Eugene W. Sweetland, 80, bookkeeper who helped student through college


Eugene Wickham Sweetland, a retired bookkeeper and volunteer whose financial support enabled a high school student to fulfill her dream of attending college, died of a heart attack Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 80.

Mr. Sweetland was born in New York City and raised in Los Angeles, where his mother, actress Thelma Van, appeared during the 1920s in silent pictures.

He was a 1943 graduate of Hollywood High School and remained an active alumnus until his death.

"Even though he was on a walker, he flew to L.A. earlier this year to attend another reunion," said Erica Hurtt, a longtime friend who is a reporter for WTVG-TV in Toledo, Ohio.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served as a military policeman aboard transcontinental trains transporting prisoners of war. After the war, he was stationed at Carlisle, Pa., where he met and married Betty Shearer in 1946.

"He said it was a whirlwind courtship, and they got married after six weeks," Ms. Hurtt said.

In the late 1940s, the couple moved to Baltimore when Mr. Sweetland became a bookkeeper at the old Brager-Gutman department store. In 1952, he became an administrative assistant for the Longshoremen's Benefit and Pension Fund.

He joined Maryland National Bank in 1971 and was an assistant trust officer until retiring in 1993.

A longtime resident of Lenton Avenue, near Belvedere Square, he regularly dined at the Peppermill restaurant in Lutherville and that was where he met Ms. Hurtt - then a Towson High School student busing tables as her mother worked as a waitress.

"My mother was crying one day, and he asked what was the matter. She said she and my dad were having trouble paying for my education at Loyola College," Ms. Hurtt recalled. "He called the college and tried to pay my tuition anonymously, but they wouldn't allow him to do that because of increases in costs and so forth. So he set up a fund that paid for my education."

She added: "I feel so lucky and grateful for the things he did for me. He was a wonderful friend and became a surrogate grandfather."

In his own life, Mr. Sweetland experienced tragedy when he and his wife lost their only child, Michael, who drowned in 1963 at the age of 16.

After the death of his wife in 1990, Mr. Sweetland began volunteering at Stella Maris Hospice, where he organized fundraisers and shrimp feasts and worked in the gift shop. He also volunteered at St. Joseph Medical Center and the Walters Art Museum.

In failing health, he moved to Stella Maris in September.

He was an avid world traveler and Colts and Orioles fan, and liked dancing and watching vintage Hollywood films.

A memorial service will be held at 9 a.m. tomorrow in the chapel at Stella Maris, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road.

He had no survivors.

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