Roberta D. Blein­berger

Ed­u­ca­tor helped cre­ate pro­grams for dis­abled stu­dents at old Chil­dren’s Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion In­sti­tute and the Ridge School

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

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.

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