Miriam Turner Kirckhoff, a longtime teacher at Grace United Methodist Preschool in North Baltimore who enjoyed introducing children to the language and culture of France, died of Alzheimer's disease Monday at Brighton Gardens Assisted Living Community of Towson. The former Lutherville resident was 85.
Born Miriam Turner Leonard in Baltimore, she was raised in the Mayfield neighborhood and graduated from Eastern High School in 1936 with honors in Latin.
She earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1940 from Goucher College and in the 1960s earned a master's degree in education from what is now Towson University.
"She was an ardent reader, student and teacher," said her daughter, Rachelle K. Work of Columbia. "She looked at life as a project that one could understand by reading, studying, organizing and participating. Her motto was biblical: 'This is the day the Lord has made.' Learning was key in her family, and she was the first to graduate from college.
"She, in turn, read endless books to us as children, encouraged us to read, to be intellectually curious and curious about how the world works. Whenever we were away at school, she sent us clippings, book reviews and anything else she'd thought we'd enjoy or ought to read."
Mrs. Kirckhoff's teaching career began when she established a preschool for children of defense-plant workers in New Orleans, where her husband was stationed with the Army Transportation Corps during World War II.
She returned to Baltimore after the war and in the early 1950s established a Mothers Morning Out program at the downtown Young Women's Christian Association building.
While their preschool children enjoyed supervised play, mothers relaxed in the pool, played badminton, learned to paint and sew, or did exercise programs.
In 1967, Mrs. Kirckhoff began teaching 4-year-olds at Grace United Methodist Preschool in the 5400 block of N. Charles St.
"She was a very intelligent, caring and loving person, and was just wonderful with the children," said Jean N. Page, who founded the school in 1961 and directed it until 1982. "She looked for children who were having problems and went out of her way to help them.
"While she was a bright lady, she was no showoff and never felt the need to impress anyone. Her classroom was very welcoming. She had lots of things there to interest the children."
After a hiatus of several years to care for her dying mother, Mrs. Kirckhoff returned to the preschool in 1974 and began teaching French. "She started the French classes for the 4-year-olds so they could learn words and phrases," Mrs. Page said. "She read stories to them, and I can remember hearing the sound of French songs being sung coming from her classroom. I know she enjoyed giving the children an insight into the French language."
Mrs. Kirckhoff retired in 1980.
Along with being an avid reader, she was an inveterate book collector. "I got out her Bible the day she died, and I found it underlined and full of marginalia, as were all her books," her daughter said.
She also enjoyed dancing, bird-watching and travel.
In 1940, she married Robert Henry Kirckhoff. Her husband, a customer service manager for Western Maryland Railway, died in 2000.
She was a 46-year member of Towson United Methodist Church, 501 Hampton Lane, where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 15.
Survivors also include a son, Robert Gordon Kirckhoff of Parkton; a brother, John W. Leonard of Orlando, Fla.; and four grandchildren.
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