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Former students gather to honor beloved teacher

January 18, 1998

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Former students gather to honor beloved teacher

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Many had Rosemary Burtner as a physical education and health teacher during the 45 years she taught in the Washington County school system.

Others learned ballroom dancing with Burtner during the more than three decades she taught youth classes at the Women's Club in Hagerstown.

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Still others met her more recently through her involvement with the Boonsboro Historical Society or the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

The only thread that bound all of the nearly 80 people who gathered at The Miller House on Sunday to honor Burtner - known to many as Jackie - was their desire to let her know just how much she is loved and appreciated.

"It's amazing how when we called people to ask them everybody was enthusiastic," said Marty Talton, who served on the committee of friends that organized the surprise reception.

Burtner, 82, is always instigating efforts to recognize others for their contributions to the community, Talton said.

They decided it was time to turn the tables and recognize all she has done to make Washington County and their own lives brighter, she said.

"All Jackie's life she's been honoring everyone else. It's time for someone to honor her," said niece Nancy Eckstine, 34, who built a house adjoining her aunt's on the family's Manor Church Road homestead. "Jackie's philosophy is she gives without expecting anything in return. You don't find many people like that."

Former Maryland Del. Peter G. "Pete" Callas was among the many former students who came to pay tribute to Burtner.

"She was an excellent teacher. The main qualification - she liked the children and we liked her," said Callas, who had Burtner as his seventh-grade teacher in 1938, her first year teaching.

Years later, Burtner helped him in his campaigns for Washington County Board of Education and Maryland State Delegate, Callas said.

Washington County Commissioner R. Lee Downey was another local politician Burtner took an interest in.

Downey, who knew Burtner through his parents, said Burtner helped him out in his first run for the office by hosting a gathering at her home.

"She gives me a call every once in a while, straightens me out on the politics," he said.

LuMar Slocum got to know and admire Burtner as a fellow physical education teacher in the school system.

"Jackie was incredible in all the activities she pursued the same time she was teaching," said Slocum, who said being at the reception to honor Burtner meant a lot to her.

Burtner spent her entire 45-year teaching career in the same school building, which was South Potomac Junior High School for 30 years then became Bester Elementary School.

She also taught ballroom dancing for seventh- and eighth-graders at the Women's Club in Hagerstown and ran leadership and service clubs for girls the YMCA.

Burtner said was truly surprised by the reception, which proved to her that she can't trust any of her friends and relatives.

A cousin got her to the reception on the premise of an afternoon outing, she said.

She said she didn't suspect anything was up until they reached the steps to the back door and she heard noises inside.

"What's going on?" she asked as she walked in the door and glanced around the crowded rooms.

"Why me? I didn't do anything," she said after being told it was a party for her.

The shock of it made her want to sit down, she said.

"I'm not used to this kind of thing I think I'm about to faint," Burtner said, as she received congratulations from friend after friend and mildly reprimanded them for helping to fool her.

"I don't think I deserve it. If you do what you like, you shouldn't been honored for entertaining yourself," she said.

Too often people wait until someone like Burtner dies to recognize all their contributions, said Downs Hewitt, who taught with Burtner and helped organize the reception.

"I think it's much nicer to have a get-together and honor her than to send flowers to her funeral," Hewitt said.

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