Thelma E. “Yaya” Gundersdorff, whose career with Baltimore County Public Schools spanned nearly half a century and who enjoyed taking cruises and following the Orioles and Ravens, died Oct. 22 of Ogilvie syndrome, a rare intestinal disorder, at her Glen Arm home. She was 86.
Thelma Eileen Southcomb, daughter of William E. “Bill” Southcomb, a John Hancock Insurance Co. salesman, and Thelma Geyer Southcomb, a school secretary, was born and raised in Catonsville, where she graduated in 1954 from Catonsville High School.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in education in 1958 from what was then known as Towson State Teachers College, she began her career teaching that year in Baltimore County Public Schools at Edmondson Heights Elementary School.
In 1962, she married Ronald G. Bowers, an engineer who later became an associate vice president of KCI Technologies. Four years later, she left Edmondson Heights to raise their two children in Lutherville, eventually returning to county schools in 1977 as bookkeeper at Towson High School.
Mrs. Gundersdorff later took a position as a fiscal analyst in the Baltimore County Public Schools Department of Fiscal Services at school headquarters at Greenwood.
“Thelma worked with me as a fiscal analyst from 2006 to 2014,” said George R. Sarris, retired executive director of fiscal services. “As a fiscal analyst, she worked specifically with schools and school budgets, and because she had been a teacher, it gave her special insight into how schools function and how they use their budgets, which made her the perfect person for that job.”
Mr. Sarris recalled Mrs. Gundersdorff’s overall pleasant demeanor.
“She was very professional and more of my generation. She dressed for work every day and was always on time,” he said. “Thelma was very pleasant and patient and worked with the 174 schools we had in the county at that time. It was an extensive network that she supported.”
Mr. Sarris noted that Mrs. Gundersdorff was not the only member of her family to have worked for Baltimore County Public schools.
“Her mother had been principle secretary at Arbutus Elementary School; her daughter, Terri, is manager of our food service; and a granddaughter became a teacher, so that makes four generations of the family in our system,” Mr. Sarris said. “We are very fortunate to have such a family that is so dedicated to public education.”
Mrs. Gundersdorff, who was known to family and friends as “Yaya,” retired in 2016.
In 1993, her husband died, and two years later, she rekindled a relationship with Raymond K. Gundersdorff, whom she had known during the high school days in Catonsville. She was a senior and he a junior, and they were members of the same church youth group.
“When a small faction of the group would sneak off to go bowling instead of attending the weekly meeting, Thelma and Ray were always in the thick of the high jinks. Not together, mind you. In the early 1950s, they both adamantly say, senior girls did not go out with junior-class men,” reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1999 story about their reuniting years later.
After graduating from high school in 1955, Mr. Gundersdorff joined the Navy. After being discharged, he enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and met and fell in love with the former Julie Marsh, whom he married in 1961.
The couple settled in Catonsville, where he pursued a career for more than three decades selling medical supplies and scanning electron microscopes for Japanese Electron Optics Laboratories.
His wife died in 1995, and after seeing an obituary, the then-Mrs. Bowers, who hadn’t seen or talked to Mr. Gundersdorff in 41 years, wrote a condolence note. He called to thank her, and they became reacquainted.
“Sometimes, they’d go out to dinner. Other times, they just chatted, glad to have someone to talk to about older — and happier — times,” observed The Sun. “Their memories growing up in Catonsville ‘way back when’ were a strong bond. Coincidently, they realized they had probably been passing one another in area restaurants and other Baltimore County points for years.”
Mr. Gundersdorff told the newspaper, “We know all the same places, and we know all the same waiters.”
The couple became engaged in 1998 and married the next year at the historic St. Paul’s Anglican Church, which was built in 1796 in Paget, Bermuda. After their marriage, they embarked aboard a horse-drawn carriage that conveyed them to a reception, where they celebrated with family and friends, followed by a wedding night dinner at the Fourways Restaurant & Inn, also in Paget.
Their wedding music played that night, reported The Sun, included “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”
“When you’re alone and you don’t have anybody, you just kind of wish someone else would come along,” Mrs. Gundersdorff explained in the newspaper article. “Our relationship shows that when you wish upon a star, dreams do come true.”
The Morning Sun
The couple settled in Glen Arm, where they lived together until Mr. Gundersdorff died in 2001.
Mrs. Gundersdorff, who adopted the name “Yaya” after her first grandchild was born, was known for her “spunky personality and one-liners,” family members said.
She had been a member of Havenwood Presbyterian Church for 52 years, where she served as a deacon and financial secretary. She had also been a volunteer and treasurer-bookkeeper for the Dulaney Valley Improvement and Ravenhurst Community associations.
A die-hard Orioles and Ravens fan, Mrs. Gundersdorff enjoyed taking cruises with family and friends and took more than 25 voyages to Germany, the North Sea, France, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Hawaii. She also made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
She was a collector of Rose Medallion and Wedgewood china and was a Siamese cat lover. She also enjoyed sipping a Tanqueray and tonic at the end of the day, said her son, Randall Garth “Randy” Bowers of Lutherville.
Services were held Friday at her church in Timonium.
In addition to her son, she is survived by her daughter, Terri Elizabeth Smith of Lutherville; three stepdaughters, Lisa Castaneda and Kelley Mackinson, both of Sykesville, and Tracey Clarke Tobin of Mount Airy; and 15 grandchildren.