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Lena Dinterman, foster mother

January 08, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

HALFWAY - Lena V. Dinterman says she's a "nobody."

Her humility makes the 83-year-old Halfway resident all the more amazing.

She built from the ground up the 14-room Frederick, Md., house in which she and her late husband, Howard "Buddy" Dinterman, reared three of their own children, adopted one child, and served over a 29-year period as foster parents to 120 area youth aged 8 weeks to 16 years.

"I did it just because I loved 'em. I still love 'em," Dinterman said.

She gave birth to each of her children at home, and delivered babies for countless other women.

Dinterman cared for her aging parents, two brothers and ailing elderly neighbors.

"That's what your supposed to do. When you see a need, you don't close your eyes to it," she said.

She constructed from concrete and sand the tombstone her parents wanted but couldn't afford to buy.

"That thing'll never fall apart," Dinterman said.

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She built wood and glass corner cabinets for $50 each, developed a recipe for Kinklins, a German donut, invented a three-dozen capacity Kinklin sugarer, and made elaborate homemade wedding cakes.

Dinterman fought the U.S. government for nearly 30 years after Buddy contracted a number of painful and deadly diseases in 1964 during his work as a civilian animal handler at Fort Detrick, Dinterman said.

Her husband, whose plight is briefly chronicled in Jeanne McDermott's book, "The Killing Winds," lingered 28 years before dying in 1992. Dinterman nursed him at home through his illness.

She credits her faith in God with giving her the strength to plow through life despite its difficulties.

"My faith - that's my life," said the Frederick native, who moved to Halfway in 1991 after selling for $123,000 the house she built in 1952 for $2,000.

Dinterman said she learned the skills she needed to build the house - from drawing the blueprints to digging the footer for the foundation - from her father, who was a contractor and a preacher.

She's lost most of her sight, but still crochets by touch delicate tablecloths and sweater sets for dolls and infants. The tablecloths are raffled to benefit Truth Christian Academy in Hagerstown.

Dinterman stopped taking foster kids in the early 1970s, but still expresses her love for children through her work at the school.

She cooks about 40 lunches there twice weekly, buys the food for the meals, purchased an industrial grill and refrigerator for the kitchen, and tithes $200 a month to the school, she said.

"She's a tremendous help here," said Principal Jackie Marquiss. "She really likes kids and she has a good rapport with all the kids here."

"The children dearly love her," added Dinterman's live-in friend, Lucille Marquiss. "There are some who come in every day just for a hug."

Dinterman said the Lord called her to be a missionary when she was 16, but her parents couldn't afford the formal training required for the religious work.

She found her life's path after she married Buddy in 1937.

Her husband was an orphan, and suggested his wife fulfill her missionary calling by caring for children in need.

She began privately taking children into her home in 1942, charging only what needy parents could afford, Dinterman said.

She stopped working independently and in 1945 started working through state Social Services department after she sought and was refused welfare funds to buy winter clothing for two children she housed for more than a year for $15 a week, Dinterman said.

Classified as an "emergency foster home," the Dintermans could be called upon to receive children at any hour of the day.

"I want you to know that life is not as bad as you've had it," Dinterman said she would tell all the children who came into her home.

There was the 3-year-old girl who clung to the state trooper who brought her to the Dinterman's at 1 a.m., and the 14-year-old boy who tried to kill his father, Dinterman said. That boy is now a Texas pastor who recently wrote to thank Dinterman for her positive influence in his life, she said.

She remembered the 10-year-old boy crying "nobody loves me" at her kitchen table after he was brought to her for a one-night stay.

"I love you. Buddy's gonna love you when he gets home. And best of all, God loves you," Dinterman said she told the boy, who ended up living with her for more than a year.

Dinterman fondly remembered each of her children - all of whom called her "Mom" - as she looked through a magnifying glass at scrapbook-bound photographs and recited the poems she wrote for the children to perform in plays at churches and nursing homes.

Dinterman received three Governor's Citations for her work as a foster parent.

She might not have been trained as a missionary, but Lena Dinterman has spent a lifetime spreading God's love through selfless deeds. And she isn't finished.

"It's not complete," Dinterman said. "Not until I die."

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