Julie A. Somers, a Baltimore County public schools social studies teacher and assistant principal, died of a stroke April 22 at her Oakenshawe home. She was 50.
"She had a very colorful career in terms of the many different positions she held. She had a strong knowledge of social studies, and the people that knew her knew that she cared for her students," said Pikesville High School Principal Sandra G. Reid.
"She told me she loved Pikesville High School, enjoyed being here, and was happy being an educator," said Ms. Reid. "She dedicated her life to education and put her heart and soul into it."
The daughter of James Somers, a telephone company engineer, and Janet Somers, an administrative assistant, Julie Ann Somers was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and moved with her family to Mechanicsville, Va., in 1972.
After graduating in 1983 from Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville, she earned a bachelor's degree from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., in 1987,
In 1997, she earned a master's degree from what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. Ms. Somers began teaching social studies at Loch Raven High School that year.
"In the days, when Baltimore County public schools held a job fair, thousands of teachers from the metropolitan area and as far away as Lock Haven Teachers College in Pennsylvania would come," said G. Keith Harmeyer, former principal of Loch Raven High. "Competition was difficult, especially in social studies — and then we met Julie.
"She really stood out, and we interviewed her right on the spot, me and the social studies department chair, because we were convinced she'd make a great teacher," said Mr. Harmeyer, who is retired from Towson University, where he taught secondary education.
"She did an amazing job at Loch Raven," he said. "The kids, parents, administrators and teachers just loved her. She was a tremendous bright light and always positive."
"She was always smiling and the kids adored her," said Kenneth Witts, former mathematics department chair at Loch Raven High, where he and Ms. Somers had been colleagues. "The kids went into her classroom smiling and came out smiling.
"Julie was always generous with her time, and she was a good listener. If she found out something wasn't clicking with a student, she'd shift gears and change the approach. She knew what motivated kids and how to motivate them," said Mr. Witts.
During her days at Loch Raven, she played an active role in the school's Model Congress, a program where students gather and role-play being part of the U.S. Congress.
Greg Franke, who graduated from Loch Raven in 2007, recalled when the contingent from the school attended Model Congress. Ms. Somers, he said, was their "mother away from home."
"I think one of my favorite memories [of] ... Model Congress is of our whole group crowded on beds and every square foot of floor in one of the hotel rooms, staring rapturously at Ms. Somers as she sat in the desk chair, in her best elementary school librarian posture and voice, [and] read us a children's book — I think it was 'The Polar Express' — as a bedtime story one night," he wrote in an email.
"I can't imagine any other teacher getting 20 or 30 rowdy high school students to cling to every word of a children's book, but that was the effect she had on us — instant respect and admiration, because it was abundantly clear that she felt the exact same way about each of us," he wrote.
Mr. Witts said Ms. Somers was much in demand as a luncheon companion.
"People loved having lunch with her, and the faculty room was always packed because she had lots of stories," he said. "She loved helping new teachers, and if they had a problem or were grieving over something, she brought them back to reality."
He added: "My daughter had been her student, and when I called to tell her that Julie had died, she was just devastated."
After leaving Loch Raven, Ms. Somers took a job at the Baltimore County public schools' Greenwood headquarters in Towson as a resource teacher in the social studies office.
"I had several friends working in the social studies office at Greenwood, and they told me what a wonderful person Julie was and what a wonderful job she was doing," said Mr. Witts.
From 2000 to 2003, she took a break from teaching to raise her family. In 2009, she was named assistant principal at Pikesville Middle School, then joined the faculty at Pikesville High School about three years ago, where she taught world and U.S. history.
Ms. Somers was still working at her death.
"Throughout her tenure with Baltimore County Schools she always tried to do what was in the best interest of her students," Ms. Reid said in a statement to staff and students announcing Ms. Somers' death.
"She wanted to make sure that her students were well taken care of, and she hoped to instill a love of learning in her daily teaching experiences," Ms. Reid said.
Ms. Somers enjoyed gardening, cooking Italian food and entertaining family and friends.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road, Towson.
She is survived by her husband of six years, John I. Hanmer, assistant principal at Sparrows Point High School; two daughters, Madeline Moore and Erin Moore, both of Baltimore; a stepson, James Hanmer of Towson; two stepdaughters, Erin Hanmer of Towson and Hannah Hanmer of Los Angeles; her parents; a brother, John Somers; a sister, Jill Aveson, all of Richmond; and several nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.