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Heide Grundmann, Gwynns Falls-Leakin Park civic activist, dies

Heide Marie Grundmann survived the Allied bombing of Dresden.
Heide Marie Grundmann survived the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Heide Marie Grundmann, a retired occupational therapist who fought to save Leakin Park from a highway and was a Gwynns Falls Trail advocate, died of cancer Jan. 21 at Gilchrist Towson Hospice. The Ten Hills resident was 82.

Born Heide Huth in Munich, she lived her early years in Zittau, on the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

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“When she was 6, she inadvertently experienced one of the most devastating events of the Second World War,” said her daughter, Anya Grundmann, a Bethesda resident. “While she was on a visit to her grandmother in Dresden, Allied bombers set fire to the legendary city, dropping wave after wave of incendiary bombs.“

She and her family were forced to move between bomb shelters and local parks, narrowly avoiding being caught up in the flames, her daughter said.

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As she recounted in “My Park, My Story,” a 2016 video commissioned by Baltimore’s Recreation and Parks Department, “a park saved my life.” She suffered minor phosphorous burns and was sent to the countryside to recover.

Her father, a training officer in the German army, was sent to a prison camp in Russia, and her family escaped to Hamburg.

“The resourcefulness and sense of wonder she felt as a child, even in challenging circumstances, gave her a special connection to children that charged her imagination and animated so much of her life’s work,” said her daughter.

After high school, she spent a year in Switzerland as an au pair and then moved to Berlin to earn a certificate in occupational therapy.

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A former teacher asked her for coffee one afternoon to meet her brother, Herman Grundmann.

“He was a brainy, 30-something bachelor on a visit from the United States. With his help, she landed a visa to come to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where she worked as a therapist and lived in a dorm for young single workers,” her daughter said.

They became secretly engaged and married in 1966. They moved to Baltimore, where they raised two daughters on Overdale Road in Ten Hills.

Ms. Grundmann became an advocate for Gwynn’s Falls/Leakin parks, the Enoch Pratt Free Library at Edmondson Village, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and West Baltimore Middle School.

She immersed herself in neighborhood activism and once accompanied then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s delegation to Germany to act as his translator.

“She probably fought with him as much as she agreed with him,” her daughter said.

In 2017, “Heide’s Trail” in Gwynns Falls was named after her, in appreciation for her “tenacious and tireless advocacy.” She not only helped fight the expansion of Interstate 70 through Leakin Park in the 1970s and early ’80s, but also was a founder of the Friends of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park organization, her daughter said.

“She was the heart and soul of the Gwynns Falls friends group,” said Sandra Sparks, former president of the Friends of Maryland’s Olmsted Parks & Landscapes. “She was generally interested in parks around the city.”

She realized the park was underused and needed recognition. She worked to connect leafy biking and hiking trails to the trail network.

She co-founded the annual participatory Nature Art in the Park project, which encourages local artists and park visitors to create and display art made with natural materials.

“Heide was so generous,” said C. Ryan Patterson, an artist and friend. “She was generous with her knowledge and love for Gwynns Falls-Leakin Park, her stories, her strong opinions and her creative ideas.

“Heide always encouraged artists and professors she would meet to engage with Leakin Park. Art on the Trail was her baby, but she openly shared her knowledge and welcomed me to help grow the project,” Mr. Patterson said.

He also said, “She took me on a tour of Winans Meadow, our first of many walks together through the park. She was in her 60s; I was in my 20s. I could barely keep up with her.”

Ms. Grundmann played the flute, gardened and cooked large meals for her many guests. She belonged to a book club. She attended Shriver Hall concerts and the Everyman Theatre and was a Center Stage usher.

“It was not unusual for her to stay up until 3 a.m. to work on a project or bake someone a cake for their birthday,” her daughter said. “She was curious and enjoyed practical problem-solving, as evidenced by the many ingeniously jury-rigged items throughout the house.”

Her daughter described her mother’s home at Christmas.

“She opened her house to friends and neighbors to share the joy of the season with carol singing accompanied by her husband at the piano and the lighting of the candles on the Old World Christmas tree,” her daughter said.

Her husband, Herman F. Grundmann, a Social Security Administration economist, died in 2020.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by another daughter, Dr. Ina Grundmann of Baltimore; a brother, Henning Huth of Cologne, Germany; and two sisters, Antje Santel of Larcan, Midi-Pyrenees, France, and Elke Huth of Hamburg, Germany.

A memorial service is being planned.

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