Nancy L. Kramer, who was a co-founder and first director of Downtown Baltimore Child Care Inc., which was known for its progressive approach to early childhood education, died Wednesday of Alzheimer's disease at Sunrise Senior Living in Columbia. She was 83.
"Nancy brought a love of children to her work and wanted to develop and provide high-quality care and environment for children. She was a strong advocate of play-based and child-centered learning," said Margo Sipes, who succeeded Mrs. Kramer as executive director of Downtown Baltimore Child Care when she retired in 2001. "All of her advocacy was for the children."
She said Mrs. Kramer also placed a value in hiring only high-quality teachers.
"She also focused on compensation, benefits, a quality work environment as well as the curriculum and developing a deep relationship between the staff, families and the children," said Ms. Sipes.
Susan Sandstrom, who is a prekindergarten teacher at DBCC, got to know Mrs. Kramer in the 1970s, when Mrs. Kramer hired her to work at the Family Development Center at Coldspring New Town.
"Nancy's background was in nursery schools, and she wanted quality all-day child care and not just for 21/2 hours," said Ms. Sandstrom. "She also had a knack for hiring good and talented people."
The daughter of Harold Torbet, a graphic artist, and Gertrude Rutley Torbet, a homemaker, Nancy Lee Torbet was born in Baltimore and raised on The Alameda near City College.
She graduated from Eastern High School in 1949 and earned a bachelor's degree in American studies and early childhood education in the 1970s from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She earned a master's degree in child care administration in the 1980s from what is now Nova Southeastern University.
Mrs. Kramer taught child development and curriculum courses at Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County community colleges and later established the Relay Children's Center.
In 1983, Mrs. Kramer helped found the DBCC, a nonprofit child care institution, in a building whose restoration she led, at 800 Park Ave. in the city's Mount Vernon neighborhood. She became the center's first executive director.
"I was working at Head Start and was a parent when my daughter enrolled at the DBCC the first year it opened," recalled Ms. Sipes. "The program was so phenomenal that I felt I needed to be a part of it and started working there in 1985 as a classroom teacher."
"She trusted her teachers and let them do what they wanted to do, and loved letting them create what they wanted to do," said Ms. Sandstrom. "She wanted a cultural environment and had high expectations for her teachers. The more creative they were, the more she celebrated it."
Mrs. Kramer founded a second center in 1988 on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore that opened its doors to children the next year.
"It drew national attention as a model for early child care and education," said her daughter-in-law, Cindy Sweigard of Ellicott City. "Through scholarships, DBCC ensured that all children had access to the opportunities that they provided."
Mrs. Kramer told The Baltimore Sun in a 1995 interview that many industrialized countries subsidized the cost of child care.
"Historically," she said, "those countries have been willing to pay for child care, but in the U.S., workers have paid the cost of going to work."
"As an administrator, she was really good at drafting people to help move the organization along. She was a perfectionist and paid great attention to detail. This was very important to her and she taught me so much," said Ms. Sandstrom.
"Even her clothes were perfect. Color was very important to her. And she had these little flourishes like putting fresh flowers all over the center," she said.
Mrs. Kramer's office door was always open to staff, children and families, said Ms. Sipes, who added that "children would just go in her office and sit and chat with her."
"Sometimes the kids would go in and sing to her," said Ms. Sandstrom.
Mrs. Kramer brought a great deal of energy to her work.
"She was a workaholic and didn't sleep much. She was always taking work home," said Ms. Sandstrom. "She'd get up early and come to work. It was her passion."
A Columbia resident since 1968, Mrs. Kramer remained executive director of both centers until retiring in 2001.
In 1951, she married Robert W. Kramer, who worked as a graphic artist for Reliable Stores. He died in 2011.
Mrs. Kramer and her husband enjoyed gardening and travel, often combining the two hobbies by visiting gardens around the world. Their backyard reflected the inspirations they drew from their trips.
Mrs. Kramer also liked furnishing her classrooms with items gathered on her worldwide travels.
"She wanted the kids to be exposed to real artwork," said Ms. Sandstrom.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. July 6 at the Gary L. Kaufman Funeral Home, 7250 Washington Blvd., Elkridge.
In addition to her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Kramer is survived by two sons, Rowland S. Kramer of Columbia and David S. Kramer of Ellicott City; a sister, Margaret Torbet Trautman of Columbia; a granddaughter; and a niece and several nephews.