Eileen H. 'Pat' van Breemen, 88, worked to help children with learning disabilities

Eileen H. "Pat" van Breemen, an advocate for children suffering from learning disabilities and a Wicomico County political activist, died Tuesday, from multiple organ failures, at her Salisbury home.

She had recently celebrated her 88th birthday.

The former Eileen Barbara Hines was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, where she graduated in 1942 from Iowa City High School.

Her father was a college professor, and her mother was a Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad telegrapher and a silent movie pianist.

Mrs. van Breemen, who was known as Pat, earned a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1945 from the University of Iowa, and a master's degree in the discipline in 1947 from Mount Holyoke College.

While pursuing her Ph.D. in anatomy at the University of Iowa, she met and fell in love with Dr. Verne L. van Breemen, whom she married in 1948.

The couple lived in New York, Los Angeles and Colorado, where her husband held academic appointments until 1966, when they moved to Salisbury when he joined the faculty of Salisbury State College.

He died in 1990.

After moving to Wicomico County, Mrs. van Breemen immersed herself in community affairs. She served as president of the League of Women Voters and was president of the Democratic Club of Wicomico County.

She also served on the Wicomico County Library Board of Trustees, and served two terms on the Board of License Commissioners of Wicomico County.

But it was children with learning disabilities that caught both Mrs. van Breemen's attention and her heart.

She served as president of the Mental Health Association of the Lower Eastern Shore and had been president of the Lower Shore Association for Children with Learning Disabilities.

After her children were grown, she took a position as the founding public relations director and volunteer coordinator at Holly Center, in Salisbury, a residential and training center, where she worked for many years.

The center, which is part of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, serves residents of Worcester, Wicomico, Somerset, Dorchester, Queen Anne, Kent, Talbot, Cecil and Caroline counties, and assists those who are developmentally disabled.

Constance P. Speidel, the mother of two severely disabled sons, met Mrs. van Breemen through their joint work with the Lower Shore Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, and in advocating for the passage of the Education of Handicapped Children Act, a federal law that was passed in 1975.

"I got to know Pat in the late 1970s, and she was just a wonderful and caring person, and such an advocate for these kids," said Mrs. Speidel.

"She would go to the schools and talk to principals and teachers. She was wonderful in helping us negotiate the educational system in Maryland," said Mrs. Speidel, a Salisbury resident. "She was always very generous with her knowledge and support."

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, said he knew Mrs. van Breemen through his own work as a teacher and vice principal at Pinehurst Elementary School in Salisbury, and later in politics.

"She was a very active parent and wanted to help our school anyway she could," said Mr. Conway. "Children with disabilities always caught her eye and she wanted to help them, and when our school received special education students, she was right there helping."

He said that Mrs. van Breemen had an abiding interest in politics as well.

"Again, she would do anything she could to encourage people to become part of the fabric of the community. When she saw a need, she was always willing to help," said Mr. Conway. "And she was well-known in Salisbury for her community activism."

Mrs. van Breemen enjoyed attending the theater and concerts and visiting museums.

"Pat was a dear friend for many years," said Dr. James P. Ostryniec, who was the assistant principal oboist for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for 30 years.

"She was a founding member of the Eastern Shore Symphony Association that brought the BSO to the Eastern Shore. She thought it was very important for children on the shore to have the opportunity to hear the symphony," said Dr. Ostryniec, who is retired and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The symphony would perform in Salisbury both in the fall and spring, bringing an occasion for Dr. Ostryniec to spend time with Mrs. van Breemen.

"Jim would arrive early, and my mother would prepare dinner for him featuring shrimp scampi," said a son, Dr. Richard B. van Breemen of Elmhurst, Ill.

"Pat was always good to everybody. She never looked at anything that was less than positive," said Dr. Ostryniec. "People were willing to do things for her and it was impossible to ever turn her down. And the things she did for the community, were never about her."

Annette Burgess, who formerly taught history at James Bennett High School in Salisbury and now teaches abroad in English language schools, was a close friend for more than 40 years

"In addition to community activities, Pat was an excellent bridge player, gourmet cook, basketball fan, and avid reader," wrote Mrs. Burgess in an email from Taiwan, where she now lives.

"Pat encouraged and nurtured her family and friends to develop their individual talents and interests. She was quick to praise the accomplishments of her children, grandchildren and friends," she wrote. "I suspect many of us achieved more as a result of her encouragement."

Mrs. Burgess added: "She made a real difference in the lives of people and she did this without receiving public recognition for her many contributions."

Mrs. van Breemen was a founding member of the Wicomico River Friends Meeting, 519 Dykes Road, Salisbury, where a memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26.

She is survived by two other sons, Verne Howard van Breemen of Salisbury and Peter A. van Breemen of Gaithersburg; and four grandchildren.


An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the memorial service would take place. The Sun regrets the error.

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