Minnie "Mutter" Montague, a homemaker and founder of the Mother's Club of McCulloh Homes, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Howard County General Hospital. She was 88.
Born Johnnie Mae Ford in Great Falls, S.C., she relocated with her family to Baltimore at age 5.
She got as far as the 11th grade before marrying her childhood sweetheart, James Montague Sr., in 1935 at age 17.
Mrs. Montague legally changed her name from Johnnie Mae to Minnie shortly after her marriage because "she didn't like her name at the time," said Mrs. Montague's youngest daughter, Regina Valentine of Baltimore. "But she still allowed people to call her Johnnie Mae because she wanted you to know she was the same person. She was quite the character, a really strong woman."
The couple raised five children in the McCulloh Homes complex, with Ms. Montague working occasionally as a caterer for a local hotel.
"She would just do it part time, working as a waitress for a banquet at the Southern Hotel," Ms. Valentine said. "She had me down there doing it in when I was in high school, too. All of us had to work."
To address any potential problems in her West Baltimore neighborhood, Mrs. Montague started the Mother's Club, a group of about 10 parents that met every month.
"It was a social group, but mainly it was to make sure all the rules in the public housing development were being followed," Ms. Valentine said. "She was an advocate to make sure things were the way they were supposed to be."
Ms. Valentine said Mrs. Montague's proudest work came as the PTA president of Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary School. Mrs. Montague served as president for 10 years, long after all of her children had graduated from the school.
"For me, watching that was a beautiful thing," Ms. Valentine said.
Mrs. Montague was known to all as "Mutter," a nickname family members say originated 70 years ago from a cousin who considered her his mother, even though she was still a teenager at the time.
The young cousin's mispronunciation stuck.
"That's all I ever called her," Ms. Valentine said. "Everyone called her that. We even got that in the flower arrangement."
Mr. Montague died in 1976.
Services will be held at Pennsylvania Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Survivors include two other daughters, Annette Heigh of Woodlawn and Brenda Darrell of Randallstown; a son, James Montague Jr. of Baltimore; a brother, Marshall Ford of Silver Spring; 10 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.