Sarah Frances “Penny” Uebersax, a retired St. Paul School for Girls math and science teacher, died of complications of flu and pneumonia Feb. 9 at the Blakehurst Retirement Community. The former Sparks resident was 95.
Born in New Orleans, La., and raised in Baltimore on Louise Avenue in Hamilton, she was the daughter of Joseph S. Bechtel, a marine engineer and American Salvage manager, and his wife, Teressa E. Barham, a piano teacher. She graduated second in her 1942 class at Eastern High School and was a pioneering physics major at Goucher College, where she was also class president.
“She remained involved at Goucher for all her life and held many positions in the alumnae association,” said her granddaughter, Stacey Phillips of Baltimore. “She never missed a reunion.”
She met her future husband, Werner A. Uebersax, through her brother, Charles Bechtel, a classmate at Polytechnic Institute.
“Charles and Werner were good friends. When they returned from World War II, Werner noticed that Charles’ younger sister had grown up,” said her granddaughter. “He told the story that when he left for the war Penny was not on his radar because she was Charles’ little sister. When he returned he fell in love with Penny, who had grown into a strikingly beautiful and brilliant young woman.”
She also said, “Penny later told her granddaughters, she always had an eye for Werner and would watch dreamily as he and her brother would leave for their double dates on Saturday nights.”
Mrs. Uebersax began at Goucher in 1943, when the physics program was developed for four students in the incoming class.
“Of those original four, Penny was the only student to graduate with the physics major,” said her granddaughter. “She was quite proud of being the first physics major to graduate from Goucher in 1946. She was also one of the first women to be hired by the National Bureau of Standards, but she never started the job, as she fell in love and got married.”
Mrs. Uebersax joined the faculty of St. Paul’s School for Girls when her youngest son was in school. She taught math and science for 25 years at the Brooklandville campus.
“She had boxes of letters she kept from her students and often enjoyed looking back at yearbooks,” said her granddaughter. “After retirement, she decided to teach for the Calvert Home School Program. This allowed her to work part time from her home in Sparks.”
Into her 90s Mrs. Uebersax solved calculus problems for fun.
“Walking into her apartment at Blakehurst, there would always be some kind of math textbook out with pages open and notebooks of calculations,” said her granddaughter. “She studied math through online courses, played the piano, danced, swam and boated.”
Her son, Werner B. Uebersax, recalled how he enlisted both his parents to help with his math studies at Perry Hall High School.
“Both my parents were good at math — and were clearly more knowledgeable than my math teachers,” said Mr. Uebersax. “I had fun solving math proofs. Each of my parents had a different approach to a proof, and I would amaze a class with them. They were great tutors.”
Mrs. Uebersax lived in Cub Hill from 1946 to 1975. She and her husband bought a tract, V Acres, where they had a garden and raised chickens, goats, hogs and ducks. They bought what had been a summer home and doubled its size. When her children were napping, she climbed a ladder and shingled the addition’s roof.
“She was a strong and tough lady for being a mere 5 feet tall,” said her granddaughter.
She also cured hams in a shed and cut up chicken parts for freezing.
The family later moved to Ulmstead, a neighborhood on the Magothy River in Arnold. In 1986 she moved to Sparks and in 2006 settled in Blakehurst.
“Her grandchildren thought it was cool that her favorite TV shows were ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and that at the age of 95 she could text on her iPhone,” said her granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. March 16 at Hunt’s Memorial United Methodist Church, Old Court and West Joppa roads in Riderwood, where she was a member.
In addition to her granddaughter and son, survivors include two other sons, Kris B. Uebersax of Ellicott City and Eric B. Uebersax of Nottingham; two other granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter. Her husband of 64 years, a retired Catonsville Community College electronics department chairman and former aeronautical engineer, died in 2010.