YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsBird

Bird photography leads to volunteering for retired teacher

November 29, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

After a rich and fulfilling career that included 11 years of teaching Spanish at the University of Texas in Austin, Hugh Brandenburg was hardly ready to stop contributing his time and talents.

"I came home and carved a new life for myself," he said.

Now a well-known bird photographer, Brandenburg, 82, said it was through his feathered friends that he learned of the need for steady visitors to the residents of the Western Maryland Hospital Center.

"The volunteer coordinator of the hospital was at a talk on birds I gave at a Ruritan Club about 27 years ago," Brandenburg said.

She approached him about possibly giving the bird talk to the hospital residents.

"She wondered if they could afford me," Brandenburg said with a grin. "I told her, OK if you can afford free."


After that first visit to the Pennsylvania Avenue hospital, Brandenburg said he knew he was fated to come back again and again.

Brandenburg's specialty is finding a resident or two and focusing his time and efforts there for however long the resident will be in the hospital center.

Just recently, Brandenburg spent a lot of time with retired Washington County District Judge James F. Strine, who passed away at the hospital on Nov. 9.

"Jim (Strine) and I graduated from high school together in 1943," Brandenburg said. "I visited him almost every day when he was here."

One of Strine's daughters, Linda, described Brandenburg's visits as very important to her father. In an e-mail, she described Brandenburg as a saint.

In the beginning, Brandenburg visited, wrote letters and read to many residents. "I'd make the rounds but I would find I wanted to do more one on one," he said.

With that in mind, Brandenburg began working with a patient named 'Tony,' and continued doing so for 17 years until his death in 2002 when he was 42.

"Tony was 25 when he came to Western Maryland after an accident," Brandenburg said. "He couldn't speak or move but was quite alert."

Over the course of daily visits for 17 years, Brandenburg and Tony were able to figure out a communication system based on the alphabet and eye movements.

"It took forever as I recited the alphabet and Tony would let me know with his eyes which letter," Brandenburg said.

Now he is working with a Spanish-speaking man named Rolando Hernandez, an accident victim who has been at Western Maryland Hospital Center for nine years.

"I see him every day. We work on jigsaw puzzles and talk," Brandenburg said.

For these and other efforts, he was Washington County's Most Wonderful Citizen for 1998. He was chosen from a pool of 90 candidates.

"It's a big part of my life - the visiting," Brandenburg said, stressing he doesn't do it for recognition.

"Rarely does a day go by that I'm not here three hours or sometimes as many as eight hours."

The Herald-Mail Articles