Velma B. Evans, a longtime Baltimore City Public Schools educator who also was an associate professor of education at Delaware State University, died of complications from dementia March 14 at Arden Courts of Pikesville. The Northwest Baltimore resident was 96.
“Velma was my grandfather’s youngest sister, and she was an inspiration to our entire family. She was the matriarch,” said Dr. Joseph Amprey, a physician who lives in Potomac. “She was one of the first people in our family to go to college, and she achieved academically. All of the kids in our family had a great relationship with her. She helped take care of us financially and encouraged our development.”
The former Velma Branch, daughter of Joseph Branch, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker, and his wife, M. Millicent Branch, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Druid Hill Avenue near Druid Hill Park.
Mrs. Evans was a 1944 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia.
She obtained a master’s degree in 1957 from Columbia University at a time when African Americans were not allowed to attend graduate school in Maryland. At taxpayer expense, Black students were sent out of state to other colleges and universities.
“She went to Columbia every weekend for classes,” Dr. Amprey said.
“Her parents wanted her to go to college,” said Gloria Williams Robb, a retired Howard County Public Schools educator who lives in Columbia. “All throughout my life, she inspired me with her ideas and thoughts. She was the one who told me to go to Hampton, and I’ll always be grateful to her.”
Mrs. Evans began teaching in city public schools in 1951 and later began working with preschoolers. In the early 1960s, she became a teacher in Project Hope, an early school admissions project that was aimed at “culturally disadvantaged” children, according to a 1963 Sun story. The project aimed to teach basic learning skills that were “necessary for survival and growth in the first years of school.”
At Mount Royal Elementary School, Mrs. Evans was the senior member of a four-person teaching team that included an assistant teacher, teacher’s aide and a volunteer; their mission was to give a maximum amount of attention to each child.
“We try and give children what they’ve been lacking for four years,” she told the newspaper. “We take them on a trip every week: To the airport, grocery store, supermarket, the park. We walk around the community and show them things they have never seen before. Many parents actually brag that their children have never been away from their own block.”
Mrs. Evans stressed the importance of parents’ cooperation and participation in the program.
“If the teacher can see the whole family life, it helps her to understand and know more about what to do,” she told The Sun. “If you understand, you don’t become frustrated when you try something and it doesn’t work.”
She added: “The program itself is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a very important drop.”
Mrs. Evans later was one of the early teachers to join the Head Start program in city schools and was then promoted to the old school headquarters building on 25th Street, where she was supervisor of elementary grades, and finally as program director of the Early School Admission program and was a Title 1 coordinator.
She retired in 1978.
For the next two decades, Mrs. Evans was an assistant professor of education at Delaware State University in Dover, where she also wrote federal grants to incorporate special education studies into the curricula of educators who were interested in teaching special needs students.
She had been an adjunct professor at what are now Towson University and Loyola University Maryland, and also conducted workshops about teaching young children in many locales.
“She set the example and message and was accomplished,” said Ms. Robb, who retired in 2002 after a 30-year career with Howard County Public Schools. “She was a very quiet and modest person, and we revered her for that.”
Mrs. Evans had high standards and was no-nonsense when it came to her life’s work.
“She didn’t pull any punches and told you exactly how she felt. You towed the line when you were with her, and she would not tolerate any bad behavior,” Dr. Amprey said.
“She was rigorously hardworking, but she was the fun aunt,” he said.
Mrs. Evans enjoyed exercising, dancing, traveling and entertaining at her Forest Park home and, later, her residence on Upper Park Heights Avenue, where she lived for 27 years.
“She had a club cellar and bar in her basement, and she loved to dance,” Dr. Amprey said.
The Morning Sun
Mrs. Evans looked forward to the holidays and entertaining her family.
“She had the entire family over for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, all of the holidays,” Ms. Robb recalled. “They were sit-down dinners, and she’d prepare all the food. We didn’t have to bring anything, and she’d have everything ready.”
“She was an incredibly gracious host,” said J. Van Story “Van” Branch Jr., a nephew, who lives in Randallstown.
Mrs. Evans was a member of Pi Lambda Theta, a national honor and professional education association; Beta Sigma Phi sorority and Club La Coterie.
Mrs. Evans’ husband of 25 years, Randall Evans, a postal manager, died in 1988. Her brother, J. Van Story Branch Sr., who had been director of the City Housing Authority from 1965 to 1983, died in 2006.
Mrs. Evans left her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board, and it was her wish that no services be held, family members said.
She is survived by many nieces and nephews.