Locust Point Recreation Leaders Who Made a Difference

“Latrobe Park in Locust Point” by Bill Hughes

Let me tell you about this wonderful, inspirational city recreation leader I had at Latrobe Park. Her name was Mae Dubow.

Latrobe Park is located in Locust Point, in South  Baltimore, right on Fort Avenue, opposite my then-grade school, Our Lady of Good Counsel. It was only a short walking distance away from historic Fort McHenry.

Dubow was built on the small side, like in the range of ex-U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski. She also walked with a limp. This was in the post-WWII period, the late 40s. I was in the ten-to-twelve-year-old category back then and was living on Haubert Street, just three blocks from the park.

I was part of a restless gang, that included my twin brother Jim, William “Duke” Brown, George Kelly, Frankie Pappas, “Buddy” Brigerman, and Eugene Klemkowski. We had no idea what we were going to do from one minute to the next.

Mercifully, there were only two “dopers” in our neighborhood back then. Their families also owned taverns. We always suspected, but couldn’t proved, they got the dope from stealing it from the tavern’s cash registers at night.

We were all told in the strictest terms: “Stay the hell away from those two losers!” Our choice in the summer months was to either go swimming in the dirty waters of the Harbor and/or get involved a card game. That was it!

Ms. Dubow, to my astonishment, changed all of that. She slowly introduced us to track and field activities, volleyball, and the game of softball. In fact, we even had a pretty good softball team under her guidance.

I recall one game we played over at Latrobe Homes in East Baltimore. Today, if you played there, it would be against a team of African-American youths. Back in that era, the competition was mostly Italians.

No, not the Italians from Little Italy! These guys were right off the boat from Italy itself! They were fighting the learning curve about the game, so we won easily enough. I recall after the game, some of us decided to walk home to celebrate our victory. Not a good idea since it was about two or three miles away. It took us over an hour to make the trip!

Ms. Dubow drove some of the players back to Latrobe Park in her car. I was surprised, however, by how much I enjoyed the walk. We headed south to Pratt and Light Streets, then down and around Federal Hill, to the Key Highway. Then, we walked along the Highway to “Bunker Hill,” across the tracks of the B&O R/R, and finally, to Haubert Street and home.

In that bygone era, the Bethlehem Steel Company maintained a huge shipbuilding and repair yard along the water’s edge in the Key Highway area. In fact, Bethlehem was one of the largest shipbuilders in the country when I was growing up. I never dreamt it would soon be history. I’ve always wondered: How do you win a great war, in Europe and in the East, and lose most of your manufacturing base?

Another memorable game Ms. Dubow engineered for us was played at the Broadway Pier on Thames St. in East Baltimore. There, they had designed a softball field high up in the back of their building. It was surrounded by a large fence to keep the balls from going into the harbor.

Just in case, they did, they had a long pole with a net on it to retrieve the balls that escaped. This happened often. The water-soaked balls were then put back into play to save money.

Lord help you if you got hit in the head with one of those water-soaked Broadway Pier balls. You would think you had taken a punch to the noggin from Joe Louis, himself. (He was then the world’s heavyweight boxing champ.)

On one occasion, a Locust Point club member of ours actually swam across the harbor from the foot of Hull St. to the Broadway Pier. It was a daring achievement considering the distance and the usual heavy ship traffic of ocean-going vessels experienced in the middle of Baltimore’s large Harbor.

The swimmer’s name, mentioned earlier, was “Duke” Brown. Now deceased, “Duke” later joined the Baltimore City Police force and rose to the rank of sergeant. In my day, he was also, one of the best dancers on the Point. The girls loved him!

The other recreation leader, I wanted to note was Mr. Stern. Sorry, I can’t recall his first name. He was assigned to public school No. 76, which was named after Francis Scott Key himself.

Stern’s job was to run a gym class once a week for two hours. It was held at night in the school’s gym which as I recalled was very spacious. Not only did Stern do a first-rate job supervising the gym class, he was also a very funny guy. In fact, he was a natural comedian! Stern had us laughing from the moment we walked into his class till it ended.

Finally, Dubow and Stern were in the top tier of recreation leaders whom I knew growing up. I was lucky to have them show up along my Locust Point-paved road to maturity.