Sallie Ann Hedenstad, former director of elder services at Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland, died of breast cancer Wednesday at her Severna Park home. She was 75.
For 23 years until retiring in January because of failing health, Mrs. Hedenstad oversaw programs for the elderly and disabled, some of which included senior assisted-living facilities, a community services employment program for low-income seniors and in-home care.
"She was [a] very even-tempered and strong person. Very few things ruffled her, and she could deal with the most difficult problem or person," said Stanley A. Levi, the nonprofit agency's executive director.
"Sallie could work with the most cranky, impatient or distraught person because she wanted to make them feel better. Her respect for others always shone through and it uplifted them to know that she was there. She was such a role model," he said.
"She was [a] highly regarded champion for older people and their needs," recalled Esther B. Bonnet, a longtime friend and retired elder services caseworker.
"She was also such a gracious lady and wonderful to work with. Those who had the chance to work with Sallie were happy to have had the opportunity to do so," she said.
"She made us believe every day that what we did made a difference in another person's life. She believed in what she did," said Heather L. Sherbert, an in-home care coordinator.
"Sallie wanted to make a difference without fanfare or notice. She really was a very private and modest person, and always hated when people talked about her," Mr. Levi said.
Mrs. Hedenstad was described by colleagues as a "high-energy person" who began her day at 4 a.m. and - after taking a brisk walk, showering and dressing - would arrive at her desk in the agency's Falls Road offices at 7 a.m. or shortly thereafter.
When breast cancer was diagnosed in the fall of 2003, she refused to let the disease interfere with her work.
"She rarely missed a day of work, and despite having cancer, her mood was always up, and she never let it interfere with her public persona," Mr. Levi said.
"When she became sick, I was so proud to be around her, because in our meetings, she kept us focused on everyone else and not her," Mrs. Sherbert said.
When Mrs. Hedenstad got wind that her co-workers planned to give her a retirement party, she beat them to the punch and held a party for them instead at her Severna Park home.
Born Sallie Ann Clark and raised in Hemet, Calif., she became an accomplished pianist in her youth.
She earned a bachelor's degree in 1954 from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a master's degree in psychology and management from Hood College in 1986.
Mrs. Hedenstad completed all academic requirements except her dissertation for a doctorate in policy studies with an emphasis on aging at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
She also studied at Katherine Gibbs School in New York before her 1955 marriage to Charles Hedenstad, a retired chemical engineer, who survives her.
Before joining Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland in 1984, Mrs. Hedenstad was executive director of Youth Sanctuary, a social services agency that operated residential homes for girls and boys in Severna Park.
"I've always had an interest in children's issues and got to know her 30 years ago when I was in private practice," said retired Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Robert Heller. "I thought the world of Sallie and how big her heart was."
Mrs. Hedenstad had volunteered with the Red Cross and the now-closed Crownsville State Hospital.
She was an avid gardener and world traveler, and enjoyed camping and crossword puzzles.
Services are private.
Also surviving are three sons, Stephen E. Hedenstad of Severna Park, Dana R. Hedenstad of Philadelphia and Kevin C. Hedenstad of Santa Barbara, Calif.; a daughter, Karin J. Finizo of West Grove, Pa.; a brother, Rae Clark of Los Angeles; a sister, Sue Ervin of Riverside, Calif.; and two granddaughters.