Ellen S. Dierkes, who taught fifth grade at Garrison Forest School and was a popular member of the school's faculty, died of melanoma and uterine cancer Friday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She was 58.
"Ellen was completely delightful and slightly naughty. She had a great sense of humor and was always up for an adventure as long as it was fun," said Betsy Baetjer, a former Garrison Forest teacher who taught with Ms. Dierkes.
"I worked with Ellen 10 or more years, and she was so devoted to her girls. Everyone just adored her, and she was a great friend to everyone. She was devoted to teaching and just having fun," said Ms. Baetjer, who lives in Owings Mills.
The daughter of Thomas Strother, a Union Carbide salesman, and Jo Anne Strother, a homemaker, Ellen Strother was born in Dallas.
Because of her father's job, Ms. Dierkes and her family moved frequently, living in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, before settling in Upper St. Clair, Pa.
After her husband graduated from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management with a master's degree in business, the couple settled in New York City, where she joined the faculty of the Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Manhattan, teaching third-graders.
In 1988, she and her husband moved to Baltimore when he went to work for Alex. Brown & Sons. After raising her two daughters, she became a fifth-grade teacher in 2000 at Garrison Forest in Owings Mills, where she continued teaching until her death.
"She taught Wednesday and died two days later. She did not want to leave her girls," said Ms. Baetjer. "Being in the classroom was very affirming for her, and she was incredibly brave and had a high tolerance for discomfort. She was a role model."
"I saw her that Wednesday and she was so sick. I told her to go home, and I would teach her class," said Mary P. Stewart, who taught art at Garrison Forest until retiring in May and is now a substitute teacher. "She said, 'No, this is where I want to be.' She was just an amazing person."
She said Ms. Dierkes was "a teacher from the bottom of her heart."
"She taught me so much as an adult, to never doubt yourself, and just go for it. That's the way she was," said Ms. Stewart, who lives in Ruxton. "She never thought for a second that she couldn't do something and instilled this sense of confidence in her students, and her message was simple: 'Do not doubt yourself.' "
Ms. Dierkes had a second career working with local interior decorators as a seamstress.
"She was the most creative person I've ever known," said Ms. Stewart.
"She was tremendously creative and made curtains and quilts. There were few things that she couldn't make," said Ms. Baetjer. "She was always making quilts for teachers who had new babies."
Ms. Dierkes, who lived in the Bellona-Gittings neighborhood of North Baltimore, was also a flower arranger and had been president of the Homeland Garden Club in the mid-1990s.
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Ms. Dierkes was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and had recently celebrated 11 years of sobriety, her daughter said.
She enjoyed spending summers at Five Towns, N.Y., which is on the South Shore of western Long Island, where she was a member of the Lawrence Beach and Rockaway Hunting clubs.
"She loved an off-color joke and was a perpetually positive person," her daughter said. "She will be well remembered for that humor, her warmth, smile, humility, strength and faith."
Ms. Dierkes and her husband were communicants of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday.
In addition to her husband, a financial adviser, and her daughter, Ms. Dierkes is survived by another daughter, Kathryn Caroline "Carly" Dierkes of Bilbao, Spain; her parents, Thomas and Jo Anne Strother of McMurray, Pa.; a brother, Jay Strother of Darien; three sisters, Emily Brown of Timonium, Jody McIImail of Urbana and Anne Holmes of Pittsburgh; and 11 nieces and nephews.