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Retta E. Harp, 95, music teacher


Retta E. Harp, a music teacher and amateur horticulturist who spoke widely about irises and other flowers and who was one of the first residents of Stoneleigh, died of heart failure Saturday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 95.

In 1969, Mrs. Harp and her husband of 71 years, Maynard Harp, founded the Francis Scott Key Iris Society, a local chapter of the American Iris Society. The chapter began with 10 people and now has 125 members.

The Harps moved to Stoneleigh in 1928, five years after the first houses were built in the Baltimore County community. The couple had lived in the same house since then.

For many years, the Harps maintained a garden with hundreds of irises on land they owned near Hereford.

The Harps became fascinated with irises in the 1940s. Mr. Harp took photographs of their flowers, and the couple gave talks about irises throughout Maryland and Virginia.

They pursued the hobby "just because we wanted to do it," Mr. Harp said. "We enjoyed it together."

Carol S. Warner, one of Maryland's foremost iris specialists, remembers getting hooked on irises after seeing the Harps' garden. "I fell in love. I went back in the fall to buy some plants," Mrs. Warner said in a Sun story this year, recalling a garden club visit to the Harp property. "They talked me into joining the American Iris Society and that was it," she said.

Mrs. Harp was born Retta Potter in McKeesport, Pa. She was a member of the Garden Club of Govans and chaired the garden department of the Woman's Club of Towson. In 1989, she was recognized by the St. Louis-based National Council of State Garden Clubs for her garden club activities over 50 years.

She also volunteered hundreds of hours at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, where she worked with patients in garden therapy. Her first full-time job, after receiving a music teaching certificate from Hood College in Frederick in 1920, was director of music in the hospital's occupational therapy department.

Mrs. Harp, who also attended classes at the Peabody Institute, taught music in the 1950s and 1960s at Towson and Parkville high schools. For many years, beginning before she graduated from high school, she gave private piano and voice lessons.

She also was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a member of the Three Arts Club of Homeland.

A graveside service is planned for 11 a.m. tomorrow at Prospect Hill Cemetery, 622 York Road in Towson.

Besides her husband, she is survived by a son, J. Markwood Harp Sr. of Towson; a sister, Florence N. Enright of Baltimore; three brothers, John C. Potter of Glenarm, James A. Potter of Sharon Springs, N.Y., and Wayne Potter of Tampa, Fla.; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

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