Roberta D. Bleinberger
Educator helped create programs for disabled students at old Children’s Rehabilitation Institute and the Ridge School
Roberta D. “Bertsie” Bleinberger, a retired teacher of students with disabilities who was an education pioneer and principal at a private Baltimore County school, died of cardiac arrest Nov. 20 at Anne Arundel Medical Center. The former Towson resident was 94. Born Roberta Dilworth on her family’s farm near Fork, she was the daughter of David Burgan Dilworth, a farmer, and Florence Fitzpatrick “Flossie” Dilworth, who worked at the Black & Decker plant in Towson.
At age 15, she was a graduate of Bel Air High School. She graduated in 1940 from what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University with a bachelor’s degree in music education.
She was hired at the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute, a school that pioneered the teaching of children with cerebral palsy and other conditions. Located on Falls Road near Butler, the school was housed on the grounds of the old Wilbur Miller estate.
Mrs. Bleinberger was hired by Dr. Winthrop Phelps, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine graduate who later trained at Harvard University and worked with educator Benjamin Walpole. Both believed children with cerebral palsy could benefit from an education at a time when none was offered.
Dr. Phelps had been a student of Dr. William S. Baer, founding chairman of orthopedics at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A public school in West Baltimore is named for Dr. Baer.
“Her time at the school was a significant experience in her life and one that she referred to for decades,” said a son, Stephen W. Bleinberger of Towson. “She kept in close contact with the surviving teachers from the school as well as the students. Some went on to achieve considerable success. She recalled that one student, given up as unteachable, became a renowned physicist.”
Mrs. Bleinberger was promoted and became the school’s principal.
“The school’s faculty had a radical concept. They taught academic subjects and worked with the children’s medical conditions,” said her son. “My mother recalled she worked in ingenious ways to help the students be more mobile, to write and to learn.”
The school later merged with Johns Hopkins Hospital and became the Kennedy Institute, now the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
She left the school in 1950 after her marriage to Warren Bleinberger, a senior staff engineer at Western Electric Bell Laboratories. They raised four children in West Towson on Woodbine Avenue.
In 1969, she re-entered teaching at Baltimore County’s Ridge School, a facility for children with special needs.
“She utilized her innovative teaching methods that she had honed at the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute,” said her son. “She taught music and was famous for the spring concert her children performed. She also created a bell choir that toured.” She retired in 1986. Mrs Bleinberger was the parish organist at St. Mary’s of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans for 24 years.
“When the Latin Mass went out and the guitars came in, she went out,” said her son. “She was a music traditionalist.”
After living in Towson for many years, she moved with her husband to Annapolis and their former summer home on Thomas Point at the mouth of the South River.
Her son recalled that while living in Anne Arundel County, she once took over for a substitute organist at St. Mary’s Church on Duke of Gloucester Street.
“She woke the church up,” he said.
Mrs. Bleinberger requested that her body be donated to the Maryland Anatomy Board for the benefit of medical student’s education. She also established a memorial fund at Partners In Care in Annapolis.
“She was a remarkable woman. She was well read and informed, and had an inquiring mind. Her strength was her compassionate and caring soul,” said a friend, Susan Ohrenschall Baxter of Monkton. “She also baked a wicked walnut wafer and often had a breakfast of Otterbein cookies. ... She had her own rules.”
Her husband of 61 years, who was a World War II veteran, died in 2010.
A memorial Mass will be offered at St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Church in Bradshaw in May.
Survivors include two other sons, Ernest Bleinberger of Smithville, Utah, and Hans Bleinberger of Catonsville; a daughter, Dolly King of Hanover, Pa.; six grandsons; and two great-grandsons. Roberta Bleinberger was the organist at a Govans church for 24 years.