Edward L. ‘Ned’ Clapp, a former longtime Gilman teacher known for puns and ‘Dreaded Bag’ assignments, dies
Sep 03, 2019 at 6:03 PM
Edward L. “Ned” Clapp, a former longtime Gilman School teacher who was known for his “Dreaded Bag” assignments, died Aug. 24 in his sleep at his Broadmead retirement community home in Cockeysville. The former Riderwood resident was 78.
“Ned was devoted to Gilman and was the quintessential middle school teacher,” said former headmaster, John E. Schmick, who lives in Baltimore County’s Woodbrook neighborhood. “He was devoted to the boys and was a devoted teacher, and had a marvelous sense of humor. When he disciplined, he did it very fairly and always with a sense of humor.”
Donald Abrams, a Towson resident, retired in June as coordinator of Gilman Middle School instructional technology, began his career there 46 years ago teaching French.
“Ned was a good teacher and in many ways the most important thing was that he was a hard teacher. It’s easy being an easy teacher, but he had high expectations,” Mr. Abrams said in a telephone interview. “He pushed his students to excel and challenged them. For his middle school students, his courses were the most difficult they ever had, but he wanted them to elevate their game.”
Edward Lamberton Clapp, who was known as “Ned,” was the son of Clyde M. Clapp, who worked in human relations in local businesses, and his wife, Dorothy L. Clapp, a stay-at-home parent and community volunteer, was born in Baltimore and raised on the family’s Pot Springs Road farm in Timonium.
A 1959 Gilman graduate, he graduated from Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
After teaching in public schools in the northern Chicago suburbs for six years, Mr. Clapp joined the Gilman faculty. He taught ancient history, American history and world geography, and was director of the summer school from 1975 to 1997.
“He was the summer school’s first director and really put it on the map,” said Mr. Schmick who was Gilman headmaster from 2007 to 2013.
When Mr. Clapp taught ancient history, he brought a different twist to it.
“Ned was not satisfied with the existing textbooks at the time and substituted a college textbook,” Mr. Abrams recalled. “It was a bit challenging, but he made it digestible for the boys.”
He described Mr. Clapp as a “stern taskmaster and no-nonsense classroom teacher who loved the boys” and a teacher who did not shy away from equally challenging his colleagues.
“Decorum and behavior were to be maintained in and out of his classroom,” Mr. Abrams said. "But he was quick-witted and an inveterate punster who could have written for “Seinfeld.' He had a good sense of humor even though he had a tough exterior.”
Ron Culbertson, who had been chair of the math department and Gilman Middle School head for nearly three decades, wrote in a 2008 tribute to Mr. Clapp in The Gilman School Bulletin that his puns were known as “Clapp-isms.”
“In Ned’s class there is a constant assault on one’s ears similar to fingernails on the chalkboard — puns. They never stop coming,” he wrote.
“For poor sixth graders, half of the puns are not understood until later the next day. No student or colleague statement is immune to a restatement using a Clapp-ism. ‘That’s not fair,’ some innocent sixth grader says. ‘If you want fair, drive to Timonium,’ is the Clapp response,” wrote Mr. Culbertson, a Towson resident.
Between the fall and spring semesters, to keep the students busy, the school offered in January a week of nongraded classes in such subjects as celestial navigation, journalism and other useful subjects that were taught by faculty and outside experts.
Mr. Clapp’s entry was cooking, which Mr. Abrams explained demonstrated another “aspect” to Mr. Clapp’s life.
“Ned did not get married to his beloved Jeanne until later in life and his mini-mester class, because he was a bachelor, was called ‘Survival Cooking,’ and he was a good cook.”
A rite of passage for his middle school students for decades was what became known as the “Dreaded Bag” assignment, which was part of Mr. Clapp’s geography test.
The first step was that a student had to draw a slip of paper from the bag on which a state name was printed. Then, using a blank map of the United States, the student was required to draw the state in its proper place on the map and the borders of all the surrounding states and correctly label them.
In 2017, according to a Gilman School publication, the “Dreaded Bag” had been discovered in the archives of the middle school.
Mr. Abrams wrote in a tribute that was circulated to his Gilman colleagues after Mr. Clapp’s death that he had established in his classroom an area that was dubbed “The Geography Mecca.”
Through the years Mr. Clapp had handled several roles, including that of assistant middle school head and dean of students as well as that of classroom teacher.
"He reveled awarding strikes for students with their shirt tails out,” Mr. Abrams wrote. “Many of us rookie teachers still have an indelible image in our minds of Ned issuing ‘strike three,’ which, of course, came with a cautionary demerit or an afternoon detention.”
“Ned was an old master, earning the respect and affection of his young charges with his breadth of knowledge, generous caring and irreverent puns.”
“Some individuals are veritable fixtures in the sense that they are venerable icons of an institution. Ned was a titan, a giant of the Middle School — both when the Middle School was in its infancy as a separate division, and throughout its formidable years as it developed its own identity.”
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A former longtime Dennis Avenue resident in Riderwood, Mr. Clapp was an avid vegetable gardener who was especially known for his beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, whose bounty he graciously shared with colleagues, family and friends.
Other pastimes included reading, history, crossword puzzles, travel and listening to classical music.
He and his wife of 39 years, the former Jeanne Gatewood, who was a founding teacher at the Odyssey School, later moved in 2004 from Riderwood to a Mays Chapel condominium. She died in 2014, and he moved to Broadmead.
A graveside service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 E. Padonia Road, Timonium.