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Caryl E. Peterson, retired professor of biology at Towson University, dies

Caryl E. Peterson, a longtime professor of biology at Towson University who served for nearly a quarter-century as a trustee of McDaniel College, died Jan. 19 from complications of a stroke at Gilchrist Center Towson. The former Lutherville resident was 82.

James E. Lightner, a professor of math who taught at McDaniel College for 36 years before retiring in 1998, is also the college’s historian and author of “Fearless and Bold,” a history of the college published in 2007.

“Caryl was a very gracious and personable lady and certainly her parents’ child,” said Dr. Lightner, who graduated from what was then Western Maryland College in 1959. “She had always been a vibrant force on campus, an honor student in biology, a fine athlete, and editor of her class yearbook.”

“The important things to Caryl were her faith, family and friends, and this all came together when she was a student at what was then Western Maryland College,” said Joan M. Schuetz of Towson, a longtime friend and biology department colleague at Towson University.

“One time we were visiting a state park in California and I saw a woman wearing a Western Maryland sweatshirt and asked if she knew Caryl,” Ms. Schuetz said. “And she told me she had been her roommate at college.”

The former Caryl Jeanne Ensor, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Westminster, was the daughter of the Rev. Lowell Skinner Ensor, a Methodist minister, who was Western Maryland College’s fifth and longest-serving president, from 1947 to 1972, and his wife, Eloise Bittner Ensor, who taught freshman English at the college in the 1950s.

Dr. Peterson, who grew up in the college’s President’s House, was co-valedictorian of her 1954 Westminster High School class.

“When visiting colleges before selecting one to attend, she was always looking for a place as beautiful as Western Maryland College; she never found one,” a daughter, Anne Ensor Lewis Smith of Timonium, wrote in a biographical sketch of her mother.

“Thus, she chose to remain ‘at home’ for her undergraduate career, at no time regretting, always celebrating, her decision,” she wrote.

“She literally walked from the President’s House to her dorm in McDaniel Hall,” Dr. Lightner recalled. “And even though she had had a long association with the college since she was 11 years old, she never played on her association with her father.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1958, as class valedictorian and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, she entered Bryn Mawr College, from which she received a master’s degree in 1959 in biology. In 1977, she obtained a Ph.D. in anatomy from the University of Maryland.

She joined the biology department at Towson University in 1960, and also for a brief time at what is now McDaniel College. From 1970 to 1993, she was an associate professor at Towson, and for the last three years of her career before retiring in 1996, was a professor.

Dr. Peterson had been biology department chair and coordinator and chairperson of the premedical pre-dental programs.

“We’ve seen an increasing tendency for students who have completed undergraduate majors to change their minds and decide to go into medicine,” she told The Sun in a 1989 interview. “Often they have worked for a few years in a particular career and decided it wasn’t for them.”

These were not students who were going from nursing to medicine, which would be a natural transition, but rather students who had been studying philosophy, English, music or business, who decided they wanted to enter the medical field.

“The trend in medicine now is to look for students who are well-rounded with a broad background and not just narrow science training,” she said. “Our students have a lot of breadth and a good bit of maturity.”

“Caryl was always very concerned about the success of her students. In addition to lectures and labs, she engaged in one-on-one guidance, especially to those thinking of going to medical school,” Ms. Schuetz said.

“This was critical to the success of the individual involved,” she said. “I know that I benefited from the essence of her.”

Dr. Peterson had also developed and taught two new courses at Towson, “Dissection of the Upper Extremity,” and “Neuromuscular Mechanisms of the Upper Body.”

She retained her lifelong affection for McDaniel, where she served as a trustee from 1992 to 2016. Her focus was on buildings and grounds, enrollment management and academic affairs committees. She was a member of the ninth presidential search committee, which brought Dr. Roger N. Casey to Westminster.

“Caryl was always very concerned about the college, and we both served as trustees and because we knew its history, could bring perspective to our work,” aid Dr. Lightner, a Westminster resident.

Dr. Peterson endowed the Eloise B. and Lowell S. Ensor Scholarship Fund in memory of her parents.

In 1985, she married Dr. Ronald G. Peterson, a Greater Baltimore Medical Center obstetrician and gynecologist.

In 1989, she took a sabbatical from Towson and the couple went abroad to China to study the Chinese health system.

While they were in China, they learned about their tour guide and his family, and decided to help them come to the United States, where he could obtain additional education “so they could live a better life. Presently, all three of them are now American citizens,” her daughter wrote.

After retiring from Towson, she became a home care volunteer for Gilchrist Center Towson, offering compassion and comfort to the terminally ill.

She enjoyed playing tennis and paddle ball and liked knitting sweaters and prayer shawls and making quilts for family and friends.

Dr. Peterson was a member of Hunt’s Memorial United Methodist Church in Riderwood.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Dr. Peterson is survived by another daughter, Nanci Lewis Adams of Barrington, R.I.; a stepson, Ronald G. Peterson Jr. of Clovis, Calif.; two stepdaughters, Donna Peterson Crawford of Oakland, Garrett County, and Barbara Peterson Dawson of Boca Raton, Fla.; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to James I. Lewis ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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