Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!

Hood College chief cleaning out desk


FREDERICK -- Martha E. Church is spending her final day, today, as president of Hood College removing cherished mementos from walls, cleaning out her desk and tending to last-minute duties.

Her office in Alumnae Hall is nearly empty. A hiking stick -- with Hood carved on its stem -- rests near a fireplace. Under a blue drape is an oil portrait of Dr. Church, the college's first woman president, waiting to be hung in the stately lobby of the building.

As Dr. Church, 64, prepares to embark in a new direction after 20 years as Hood's leader, it's clear she really is leaving the small, largely women's school behind. Although Dr. Church will continue to live in Frederick, she has no plans to be active with the college.

"I am not going to hover," Dr. Church said. "Hood is undoubtedly going to change. Technology is changing. The needs of Frederick are changing."

She is preparing for a two-week vacation in Arizona and a trip later to Mount Everest -- an irresistible lure for the geographer-turned-administrator who travels widely.

Dr. Church, a Pittsburgh native with three degrees in geography, will become a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. She will work on programs to help reform secondary education in China.

However, it's clear that Hood isn't letting go of its leader.

Already, the street leading Alumnae Hall has been named Martha E. Church Drive. A bust with her trademark gray, short-cropped hair is in the reading room of Beneficial-Hodson Library and Information Technology Center, built during her tenure.

And if that wasn't enough. Hood College presented Dr. Church with an honorary doctorate and named her president emeritus, an honorary title acknowledging her accomplishments, leadership and contributions. The faculty has endowed in her name a scholarship for international students.

"The naming of the street was absolutely a complete surprise," said Dr. Church, who prefers that people call her Martha. "I knew about the portrait and the bust because I had to pose for them. I've been given a wonderful send-off. I depart on kind of a high."

She has been a fixture on campus since 1975. She will be succeeded by Shirley Peterson, a former Internal Revenue Service commissioner.

Dr. Church's tenure has been quite unlike any other in the college's 100-year-plus history. She has enjoyed a casual, humorous relationship with many students.

She has played along with pranks of each departing senior class, receiving hundreds of marbles, pennies, ice cubes and even goldfish during commencements.

It hasn't been all fun and games. Sometimes, it's been a lonely, stressful job.

Her years of service have left her with more than a few observations about higher education.

"Even though we find many flaws in our education system and there are many things I'd like to improve, what we do, we do best in the world," she said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad