 1939, it moved to a brick house on Holder Avenue.

The orphanage closed in 1980 but the foundation continues today, dispensing charitable grants.

"She didn't call herself house superintendent, and preferred the name of house mother. However, the children called them 'Mom' and 'Dad,' " Mrs. Hoover said.

"My mother's place was the epitome of what an orphanage should be. My parents were loving and caring and provided the atmosphere of a home rather than an institution.

"My father, who managed Army post exchanges by day, attended PTA and Scout meetings in the evening with my mother like real parents would have done," Mrs. Hoover said.

Seeking to make the orphans' lives as normal as other children's, Mrs. Wallenstein politely refused donations of used clothing. Instead, she bought new clothing with money raised through an annual neighborhood carnival.

"If I remember anything about Mom, it is self-reliance," said Joe Smith, who lived in the home for 16 years. "She wasn't the type of person who would let you feel sorry for your predicament. She'd say, 'Get up and do something about it,' " said Mr. Smith, a board member of the Wiessner Foundation for 25 years.

"She brought stability to the lives of the children she touched and showed us the way, and that says a lot about her," said Mr. Smith, a supervisor of employment at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.

Born and raised in Highlandtown, Mrs. Wallenstein attended Eastern High School and was a graduate of Strayer's Business College. She then worked as a secretary until she married Lee A. Wallenstein in 1924. He died in 1964.

A memorial service for Mrs. Wallenstein was set for 11 a.m. today in the chapel of Parkwood Cemetery, 3310 Taylor Ave., Baltimore.

Survivors include another daughter, Carol R. Ackrill of Asheville, N.C.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the John F. Wiessner Foundation, P.O. Box 10272, Baltimore 21234.

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