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Elaine B. Snyder, advocate for mentally ill and Baltimore Museum of Art trustee, dies

Elaine B. Snyder was the founder of Haven Psychiatric Rehabilitation Programs and a longtime trustee of the <a href="http://events.baltimoresun.com/venues/baltimore-museum-of-art-baltimore">Baltimore Museum of Art.</a>
Elaine B. Snyder was the founder of Haven Psychiatric Rehabilitation Programs and a longtime trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art. (Baltimore Sun)

Elaine B. Snyder, founder of Haven Psychiatric Rehabilitation Programs and a longtime trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art, died Saturday of pulmonary fibrosis at her home in The Colonnade on Canterbury Road. She was 74.

"Elaine was the founder of the Haven programs back in 1985, designed to help folks that were coming out of institutions and being reassimilated into the community," said Stephen H. Riegger, who was hired in 1986 by Mrs. Snyder to be a counselor. "The programs caught on like wildfire. It was truly one of those things that, if you built it, they will come.

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"She was a staunch advocate for the chronically mentally ill. She was a real advocate for client rights and programs," said Mr. Riegger who is now program director of Haven's psychiatric rehabilitation program.

"Elaine was very outspoken and was never afraid to speak her mind about rights of the chronically mentally ill," he said.

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The daughter of Herman Borko, a Government Printing Office worker, and Lillian Borko, a homemaker, Elaine Borko was born in New York City and moved with her family in 1943 to Washington when her father took a job in the printing office.

Raised in a home in Takoma Park, she was a 1959 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School and earned a bachelor's degree from George Washington University.

In 1962, she married Dr. Solomon H. Snyder, who had graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine, and they moved to San Francisco as he interned for a year at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital.

They returned to Washington the next year, and Mrs. Snyder worked as an editor for Science magazine.

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The couple moved to Baltimore in 1965. Dr. Snyder began a psychiatry residency at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Mrs. Snyder went to work at the Social Security Administration as a writer.

After raising her two daughters, Mrs. Snyder returned to school, earning a master's degree in mental health from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1983.

Upon graduation from Hopkins, she worked as a therapist at the Harford Belair Community Health Center Inc. — also known as Harbel Community Mental Health Center — in Northeast Baltimore. In 1985, she began developing the center's Haven Psychiatric Rehabilitation Day Program and Residential Program and was founding director when the program opened in 1987.

"She directed its emergence as one of the city's most honored centers," her husband, emeritus director of the department of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, wrote in an email.

The program went from a single room in a church to a former bar and then to the old Munder's Restaurant in Lauraville. Mrs. Snyder helped raise money for its conversion.

The program started with 10 to 15 people and grew to 30 to 35. Today, there are 150 chronically mentally ill people in the program, with a daily average of 95 to 100.

"The program expanded into wellness, education and a substance abuse program. She always had lots of ideas," said Mr. Riegger, a Timonium resident. "The whole thrust of the program was the quality of life for the chronically mentally ill, keeping them out of the hospital and helping give them skills in managing their illness. Elaine was instrumental in getting this off the ground."

"She was serious with a capital 'S' and was dedicated," said Elaine K. Freeman, retired vice president of corporate communications at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who lives in Ruxton.

"She didn't dabble. When she got interested in mental health, she went and got a master's degree," said Ms. Freeman. "She was a very quiet person, and most people saw her as Sol's wife and did not know what she had done on her own. She wasn't afraid of getting her hands dirty."

When Mrs. Snyder retired in 1996, the Harford-Belair Foundation was established and the Elaine Snyder House was purchased in 1997 to honor her for her leadership. She served as president of the foundation until her death, and annually raised more than $100,000, said her husband.

In 2002, she was instrumental in obtaining an Abell Foundation grant of $187,000, as well as grants from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg and the Greenberg foundations, which allowed the center to purchase two additional houses.

She touched many lives in Northeast Baltimore, said Mr. Riegger. "What we're doing today can truly be traced back to Elaine Snyder, who was nothing short of being a super human being."

In retirement, Mrs. Snyder launched a second career, serving on the board and as vice president of Jewish Community Services. For 15 years, until stepping down in 2014, she was a trustee of the Baltimore Museum of Art and also chaired its acquisitions committee.

"She was a very devoted and enthusiastic supporter of contemporary art and was a member of the contemporary accessions committee, " said Jay Fisher, deputy director of curatorial affairs at the BMA. "She was definitely a strong force on our board."

In addition to collecting contemporary art, Mrs. Snyder enjoyed photography, Broadway shows, cooking, entertaining and arranging dinner parties.

She was a member of Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore.

Funeral services for Mrs. Snyder will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her two daughters, Dr. Judith Kastenberg of Philadelphia and Deborah "Dasha" Snyder of New York City; a brother, Stephen Borko of Bethesda; and three grandchildren.

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