Ruth E. "Elaine" Kolakowski, a longtime Baltimore County educator and administrator who sewed quilts for hospitalized and abused children, died Thursday of facioscapulohumeral, or FSH, a rare form of muscular dystrophy, at St. Joseph Medical Center.
She was 68.
Ruth Elaine Lancaster, who was known by her middle name, was born in Baltimore and raised on Banbury Road in Anneslie. She was a 1958 graduate of Towson High School and that year received certificates in voice and piano from the Peabody Conservatory's Preparatory Department.
She studied music for a year at Lebanon Valley College before marrying Lee Franklin Kolakowski Sr., a mechanical engineer, in 1960.
It was while raising her three preschool-age children that she joined a mothers' baby-sitting cooperative sponsored by the Towson YMCA. The co-op required its members to take turns caring for the children, and she soon discovered that she both enjoyed and had an affinity for the task.
She returned to college at what is now Towson University and earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood education in 1970. She began teaching kindergarten that year at Villa Cresta and in 1972 transferred to Stoneleigh Elementary School, where she taught kindergarten for the next 14 years.
"She was such a super kindergarten teacher - one of the best - that I was always calling on her to do workshops and demonstrations," said Charles Wehner, who was Stoneleigh's vice principal at the time.
"Elaine was very creative and hardworking, and just a wonderful person. When she put her mind to something, she'd never stop. When she had been diagnosed with her illness, she didn't let it interfere with getting her Ph.D.," Mr. Wehner recalled.
While teaching, Dr. Kolakowski earned master's degrees in education from Towson in 1974 and from the Johns Hopkins University in 1979. In 2000, she earned her doctorate in education from the University of Maryland, College Park.
In the mid-1980s, she left the classroom and embarked on an administrative career, spending 14 years an assistant principal or principal at Woodmoor, Winfield, Johnnycake and Pine Grove elementary schools.
At the time of her 2001 retirement, she was principal of Gunpowder Elementary School.
Since 1978, Dr. Kolakowski had been a member of the Chi chapter at Hopkins of Pi Lambda Theta, an international honor and professional educational association. She later was chapter president, regional president and, from 1987 to 1989, was international vice president.
When her children were young, Dr. Kolakowski was active in Girl and Boy Scouts. On one occasion, because of a strike at the plant where her husband was working, she volunteered at the last minute to help lead a 10-day Boy Scout canoeing trip to Canada.
"Elaine had great canoeing and swimming skills, and when I couldn't get away, she said she'd do it. She was the only woman with 15 boys on a 100-mile canoeing trip in the wilds of Canada," Mr. Kolakowski said.
After being diagnosed with FSH in 1999, Dr. Kolakowski became a volunteer with the Maryland chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and also participated in medical studies.
An avid sewer, she also became involved with the Binky Patrol, a nonprofit organization that gathers and distributes handmade blankets for hospitalized and abused children.
"Elaine made beautiful large blankets for me, and the children liked the patterns she did," said Donna Serra, head of the Binky Patrol's Maryland chapter. "If I called her and said I needed some blankets, within two days she'd have 50 ready for me."
Dr. Kolakowski's output was prolific, totaling more than 1,000 blankets that were given to Maryland children.
"One year, she made 360 blankets for me. She was such a trouper and took it upon herself to do what she could. It was something she loved doing for the children," Miss Serra said.
"She was such a wonderful lady, and I'm really going to miss her," she said.
The former Long Green resident, who moved to the Edenwald retirement community last year, was a world traveler.
"She also enjoyed and respected the genre of children's literature, especially the books of Beatrix Potter," said Ann Kolakowski, her daughter-in-law, who lives in Timonium.
"After a friend mentioned that the industrious character of Mrs. Tiggy-winkle reminded him of [her], she began collecting hedgehogs. Her collection of figurines, Christmas ornaments, and stuffed toys eventually numbered well over 100," she said.
Dr. Kolakowski donated her body to the Mayland Anatomy Board, family members said.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave., Towson.
Also surviving are her son, Lee Franklin "Frank" Kolakowski Jr. of Timonium; a daughter, Leslie Delss of Hampstead; a sister, Elizabeth Niner of Creamery, Pa.; and five grandchildren. Another daughter, Sheri Belt, died in 1996.