Melvin R. Fentress, whose love for children led him to raise 27 foster children in addition to five of his own, died Sunday of kidney failure at Sinai Hospital.
Mr. Fentress, 81, treated each of the 32 children in his East Baltimore home with the same care, respect and fatherly discipline. As a result, each of the children was well-mannered, educated and a devout churchgoer.
"He just loved children," said his daughter Theresa Bryant of Greencastle, Ind. "They were all raised like they were his. There were no distinctions. He knew many children in Baltimore didn't have homes of their own."
Mr. Fentress and his wife, the former Eddie Mae Scott, whom he married in 1948, accepted foster children from 1959 to 1980. The youngsters ranged in age from 18 months to 16 years, and stayed with him from two months to 17 years.
At least 10 children at any given time were living at Mr. Fentress' three-story, four-bedroom rowhouse in the 700 block of E. 21st St. But relatives said it never seemed crowded and the refrigerator was always stocked.
Holidays, especially Christmas, were fun in the Fentress household, when Mr. Fentress bought mounds of toys for the youngsters. "It was like a big department store with toys and dolls everywhere," Ms. Bryant said.
A small and quiet man, Mr. Fentress never referred to any of the children in his house as a foster child, instead calling them his sons and daughters.
"He liked to play with each of us in his own way," said Wanda Hopkins of Baltimore, a foster daughter raised in his home. "He would do anything for you."
Born in Washington and raised in Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore, Mr. Fentress served in the Army from 1941 to 1945 during World War II and was stationed in Italy.
Upon his discharge, he settled in East Baltimore and worked several jobs before becoming a security officer for the U.S. District Court in Washington from 1952 to 1972.
Neighbors recall seeing many youngsters at the corner house, and said most were respectful and willing to run errands.
For more than 40 years, Mr. Fentress was a member of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church, Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street, where a Mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Fentress is survived by a son, Melvin R. Fentress of Baltimore; three other daughters, Elaine Cousin, Yvonne Fentress and Deborah Fentress, all of Baltimore; two sisters, Ursuline Purnell of Baltimore and Armentreia Smith of New York City; and two grandchildren.
Pub Date: 8/06/98