L. Craig Gerhard, 71, city teacher

L. Craig Gerhard, a veteran educator who taught in city public schools for nearly 40 years and spent summers working as a camp counselor in Maine, died of leukemia Sunday at his East Baltimore home. He was 71.

Mr. Gerhard was born in Weatherly, Pa., and moved with his family to Middle River in 1942. He was raised in Hamilton and graduated from City College in 1953.


After earning his bachelor's degree in geography and history in 1957 from what is now Towson University, Mr. Gerhard began his teaching career at the old Clifton Park Junior High School.

He later earned a master's degree in geography from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and was on the faculty of Patterson and Western high schools before retiring in 1996.


"After his official retirement from Western, he continued teaching English and history part time there for several years because, he said, 'I still love the kids and haven't lost my enthusiasm for teaching,'" said Sandra L. Wighton, a former teaching colleague at Patterson and later principal at Western.

"I always admired Craig. He was the teacher that students remembered and after all these years, they still quote his favorite expression: 'Gerhard's way is the only way.' They'd come back for visits to Western and ask me if he was still teaching there. They just loved him," Mrs. Wighton said.

Mr. Gerhard applied his lifelong passion for the theater, drama and opera to teaching history.

"He was so charismatic that he made history come alive for his students. It was his way of getting them to learn," she said. "He taught history as a study of people and human behavior and how it had relevance to what was happening today."

Mr. Gerhard conducted energy-charged classes where discussions - including those with diverse viewpoints - were not only encouraged, but expected.

"I taught across the hall from him at Patterson and he never closed his door. I was often tempted to stop my classes so I could listen to what he was saying," Mrs. Wighton said.

"And even though he had conservative beliefs, he was never abrasive when conducting a political discussion. Craig would say, 'You have a right to your opinion, but I'm right, you know,'" Mrs. Wighton said, laughing.

"He brought his stage presence to the classroom and had a way of captivating his kids. He let his personality shine, and they responded," said Michael A. Franko, retired guidance department head at Western who had been a close friend of Mr. Gerhard since their college days. "He taught them, and they in turn taught him."


Every summer since 1949, Mr. Gerhard headed for Camp Skylemar in Naples, Maine, where he produced and directed plays.

"All the boys here are athletes, and so Craig had the challenge of challenges getting them on stage. However, he taught them to love drama and art and got these jocks on stage performing in plays," said camp owner and director Arleen Shepherd of Sparks.

"Craig's life was school and camp. He always ran a tight ship," she said. "He had a great gift and understood all kinds of kids and people whom he welcomed into his heart. It made no difference to him whether they were 7 or 70. He'd do anything to help them."

Mr. Gerhard enjoyed traveling to Europe and had visited every state in the nation except Alaska.

He was a season subscriber to the Metropolitan Opera Company, Baltimore Opera Company and Baltimore Symphony, and had a musical library of more than a thousand records and CDs, friends said.

"He was legendary among his teaching colleagues for his all-nighter trips to New York for an evening of opera during the week, immediately leaving after classes on Wednesday, for example, attending the opera, and returning in time to teach classes the next morning - all without missing a beat," Mrs. Wighton said.


Mr. Gerhard attended St. Stephen's Traditional Episcopal Church in Timonium.

Services were Thursday.

He is survived by his mother, Verna E. Maglov of Ladysmith, Va.; a sister, Karen E. Green of Pekin, Ill.; an aunt, Irma Matesick of Reading, Pa.; and several nieces and nephews.