Bonnie A. Brobst, career educator and literacy advocate, dies (2024)

Bonnie A. Brobst, a career educator whose specialty was teaching reading and English as a second language to immigrants, died of cancer April 2 at Royal Assisted Living in Odenton, Anne Arundel County. The longtime Canton resident was 70.

“Bonnie brought an incredible dedication and commitment to teaching people how to read,” said Ivan Leshinsky, former director of the old Chesapeake Alternative School in Brooklyn, which closed in 2018. “We had 16 and 17-year-olds who couldn’t read and within months, she had them reading.”

Marianne Yannarell was another colleague at Chesapeake. “We worked together for 12 years and Bonnie was just a fantastic dyed-in-the-wool teacher who knew that reading was especially important,” Ms. Yannarell said. “The students lovedher once theytrusted her, and when they did,they trusted her implicitly.”

Bonnie Ann Brobst, daughterof Charles Jacob Brobst, a carpet mill worker, and Eva Pearl Mausteller Brobst, was born in Danville, Pennsylvania, and raised in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

After graduating from what was then Bloomsburg Senior High School, she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970 in secondary education with a major in English from Bloomsburg State College, now Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. She later obtained a master’s degree in special education from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

In 1969, she married Larry Drumm, and while he was serving as a pastoral intern at Augustana Lutheran Church, she worked in Washington at the National Education Association.

She returned to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and began teaching English in nearby Harrisburgpublic schools, where she discovered her passion for working with urban, at-risk teenagers.

After her marriage ended in divorce, she moved to Canton in the early 1970s, and joined Volunteers in Service to Americaanddeveloped a program for juvenile offenders.

Mr. Leshinsky went to work at Chesapeake Alternative School in 1974 as a teacher-counselor, and eventually became education director, and finally in 1980, director of the school.

“We had been a band of roving gypsies and used church classrooms during the week from Annapolis to Baltimore City for the school,” Mr. Leshinskysaid. “We then moved into an old historic former Presbyterian church on Patapsco Avenue.

“Bonnie had been a volunteer and the first thing I did when I was named director was hire her as education director and she became a partner in this operation.”

Beside working with students, her duties included hiring teachers, designing curriculum and interacting with social servicesand probation officers.

“She had a tremendous relationship with our teachers who idolized her,” Mr. Leshinsky said.

“She taught her students one-on-one which allowed her to get to know them individually,” Ms. Yannarell said. “She had a kind heart and was very much their advocate. She tried to give them enriching experiences like taking them on tours of the city and its monuments.

One projectMs. Brobst brought to fruition was a special activities class which took place after the last period.

“Teachers had to come up with ideas and mine was a cooking class,” said Ms. Yannarell, who left after teaching for 12 years, in 1994.

“We had a store in a classroom where students were able to purchase items, and learn about unit pricing, and then cook them and sell them to the other kids at lunchtime.”

Ms. Brobst left Chesapeake in 1989, when she was hired as a coordinator of a life skills programand a cognitive rehabilitation therapist at MedStar Sinai Hospital.

The program worked with people who had brain injuries and was designed to help them live independently.

Also during this time, she was a GED tutor for inmates in the Baltimore City Jail, an instructor at the Community College of Baltimore, and a trainer for Baltimore Reads, the adult literacy nonprofit founded by then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that closed in 2014.

She was a longtime member of Zion Lutheran Church across from City Hall Plaza, where she helped established Zion Literacy House, an all-volunteer organization that helped more than 500 adults “improve their literary capabilities,” according to her autobiography.

“She was a beloved teacher who motivated her students to reach higher,” she wrote about herself. “She touched students’ lives and maintained relationships with many of her former students for years.”

In 1998, she returned to Chesapeake where worked until retiring in 2014. The school closed its doors four years later.

She was married in 1995 to the Rev. Eric Gritsch, a native of Vienna, Austria, who was a scholar, author, theologian and ordained Lutheran minister.

The Rev. Gritsch, who had been a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, and a visiting pastor at Zion, died in 2012.

After his death, Ms. Brobst established and served as secretary of the Eric W. Gritsch Memorial Fund that offered fellowships and held public lectures.

Recently, Ms. Brobst launched a free English as a second language program for immigrants living in Baltimore.

Her church wasa focus of her life. Shewas a council member, adult Sunday School and Bible study teacher and a member of the Forum for German Culture.

She volunteered at a variety of church functions and outreach events including social ministry and leading tours of the church.

She had been a docent at the Walters Art Museum and volunteered at Center Stage, Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater and Friends of Patterson Park.

Ms. Brobst enjoyed gardening, cooking and entertaining at her Eastern Avenue residence and taking long walks in nearby Patterson Park.

She was a member of the Zion Bibliophiles Book Club, apianist and enjoyed attending the theater, concerts and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

A celebration of life servicewill be held at 3 p.m. June 8 at her church at 400 E. Lexington St.

She is survived by her foster daughter, Patricia Bouthner, of Severn; a brother, William C. Brobst, of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania; and a grandson, Tracy Allen Bouthner, of Severn.

Bonnie A. Brobst, career educator and literacy advocate, dies (2024)


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