If you talk to Patterson Park area residents, whether they’ve lived in the neighborhood for two years or 20, they knew Ginny Dobry,
Dobry, who raised six children on Kenwood Ave. with her late husband Dan, was a neighborhood activist, matriarch, and promoter of city life before anyone would have dreamed of putting an “I Love Patterson Park” bumper sticker on their car.
She lived in Patterson Park for 56 years and sucumbed to cancer on Feb. 3 at the age of 79.
Friends, colleagues, and neighbors remember Ginny for her friendliness, her dogged optimism, and her love of city life—especially during the neighborhood’s low points.
Beth Dobry, Ginny Dobry’s daughter, said that her mom didn’t like to be called an “activist.”
“She thought that might have negative connotations. She’d describe herself as a ‘doer.’ A doer who never fizzled.”
Kim Schaefer, a member of Friends of Patterson Park and the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association, characterizes Dobry as a leader in the Patterson Park renaissance.
“She was a stabilizer in the neighborhood. She didn’t move out. She was always interested in new ways to improve the neighborhood—and the city,” says Schaefer.
Over the years, Dobry was involved in almost every aspect of East Baltimore civic improvement, from beautification to education.
“One thing that drove my mom crazy was trash,” says Beth Dobry. “Keeping the neighborhood clean was important. She’s probably looking down at her back alley now, wondering when I’m going to clean it.”
Among many accomplishments, Dobry helped found the Patterson Park Public Charter School and served as secretary of the Banner Neighborhhoods board for 15 years.
Ed Rutkowski remembers Ginny as a rare voice of optimism in Patterson Park in the late 80s and 90s.
Now executive director of the Patterson Park Public Charter School, Rutkowski was, during those years, the executive director of the Patterson Park Community Development Corp.
“You wouldn’t know it to look at the neighborhood now, but in the late 80s and 90s, the neighborhood was going to hell. The 100 block of Kenwood Ave. was the only block that was surviving—the only block that offered a ray of hope—and that was because of Ginny,” Rutkowski recalls.
On a more personal level, Rutkowski adds, there weren’t many people offering support [for community re-development] in those days.
“But Ginny was relentlessly optimistic, and always had a good word to say about our efforts.”
Another quality Dobry will be remembered for is her openness to change—and to newcomers.
“She wasn’t afraid of neighborhood changes or new people. She embraced them all,” says Carol Hartke, a longtime FOPP volunteer.
Every newcomer to Patterson Park was welcomed to the neighborhood by Ginny, who dropped off a homemade pineapple upside down cake and a welcome basket.
“Many people in our neighborhood, their first contact with the community was often Ginny welcoming them,” says Jolyn Rademacher Tracy, executive director of Banner Neighborhoods.
Beth Dobry says she doesn’t know where the custom of bringing a cake to new neighbors originated, but thinks it was part of her mom’s Italian heritage.
“Food. It’s all about food. Food is love,” Beth Dobry says.
The cake (Dobry baked about 200) and welcome basket came with a history of the neighorhood and plenty of encouragement to get involved in the community.
“Ginny was not the kind of activist who is banging her fist at City Hall. She was the person who got people together in the neighborhood to do good things,” recalls Tracy.
FOPP even wrote a song celebrating Ginny’s lifetime of civic engagement.
Katie Long, program coordinator at FOPP, said Dobry was a fan of the songs that FOPP writes and sings at their park events.
“So we wanted to write one especially for her,” says Long.
“She was such a supporter of whatever energy people brought to the park, always in support of new ideas. I tried to incorporate that into the song,” Long explains.
The song, to the tune of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time,” can be found on the FOPP Web site.
But Dobry will mostly be remembered for her relationships with her neighbors and friends.
“My mom had a passion for meeting new people,” says Beth Dobry. “And she said that having younger friends kept her young.”
Rutkowski, who attended Dobry’s wake, noted the wide age range among mourners.
“By the time someone Ginny’s age dies, usually they have family and about a dozen older friends at the wake, but with Ginny, you had 150 people there—and a lot of them were young,” Rutkowski says.
Hartke also attended the wake.
“People were talking and sharing their memories of Ginny. They were happy. It was joyful, almost like a party. “
“You know, Ginny would have loved that.”
Friends of Ginny’s may make a donation to the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association’s Virginia Dobry Community Programs Fund at www.pattersonparkneighbors.org.
by Danielle Sweeney