Stella C. Gersuk, a retired Northern High School English teacher who was also a well-known Baltimore square dance instructor, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Saturday at Milford Manor Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Pikesville. She was 90.
The former Stella Cohen was born and raised in Baltimore. She graduated in 1932 from Western High School. After earning a teaching certificate from what is now Towson University in 1934, she began teaching in Baltimore elementary schools.
In 1957, Mrs. Gersuk joined the faculty of the newly opened Edmondson High School as an English teacher. She spent most of her career there until being transferred to Northern High School, from which she retired in 1973.
"Her classrooms were all business, and she was an exceptionally fine teacher. She taught English and literature and set high standards and made sure her students rose to the occasion," said Joseph Heaps, a veteran Edmondson High School teacher and longtime friend.
"She was a wonderful lady and a fixture in the English department. It was wonderful being on the faculty with her. She wasn't there at the 40th reunion of the Class of 1965, but I was, and I remember so many of her former students praising her," Mr. Heaps said.
Years after she had retired, former students still sought out Mrs. Gersuk to thank her for what she had done and how she had shaped their lives.
"She was respected as a tough and fair teacher and enjoyed for her no-nonsense, down-to-earth interpersonal approach," said a daughter, Susan Gersuk Jacobson of Columbia.
"She was a wonderful person, teacher and fine friend," said Shirley D. Schmidt, a retired Baltimore public school teacher, whose friendship with Mrs. Gersuk dated to their college days during the 1930s.
"I admired how each week she wrote a saying by a well-known person on her blackboard and had the children copy it down in their notebooks. I thought that was a great idea," Mr. Schmidt said.
In addition to her classroom teaching, during the 1940s and 1950s Mrs. Gersuk was a professional square-dance caller and instructor. She earned the nickname Stella "Friendship" Gersuk after teaching and calling dances at Baltimore's Friendship Club.
Mrs. Gersuk also taught square dancing to church groups, conventions, charitable organizations, country clubs and to private parties who gathered friends for lessons in their club cellars.
"It isn't the teenagers that go for it. They're too sophisticated," Mrs. Gersuk told The Sun in a 1950 article. "It's the people living fairly tense, harried lives that find it a way to lose some of their inhibitions."
Described in the newspaper article as being a "vivacious and attractive caller," Mrs. Gersuk employed an easy method of teaching square dancing.
"There are, it seems, two types of calls - patter calls and singing calls. Of the two, Mrs. Gersuk prefers the former, because she can assist confused dancers by adlibbing patter until they overcome their bewilderment," according to the article.
"Each instruction is given simply and clearly and then followed before proceeding to a new one. Therefore, when the dance is put together, each person knows how to carry out his part in cooperation with the other."
Mrs. Gersuk appeared weekly on The Lazy H Jamboree, a local country music show that aired on the old WAAM-TV, later WJZ-TV, in the early 1950s.
In 1950, she recorded an album, So You Want to Square Dance, with Jack Sheer and his Nimbleaires Orchestra, which included "Golden Slippers," "Dive for the Oyster" and "Birdie in the Cage."
A lifelong Democrat, Mrs. Gersuk was an early civil rights supporter and an advocate for the developmentally disabled.
Mrs. Gersuk, who lived for years at Stevenson Village Apartments, was a member of Har Sinai Congregation and the Columbia Jewish Congregation. She also was an early and enthusiastic volunteer for Peers in Passage, which provided peer-counseling services to senior citizens, and she won recognition within the agency for her dedication and skill.
"She was my other mother," said Betsy Granek, a Baltimore massage therapist, who had known Mrs. Gersuk all of her life.
"She was a woman who believed in me and was always very encouraging. She was honest, straightforward and didn't pull any punches. She always told you what she thought," Ms. Granek said. "But she was a wonderful role model and teacher when it came to knowing how to live a life."
Her husband of 41 years, Dr. Edward A. Gersuk, a former area director for Baltimore public schools, died in 1977.
Services were yesterday.
Also surviving are two other daughters, Nancy P. Gersuk of Baltimore and Deborah Gersuk Mitnick of Pikesville; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.