Joy Umansky, baker

Joy Umansky

Joy Umansky, chief baker at the Dorothea's Breads business she co-owned for a decade, died May 11 at Gilchrist Hospice Care of complications from a fractured hip. She was 85 and lived in Pikesville.

Born Margaret Joy Ward-Walker in Birmingham, England, she was the daughter of Arthur Westfield Ward-Walker, a factory manager, and the former Margaret Vera Rabnit, who owned a pub. Like many British children, she was sent to the countryside during World War II to avoid German bombing raids.


After high school, she was trained as a hairdresser's apprentice. She followed her parents to London after the war.

"In her early 20s, she had an active social life," said her daughter, Judith Umansky of Towson. "She frequently had dates for lunch, drinks and dinner with different men all in the same day. She said it helped to supplement her meager salary as a department store clerk. She had multiple marriage proposals but said she could not envision herself spending the rest of her life with any of these gents."


She traveled throughout Europe and in her mid-20s moved to Canada to work. There she saw a job posting for the U.S. Air Force post exchange in Narsarsuaq, Greenland.

"She thought, 'Why not?' and she and several of her friends went off," her daughter said.

While in Greenland she met I. Paul Umansky, a young actor who was serving in the Air Force and broadcasting on a military radio station. The couple kept up a correspondence after he returned to the United States.

"They fell in love through their letters," her daughter said. "When I asked her in later years why she decided to marry Paul, she said it was because he made her laugh."

They married in New York, where her husband lived, and moved to Baltimore in 1956.

Mrs. Umansky was an accomplished seamstress and sewed matching outfits for her three daughters when the family visited England in 1967.

"She said it was so [we] would be easier to keep track of in airports," her daughter said.

She also worked part time as a medical secretary. About 40 years ago, she made and sold men's ties in a small business she called Ties of Joy. She also earned an associate's degree in English at what was then Catonsville Community College.

More than 30 years ago, she and a friend, Margaret Brennan, started a catering business called In the British Tradition.

"They catered tea parties, weddings and made traditional English wedding cakes, which were dense fruit cakes soaked in rum for several months," her daughter said.

According to a 1986 article in The Baltimore Sun, the two were in Westminster one day for lunch when they decided to buy a small bread-making business called Dorothea's Breads, then located in Reisterstown.

"I really liked bread baking; I liked the smell of it, the feel of it, the taste of it," Mrs. Umansky said then.


In 1985, they moved the business to 606 S. Wolfe St. in Fells Point and made some of the earliest artisanal-style breads in Baltimore. They borrowed $5,000 from Mrs. Umansky's husband to get started.

"We were in our late 50s," she said in a 2002 Sun article. "We didn't know what we were in for. It was a heck of a lot of work, and we had no social life."

They later moved to a bakery in the 2200 block of Eastern Ave. that once belonged to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's family. They made a country loaf, caraway rye, cinnamon apple raisin, seven-grain cracked wheat and other breads.

"In the beginning, we'd bake one day and deliver the next," Mrs. Umansky said in the 2002 article. "We'd begin baking around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. five days a week, taking off Saturdays and Sundays."

Mrs. Umansky did the baking and Mrs. Brennan handled sales.

"It was a good division of labor, and we enjoyed it very much," Mrs. Umansky said in 2002.

Mrs. Umansky retired in 1992 and returned to college and studied English literature at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"She loved writing and literature, but decided after several classes that she would rather pursue a master gardener's certificate," her daughter said.

Mrs. Umansky had more than 30 varieties of hostas and 25 kinds of clematis at her Pikesville home. She mastered both the Latin and common names of plants and helped establish the landscaping at Temple Emmanuel in Reisterstown, where she was a member.

She was a founding member of the Temple Emmanuel book club. She belonged to a writing group at the Pikesville Senior Center. She also liked movies and theater.

Services for Mrs. Umansky were held May 14 at Sol Levinson and Bros.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Ruth A. Morrisson of Owings Mills and Susan Ryan Hanscom of Catonsville; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Her husband of 56 years, a longtime Sinai Hospital spokesman, died in March.

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