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Who was Barbara Wernecke Durkin?

Barbara Wernecke Durkin was born to Ray and Della Wernecke in 1944 and grew up in a row home on Liberty Parkway during the late 40s through the 50s. Her father, Ray, was an engineer at Sparrows Point Shipyards and her Mom was a baker in a Dundalk school cafeteria. They were an integral part of this community. Her dad even coached a local football team and was later inducted into the Dundalk Sports Hall of Fame.

Barbara grew up in an era when Dundalk was a sterling example of the American way of life... people making a better living for themselves and for their children through industriousness, education, and solid hard work.

She attended Dundalk High and graduated in the class of 1962, with a less than sterling academic record because her father had died of cancer when she was 13, and the pressure and guilt associated with his death caused her to devalue herself and her education. She almost did not graduate from high school. But she did, and she attended college, first at the brand new Dundalk Community College, where she "found herself" and re-found her love of education... and she blossomed. And then, at Towson State Teachers College, where she earned a degree in English and a teaching certificate in secondary education.

She found a love for acting and became part of the Glen Players at Towson, a group who put on productions and studied the acting skills. And she was talented in that craft; found work in the summers at a professional Summer Stock Theatre on Long Island, and enjoyed every aspect of the theater from ticket selling to performance.

After graduation, she taught not at Dundalk High, but at the newly opened Patapsco High, from 66 to 74, English and Speech. And she had an affinity for the rowdy and non-motivated students, because she had been one of those students in high school. She taught classes of students that no other teacher wanted because they had a reputation for being poor learners and trouble-makers but she made those kids love English, poetry and drama. She had natural talents as a teacher. And she had an affinity for the kids of Dundalk, often taking them to her heart and counseling them when they had troubles. The students loved Ms. Wernecke.

Barbara met her future husband, a science teacher at Patapsco High, and married in 1973. She retired from teaching a year later to take on the role of housewife and mother, but she never gave up her interest in helping people who had a problem, especially if they were young people. It was because she had been a troubled youth after the death of her father.

She became a successful writer, publishing a multitude of short stories in magazines in the 70s and authoring one semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in a steel town in the 50s, "Oh You Dundalk Girls, Can't You Dance the Polka," that won literary honors.

Through the years, Barbara served on the Dundalk High School Class of 1962 Scholarship Committee because she had a love for the kids of Dundalk and knew how tough their lives sometimes were. And she knew that everyone... everyone... had the potential to make a great life for themselves, though sometimes they needed a little help.

That's why, when Barbara passed away in 2013 from the long-term effects of Type II diabetes, her husband decided to offer this scholarship in her name. Because he believed in her faith in the kids of Dundalk and in the value of encouraging them to go to college and "find themselves" and become someone who changes the world in at least a small way... become an English teacher or actor or something wonderful. This is what Barbara did and she made a big difference in many people's lives.

Written by Bill Durkin, Spring 2014