Following two decades of unprecedented growth, Urbana today is fortunate to have five dedicated principals working to educate our children. With a third elementary school, Sugarloaf Elementary, expected to open in August 2017, these principals will soon number six. But years ago when the community’s children were educated in a small, four-room schoolhouse, Urbana was blessed with just one principal.
Jane Pauline Hendrickson Runkles (who was known as Pauline) was an Urbana woman and 1924 graduate of the Towson Normal School for Teachers, one of the most respected teaching programs at that time. She began her teaching career in 1924, took some time off to raise her daughter, and resumed teaching at the Urbana School in 1945, some years later becoming principal of that school until her retirement in the late ’50s.
From the age of 4 when her family moved to Urbana from Cedar Grove, Pauline lived in the gable-roofed frame house at 3409 Urbana Pike (now the address of American National Properties and other businesses), neighboring the historic Landon Military Academy and Institute (later known as the Stancioff House). She would not move out until 1983, five years before her death in 1988.
On a recent visit to Urbana, Pauline’s granddaughter, Judy Ann Kepler Ferrell, reflected on her grandmother’s life. Now a resident of Arnold in Anne Arundel County, businesswoman, wife and mother to two sons in their early 20s, Ferrell spent summers growing up with her grandmother, and she treasured family holiday gatherings at her grandmother’s home.
Ferrell remembers a strong-willed, passionate and caring family and career woman — and she marvels that her grandmother somehow did it all, especially through some of this country’s most difficult years, the Great Depression.
As a girl and teenager, Pauline helped her parents, George Otis Hendrickson (known as Otis) and Pearl Blanche Watkins Hendrickson, run The Cedars Lodging boarding house from their home and the G.O. Hendrickson General Merchandise store and gas station. For 20 years, the family’s store was located in front of the home on what is now an expanse of lawn and driveway. In 1927, Otis built a new general store to the left of the house (now the location of the Urbana Hair Salon). He did much of the work himself; his father, Ephraim Hendrickson, was a carpenter in Urbana before, during and after the Civil War. Otis died of natural causes in 1958 while working in the store he built — he was 80 years old.
After graduating from the Towson Normal School for Teachers in 1924, Pauline began teaching with Frances Paxson at the one-room Ijamsville Elementary School. She continued there until 1927 when she joined the staff of the Church Street School in Frederick City. Five years later, she transferred to Parkway to replace a teacher who had become ill. By then, she was Mrs. Pauline Runkles, married to Oliver Wilson Runkles (who was known as Wilson) from Mount Airy.
The couple lived in the family home with Pauline’s parents, Otis and Pearl. By then, Pauline was also surrogate parent to several children.
When the Great Depression settled over the country, Pauline had noticed that some of her students were struggling. “Some children would come to school dirty and hungry,” Ferrell, her granddaughter, said. “My grandmother would take them home, feed and care for them. Some of these children just stayed with her.”
At least two remained lifelong members of the family. Carl Geisler joined the military and fought in World War II. He settled in Illinois, and the family continued to correspond with him and visit him there. Pauline Powell went to work for the University of Maryland Dental School before marrying and raising three children on the Eastern Shore. Ferrell visited with her often at family gatherings before Powell passed away in 2002.
Pauline gave birth to one daughter, Pearl Ann Kepler, in 1936 when she was 33. Carl Geisler was then 22, and Pauline Powell was 18. They were like older siblings to the baby, who was known as Ann.
She was “my grandmother’s pride and joy,” Ferrell said of the little girl who grew up to become her own mother and, later, a design engineer for London Fog. Little Ann’s mother and grandmother, Pearl, would sew beautiful outfits and dresses for her. “Nana Pearl was especially into smocking,” Ferrell noted. “My mother had all of these dresses with elaborate smocking.” Ferrell remembers, too, her mother’s wonderful doll collection that in later years was kept in a glass cabinet in the family’s home.
According to Frederick County Audit Reports, Pauline took eight years away from work to raise her daughter. In 1945, she returned to teaching at the four-room Urbana School located between Fingerboard and Urbana Church roads (the site of the current 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station). She soon became the school principal. “It was amazing for the time period for her to be principal,” noted Ferrell.
Pauline’s husband, Wilson, worked for Frederick County Roads as an engineer until his premature death from cancer in 1961. Ferrell recalled that her grandfather had taken a fall down the back kitchen stairs and had been rushed to the hospital. The cancer was discovered then, and he died two weeks later on Christmas Eve.
By then, Pauline had stopped working to care for her ailing mother, who passed away at home in 1965. Ferrell believes that this is when her grandmother became more involved in civic organizations. A lifelong gardener and seamstress, she had long been a member of 4-H. In her retirement, she became more active in organizations like the Frederick Zonta Club, the Frederick Historical Society, the Urbana Homemakers Club, the Rose Hill Garden Club and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She also volunteered at Frederick Memorial Hospital.
Friendships, too, flourished. Ferrell remembers Helen Smith, Frederick artist, neighbor Marion Stancioff, wife of retired Bulgarian diplomat Ivan Stancioff, and Virginia Thomas, who owned Lilypons with her husband George Lester Thomas, as Pauline’s close friends. “She would go and have tea with Mrs. Stancioff, and they kept in touch until she died,” Ferrell said.
When Pauline needed to move out of her home during her declining years, Helen Smith painted a portrait of the house for her. “She was proud of the house itself,” Ferrell said, “keeping it clean and lined up.” She recalled her grandmother’s pleasure in the yard and the trees. “We would pull up and my grandmother would be on a ladder, picking cherries from the tree,” she said.
As children, Ferrell and her brother and sister would climb the big mimosa tree and sit in the shade of her grandmother’s huge oak trees. Many of these trees no longer stand. Some were cut down the morning of Ferrell’s recent visit to Urbana in order to make way for the new section of townhomes behind what was once her grandmother’s house.
Time continues to bring change to what was — not that long ago — a country town. But the caring and strong legacy of Pauline Runkles, Urbana principal, lives on in the community’s commitment to education and its soon-to-be six principals. One wonders how happy she would have been to welcome so many colleagues.