Mildred Ruth Reiner, an accomplished trumpet player and champion of music education in Baltimore County's public schools, died March 22 of complications from a stroke and breast cancer in Plymouth, Vt. The native Northeast Baltimore resident was 83.
Known as "Aunt Millie" to her students, Ms. Reiner spent nearly her entire life and career learning, teaching, performing and conducting music. Even after retiring she traveled with the Middle River Concert Band, conducted by her brother Raymond Reiner, to perform at retirement homes.
Early last year, after playing the French horn at the Glen Meadows Retirement Home in Glen Arm, Ms. Reiner learned she had been entertaining her former boss: Robert Y. Dubel, superintendent of Baltimore County schools from 1976 to 1992.
"It was a very nice surprise seeing her play the French horn," Dr. Dubel said. "We had a wonderful chat."
It was Dr. Dubel who in 1988 recommended Ms. Reiner to serve as his administration's coordinator of music for the school system, a position she served in until she retired in July 1992. The decision was easy, he said, because Ms. Reiner was "beloved" by parents, music teachers and students alike.
"She was a great advocate in austere times for keeping the full complement of music teachers," Dr. Dubel said. "And we always did that."
Born in Baltimore, Ms. Reiner was the youngest of five children who were all taught by their parents, Frederick and Emma (nee Bailone) Reiner, to love and play music.
It's no wonder: Music is what brought the couple together in the first place. Frederick Reiner took piano lessons from his future wife as a way to meet her.
"That's how they got together," her brother, Raymond Reiner, said of his parents.
Mildred Reiner's musical career began by studying trumpet as she attended Eastern High School in Baltimore. By 1953, she had earned a bachelor's degree in music education from the Peabody Conservatory and a master's degree in the same subject from Pennsylvania State University.
For the first six years of her public education career, Ms. Reiner taught music in elementary schools. By 1959, she had moved to Parkville Junior High School, where her bands began receiving outstanding ratings at county and state festivals. That led to a job leading the music program at Perry Hall High School.
Bruce Kovacs, the music supervisor for Harford County schools, worked with Ms. Reiner at Parkville Junior High School. He also worked at Perry Hall Middle School when Ms. Reiner was at the neighboring high school.
"She had those junior high school kids playing at a high school level," Mr. Kovacs said. "There were only a handful of teachers who could do what she did with that same-age child."
He said watching Ms. Reiner teach changed his outlook on what was possible to achieve.
"It was really a profession-changer, to come in thinking teaching was one thing and then watching her work and realize what teaching could really be," Mr. Kovacs said.
He said she invested as much time and enthusiasm in talented students as she did in students with little musical ability. "It was not a talent search for her," he said. "She was totally devoted to her work and to the kids."
One of those kids was her niece, Kathy Reiner Martin of Perry Hall, who learned music from Ms. Reiner at Perry Hall High School.
"Before I went there, she was very respectfully known as Ms. Reiner, but as soon as I walked in there, I accidentally called her 'Aunt Millie.' After that, everyone alled her Aunt Millie," said Mrs. Martin, who graduated high school in 1972.
Pam McCracken of Chase was inspired by Ms. Reiner to teach music. So were several others in Ms. McCracken's class.
"She was an inspiration for the four of us girls who went into music," Ms. McCracken said.
"We all called her Aunt Millie," she said. "She just pulled you in and you became part of her family."
The Peabody Institute honored Ms. Reiner in 2002 with an alumni achievement award for "outstanding contributions to music in Maryland." The citation praised her for continuing her own education.
"Ensembles under your direction received top ratings in county and statewide" contests, as well as "wide critical acclaim for performances throughout the Northeast, Canada and Mexico," the citation states.
Ms. Reiner moved to Bowleys Quarters later in life to the family's summer home and spent her time playing in bands that traveled to nursing homes to "bring a little bit of joy into these folks' lives," Mr. Reiner said.
But her first love, he said, was her family. She cared for her ailing parents and was devoted to her nephews and nieces. She moved to Vermont last April to help her niece raise her family but soon suffered a stroke and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A celebration of Ms. Reiner's life is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 25 at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Bowleys Quarters, where musicians will be led by Ms. McCracken.