Even before she could read, Rebecca H. Harman would stare at pictures of Africa and vow to see the wild animals and lush vegetation for herself.
It took nearly 60 years, but Harman went to Kenya and back again -- three times since 1981. From her home in New Windsor, she also has traveled to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Tanzania, all nations that had not been born when Becky Harman was growing up on a farm in Frederick County.
At 80, Harman has just earned a berth in the Travelers Century Club, whose 1,200 members have visited 100 countries. Most members take a lifetime to accomplish that much travel, but Harman managed the feat in the 20 years since she retired from teaching.
"A hundred countries does not seem a lot, until you write them all down and look at all those passport stamps," said Terri Derby, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based club. "We have many aspiring members and a few members trying for all 308 of our destinations."
Harman recently returned from Bermuda, her 100th destination, and has no plans to stay home too long.
"Travel keeps you healthy," she said. "I can't give it up."
She has penciled in a trip to Sicily next year and the Canadian Rockies in August, after cataract surgery. Because Canada is a repeat visit, she can't count it in her quest for 150 countries and the club's silver award, but Italy can be 101st on her list.
Harman retired from teaching in 1975 to care for her terminally ill husband, who died the next year. They had saved for what they had called their travel years.
She plunged into volunteer ac- tivities at Carroll Community College and in her hometown, where she is serving her third term on the Town Council. But the world beckoned.
"I thought I had to start before I got older," she said. "People asked me why I wanted to go every place. I loved them all and went back to quite a few. I have had many a tour guide tell me I was a great American ambassador."
After the Serengeti plains and Mount Kilimanjaro, she walked along the Great Wall of China and sailed the Chang River in a junk, whose six-man crew spoke no English. She saw Mount Everest, the Ganges River and Katmandu -- from the sidecar of a bicycle she persuaded a native to pedal for her. She snapped photos of Galapagos turtles, Andean llamas and koalas in Australia's outback.
At every stop, she has added to her collection of dolls. It numbers more than 100 and includes improvisations, such as the tiny leprechauns she glued to rocks culled near the Sea of Galway in Ireland.
"They are all wonderful and have a story," she said. "They are the perfect thing to collect. They show everything that I have done with my travel."
When she moved to a retirement community in the town she has called home most of her life, she sold her china and crystal but kept the dolls. But now the dolls are traveling, too. Harman is donating all but a precious few next month to Carroll Community College, where they will be on permanent display in the school library.
Pub Date: 6/29/98