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Dr. L. Bruce Hornstein, a veterinarian and irises expert who established SanSouci Nursery, dies

Dr. L. Bruce Hornstein grew nearly 400 types of irises on his farm.
Dr. L. Bruce Hornstein grew nearly 400 types of irises on his farm.

Dr. L. Bruce Hornstein, a veterinarian and iris expert who in his retirement established SanSouci Nursery in Monkton, died March 18 from advanced Alzheimer’s disease at his Pikesville home. He was 87.

Louis Bruce Hornstein, son of Henry B. Hornstein, who owned several black-only movie theaters, the Harlem, Regent, Lenox, Diane and Fulton, family members said, and his wife, Etta Kippnis Hornstein, a Baltimore public schools educator, was born in Baltimore and raised on Wheeler Avenue in the city’s Mondawmin neighborhood, and later Forest Park.

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Dr. Hornstein was 16 when he graduated from City College in 1948, where he was a member of the swim team. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1952 and his degree in 1957 in veterinarian medicine from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens.

“He was one of the very few Jews in the school at the time,” said his son, Dr. Jonathan Gitter, an internist who lives in Garrison.

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In 1958, he traveled to Israel from Newport News, Virginia, as a livestock veterinarian aboard a ship that was sponsored by the local Jewish community and whose cargo was donated livestock bound for the state of Israel.

Dr. Hornstein returned to Baltimore in the late 1950s and established the Animal Medical Center in 1965 in what had been a Baltimore Transit Co. streetcar waiting room at Kelly and Smith avenues in Mount Washington, where he provided veterinary services until 1996, when he sold his practice.

Dr. Lisa Hoffman, an Annapolis veterinarian, has known Dr. Hornstein since she was in the fourth grade and a best friend of his daughter, Jennifer.

“I always wanted to be a vet growing up in Pikesville. When I was in the 10th grade, I got a job working for him as a kennel person," Dr. Hoffman said.

“He had a very good reputation and was very good at what he did and had a very friendly relationship with his clients,” she said. “It seemed he was a part of the Mount Washington community forever. He was a bit of a character and was very personable with a great dry sense of humor. It was quite a life that he had led.”

“He also treated exotic animals like snakes, turtles and birds,” said his daughter, Jennifer Rollo of Owings Mills. “That was a specialty.”

From his childhood, Dr. Hornstein was an avid gardener, with an emphasis on growing irises, and in retirement he established the 13-acre SanSouci Nursery on his Monkton farm, where he specialized in iris cultivation and hybridization.

He was a longtime member of the Francis Scott Key chapter of the American Iris Society, on which he served on numerous committees and was a judge.

“I knew Bruce before he joined the Society,” said Carol S. Warner, president of the Francis Scott Key chapter. “He was a credited judge, which makes him an expert when it comes to irises.”

She added: “He grew close to 400 types of irises, and a specialty of his was reblooming irises first in the spring and then again in the fall. He loved the irises that bloomed in the fall.”

“He can look at any iris and recite its complete history. He knows its common name and its Latin name. He can tell whether he bought the plant or received a cutting — or rhizome — from another gardener,” wrote Pat van den Beemt in a profile of Dr. Hornstein.

“He knows what year it was first introduced, when it blooms and how long the blooms last,” she wrote. "He also knows if its a rebloomer, a plant that produces flowers twice."

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One type of iris in his bed, Ms. van den Beemt explained, the Good Morning iris [Ohayo Gozaimasu], which took him 11 years to develop from two Japanese plants, was purchased in 1990 for $400.

“Every day here is enjoyable,” he told Ms. van den Beemt. "A garden is a reflection of your life. It’s in constant transition and nothing’s perfect. You enjoy what you have when you have it, then move on.

Ms. Warner described Dr. Hornstein as being “outgoing and friendly.”

“He hosted a lot of our gatherings and was always willing to open up his house so we could see his irises,” she said.

In 1958, he married the former Hannah Gitter, a Baltimore public schools educator, whom he divorced in 1993.

Dr. Hornstein met and fell in love with Lee Dorman, a Reisterstown contractor and real estate manager, whom he married in 2002 in Vermont, where gay marriage was legal.

“They obtained a Maryland marriage license in 2013 when legislation sponsored by Gov. Martin O’Malley made that legal in Maryland,” Ms. Rollo wrote in a biographical profile of her father.

In 2011, Dr. Hornstein and his husband sold their farm and moved to an apartment in Pikesville.

The couple traveled to China, Tibet and Iceland. Earlier, Dr. Hornstein had traveled to the Galapagos Islands, where he was fascinated with its biological diversity of its animal and plant world.

“He knew places from all over the world and liked talking about them,” Ms. Warner said.

He was a former member of Har Sinai congregation.

There will be no funeral, and according to his will, he will be cremated and “my ashes be spread at the water’s edge on the beach at Assateague Island, ideally with a wind blowing out to sea,” he wrote.

In addition to his husband, daughter and son, he is survived by another daughter, Rebecca Gitter of Hyattsville; a sister, Sue Kohn of Pikesville; and seven grandchildren.

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