Vernon Alfonso Turner, a career Baltimore County public school educator who enjoyed coaching an after-school sports program for disadvantaged kids, died Oct. 23 3 at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center from a heart attack. The Dundalk resident was 71.
Mr. Turner was born in Baltimore and raised in Turner Station. His father, William Woods, was a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad worker, and his mother, Carrie Elizabeth Turner, was a nurse’s aide at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
After graduating in 1965 from Sollers Point High School, he received a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education in 1970 from Morgan State University, and did graduate studies for a master’s degree in education. In 1975, he received a master’s equivalency from Baltimore County public schools.
In 1971, Mr. Turner began teaching history to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Dundalk Middle School.
Bronda L. Mills, who taught Spanish and French at Dundalk Middle from 1976 to 1985, became close lifelong friends with Mr. Turner.
“We became best buddies in 1976,” said Ms. Mills, of Fulton, Howard County, who retired as an associate superintendent in 2015 from Montgomery County public schools.
“Vernon had grown up in Turner Station at a time when most African-Americans resided there. It was his home and he was still connected to those students and their families,” Ms. Mills said. “He never really left that community and it was forever in his heart.”
“He was known for his tough love in school. Students would get fussed at if they acted up and they knew to pull their pants up the second they saw him walking down the hall,” wrote Aisha Turner of New York City in a biographical profile of her father.
“But when he spoke, they listened. He always pushed students to their highest potential and he was always ready to tutor students who needed it,” Ms. Turner wrote.
“Vernon was a great social studies teacher and he knew how to handle kids, students and families. He was well-known and respected in the community,” Ms. Mills said.
“Vernon and I and a couple of other teachers prided ourselves that we were disciplinarians. It was about respect. We were tough, but fair, and no-nonsense, and we wanted them to learn,” she said.
Mr. Turner, who had been department chair from 1989 to 1990, also taught in the eighth grade at-risk program.
From 1999 to 2004, he was site supervisor in the Title 1 After School program/21st Century Learning Center for disadvantaged kids, where he was responsible for selecting and organizing a staff to meet their needs. He also supervised the implementation of academic and enrichment programs, organized events, field trips and developed a community newsletter.
In addition to evaluating the program, Mr. Turner monitored overall student achievement while maintaining communication with both parents and the community.
As the Dundalk Middle School Student Council coordinator from 1973 to 1991, he founded its talent show, sponsored overnight lock-ins, established its fun and field day and organized eighth-grade trips to New York and to Walt Disney World in Florida.
His love of sports resulted in coaching the varsity girls basketball team at Dundalk High School. In 2001, he coached the boys junior varsity basketball team.
In 1990, Mr. Turner was a co-founder of the Baltimore County middle school basketball program, whose goal was to help at-risk students improve their grades and school attendance. He remained active with the program for a decade.
While living in Bel Air, he coached the girls softball team from 1996 to 2000 for the Emmorton Recreation Council.
Mr. Turner’s work with Dundalk Middle School earned him the PTA Lifetime Achievement Award, Baltimore County Outstanding Achievement Community Award and he was nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award.
His school established the Vernon Turner Award, which is presented to one eighth-grader a year for academic achievement in social studies.
After retiring from Dundalk Middle in 2005, he taught another eight years at Annapolis Road Academy, an alternative high school in Prince George’s County. He retired for a second time in 2014.
Ms. Mills and other teachers from Dundalk Middle would gather frequently for lunch.
“Vernon could tell stories about our teaching days — he had a great capacity for telling stories — which was very special for me,” Ms. Mills said. “He loved going back and reminiscing about those days.”
Mr. Turner had been an active member of the Day Village Tenants Association from 1992 to 1994.
“He used his involvement in the Day Village Tenants Association to promote equality and equity for the community,” his daughter wrote.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by four brothers, Keith Woods of Essex, Ronald Turner, Wayne Woods and Terry Woods, all of Baltimore; a special friend, Shirlene Harris of Baltimore; and many nieces and nephews. His marriage to the former Katrina Cole ended in divorce.