Beth K. Currie, a popular Lansdowne High School social studies teacher who believed it was important to get students out of the confines of the classroom and textbooks, died of pneumonia Tuesday at St. Agnes Hospital. She was 78.
Beth Kopelke, whose parents were grocers, was born in Aurora, Ill., and spent her early years in the family grocery store.
When the business failed during the Depression, the family moved to Florida, where members found jobs on a dairy farm, and then to Baltimore in the 1940s, when her father went to work for the Bettar Ice Cream Co. as a master ice cream maker.
Growing up in Catonsville, she was a 1947 graduate of Catonsville High School. She earned her education degree from what is now Towson University in 1952 and a master's degree in education from the Johns Hopkins University in 1956.
Mrs. Currie began teaching social studies in 1952 at the old Catonsville Middle School when it was housed in the same building as the high school on Bloomsbury Avenue.
She later joined the faculty at Catonsville High School. In 1972, she began teaching at Lansdowne High School.
Mrs. Currie retired in 1985.
"I was teaching at Catonsville High when she was in the junior high, so we go way back to 1954," said Catherine R. Gira, who was president of Frostburg State University for 15 years. She retired in 2006.
"Beth had a wonderful reputation. I went to the reunion of the Class of 1958, and one of the men, a retired professor from the University of Montreal who had been in her class in junior high school, asked about her," said Dr. Gira.
"He told me that Beth had taken their class to Philadelphia, and he had never forgotten it. She left an indelible mark on her classes," said Dr. Gira.
Mrs. Currie also loaded her students aboard buses so they could witness the General Assembly firsthand when it was in session in Annapolis.
"She was very interested in the nuances of social studies that could be illuminated by psychology and history. It was a different way of looking at it and gave a greater depth," Dr. Gira said. "She brought the real world into her teaching, not just stale textbooks."
Dr. Gira described her longtime friend as being "full of energy and a real live wire."
Lizz Kolodny, another colleague, taught English and creative writing at Lansdowne.
"She engaged and challenged her students, and I never heard one unkind word about her from students, faculty or parents. They had nothing but respect for her," said Mrs. Kolodny, who retired in 2005 from the Carver Center in Towson.
"Believe me, she wasn't lenient and had the highest standards, but at the same time she had respect for her students, and they showed it back to her," she said.
"When I came to Lansdowne, I wanted to emulate her. Beth just inspired everybody. She had lots of common sense and was a very bright woman," Mrs. Kolodny said. "Imagine, after 50 years, her students were still talking about her."
After retiring from Lansdowne, Mrs. Currie worked another decade at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a computer science adviser. She retired again in 1995.
The longtime Catonsville resident, who moved to the Charlestown retirement community in 1996, remained active and participated in many classes offered to residents.
"I teach contemporary issues or current events at Charlestown, and she had been coming to my class for a very long time," said Toby R. Essrog.
"Beth was very bright, well-read and always had something pertinent to say. She always had something interesting to add to the discussion and was a huge asset to the class," Ms. Essrog said. "She was always very gracious to those around her who may not have agreed with her. She really was a person who stood out."
In addition to keeping up on current events and politics, Mrs. Currie was an animal lover and interested in wildlife preservation issues.
"I remember we were driving back one night on a rural road in Baltimore County, and she stopped the car to help a turtle across the road. It was very hazardous, and I was worried she could have been killed," Dr. Gira said. "My children called her 'Aunt Beth,' and my daughter named her terrier after her. There is no greater honor when a child does that."
Mrs. Currie and her husband, Douglass Currie, a printer whom she married in 1970, enjoyed traveling across the country in their camper. He died in 2002.
She also liked to garden and read. Her philanthropic interests included several environmental organizations and the House of Ruth.
A memorial service for Mrs. Currie will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in the chapel at Charlestown, 715 Maiden Choice Lane.
Surviving are a brother, James Kopelke of Rochester, N.Y.; three nephews, Paul Kopelke of Hampden, Lynn Kopelke of Washington and Lee Kopelke of Florida; and a niece, Kendra Kopelke of Pikesville.