Rosalea Della, volunteer, dies

Rosalea Della, a retired Baltimore Gas and Electric worker who was recognized by President George H.W. Bush for her many hours of volunteer service, died of a pulmonary embolism Tuesday at St. Agnes Hospital. She was 93 and had lived in Pasadena.

She was born Rosalea Muriel Streckfus in Baltimore and lived her early years in Canton. Several years ago she wrote a memoir of her life in which she recalled her family's basement kitchen: "The black iron range was always kept burning hot in the winter. Grandma always baked the best fresh bread on that stove," she said. She also recalled having the city's tabloid 1-cent newspaper, The Baltimore Post, delivered though a mail slot at the home.

In her writing, she said that her grandmother provided a "wonderful educational experience." Her elder supplied moral advice: "You can shut the door on a thief, but never a liar."

Mrs. Della recalled spending her summers at a house at Green Haven and swimming in Stoney Creek. "I would dive off the pilings. I had no fear of the water," she said.

In the winter of 1929, she moved from Southeast Baltimore to Anne Arundel County. "I left a city class of 63 and came to an eighth grade of 13," she wrote. "The city school had all the conveniences. The county school had an outside water pump and outside outhouses for toilets."

She also related how the family fell on hard times during the Depression of the 1930s and looked out for each other out of financial necessity.

She recalled how a family friend would bring home scraps from a butcher shop, "trimmings from pork roasts and beef liver." She said "those things never went to the dog. Somehow they turned into a good stew or with sauerkraut and potatoes."

She left Glen Burnie High School two credits short of graduation and took a job at the old Federal Tin Co. factory in the Inner Harbor. She worked on a line and made cans for powder, spices and tobacco.

"There was a chance for me to make some money. This job was not a very good one. I had cuts everywhere on my hand," she wrote. "The pay was piece work, ten cents a thousand for packing spice cans that had sharp edges with no lids on the top. Sometimes the machines would break down and we could not make our quotas. We never got paid when the machine was broken. The weekly wage was anywhere from a $1.50 to about $7 according to what good jobs had run that week."

While at a carnival, she met her future husband, Melvia "Bud" Della, who also worked at Federal Tin. They married in Green Haven and bought three rooms of furniture from the old Four Besche Brothers Department Store on Light Street in South Baltimore.

Other members of her extended family moved in with the young couple. They built their own home — her brother-in-law dug a foundation and salvaged building materials, including flooring from the steamship Morro Castle, which had caught fire and beached off Asbury Park, N.J., and been towed to Baltimore for scrapping. Friends from Federal Tin did the electric wiring.

Mrs. Della took a job loading whiskey cases and truck and train cars at the Calvert Distillery in Relay during World War II. "It was not a feminine job. But it paid well and the place was immaculately clean," she wrote.

After raising a son and daughter, she became a BGE collections agent and worked for another 20 years before retiring.

Eager to remain busy, she joined the Maryland Senior Enrichment Program and began volunteering at four Anne Arundel County nursing homes.

In September 1991, she was named a "1000 Points of Light" recipient and was recognized by President Bush for her volunteer work. She met the president and was given a medallion at Disney World. An article in the Maryland Gazette called her a "guardian angel" to the elderly.

She lived independently in the Ventnor community until five years ago when she moved to the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. There she also pushed other residents in wheelchairs and worked with those confined to beds.

"She would sit with people who had no one else," said her son, Ray Della of Canandaigua, N.Y. "She was pushing around patients who were 20 years younger than she was until a few weeks ago. She was a lady of faith who believed the Bible told you to serve others."

Mrs. Della was a member of Jenkins Memorial Church in Riviera Beach and taught Sunday school. She belonged to the Order of the Eastern Star.

Services were held Friday.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Darlen Jones of Pasadena; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her husband of more than 30 years died in 1966.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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