Nora Scanlan, 71, Wilde Lake guidance counselor for 30 years

A teacher and a guidance counselor for more than four decades, including 30 years at Wilde Lake High School, Nora Scanlan died Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011, at the Gilchrist Center in Columbia after a long battle with cancer. She was 71.

In an email to friends, Scanlan's husband, Ron Mayer, said Scanlan was pain-free and comfortable, and had spent her last day outside, enjoying the fall-like weather. The Columbia resident is survived by her husband, four children, one sister, two brothers and five grandchildren, as well as many nieces and nephews.

A memorial service is being held Saturday, Oct. 15, at 11 a.m. at the St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, in Columbia.

Born March 30, 1940, in Seattle, Scanlan attended Mundelein College in Illinois, and received her master's degree in guidance counseling from Queens College in New York City. From 1958-1968, she was a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a religious congregation of women in the Catholic church.

Sam Nissen, 75, of Columbia, worked with Scanlan for 27 years as a guidance counselor at Wilde Lake before retiring in 1999, three years before Scanlan retired. He said Scanlan had a special relationship with countless students.

"She was very close with the kids," he said. "We had an alphabetical list of which students would see which counselor, and students would always want to see Nora."

Nissen's wife, Anna, said Scanlan "was one of those bigger-than-life people. She had tremendous enthusiasm and an exuberance for life."

Friends say Scanlan enjoyed unique experiences such as climbing Mt. Rainier, rafting the Snake River, canoeing and cross-country skiing in the Boundary Waters Area in upper Minnesota, and traveling to such far-flung places as Tasmania and Alaska. She volunteered for eight years at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, assisting park rangers.

Scanlan was first diagnosed with breast cancer 26 years ago, and helped lead the Howard County breast cancer support group, Reach to Recovery. Anna Nissen was with Scanlan when she learned the cancer had returned, and in turn, Scanlan was there for Anna Nissen when she learned she had cancer, as well.

"She called me so often this summer, asking how I was doing," she said. "She was so concerned. "That's the kind of heart she had, she was so concerned about me, and here she was dying of it."

Scanlan had several reoccurrences of cancer over the years, and had been involved in a special trial study in New York City, said her friend Susan Connell. Connell remembered Scanlan as a "deep thinker and dear friend, always so concerned for everyone."

Connell first met Scanlan "20 or 30 years ago" when Connell was an editor with Patuxent Publishing Company, which publishes this newspaper, and Scanlan wrote the weekly column "Counselor's Corner" in the Columbia Flier.

Scanlan also was involved in the Columbia Foundation, the Howard Community College Nursing Board, the Claudia Mayer Cancer Center and the Women's Giving Circle of Howard County.

Connell described her friend as "an extraordinary woman, so intellectually curious and so adventuresome, full of mischief."

Anna Nissen had similar memories. Once, she recalled, their two families toured Central Europe together, and Anna had found a bed-and-breakfast in Poland that had been converted from an old jail. When asked if she'd like to stay there for a night, Scanlan's answer was, "Yes, absolutely," Nissen recalled.

"She was always up for anything that was a little out of the ordinary," Nissen said.

Gifts in Scanlan's name may be sent to the Nora Scanlan Memorial Fund, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, MD 21044. The scholarship fund will benefit students graduating from Wilde Lake.

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