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Ann Julie Grasham

October 31, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Ann Julie Grasham, who died Oct. 19 at the age of 73. Her obituary was published in the Oct. 21 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Ann Grasham came to Washington County in the early 1970s -- a wife and mother of five children.

Though new to the area, Ann soon hooked up with the Washington County Department of Social Services (DSS) and began working in foster care, specifically with teenage girls.

For the next 30 years, Ann passionately fought to make life better for her girls. She initially was faced with the arbitrary cutoff age of 18 for foster care services, often leaving the girls adrift and on their own prematurely.

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"Ann was instrumental in getting the independent living program up and running," said longtime colleague Susan Lohman, also retired from DSS. "It later became more standardized."

What it meant was giving foster children the tools to navigate through the adult world once they reached 18, Susan said. Ann did that as well as taking them out on holidays and being there for them when they needed her.

Mary Miller, Ann's only daughter, said she remembers her mother buying gifts for her girls and staying close with them through the years.

"Sometimes, she brought them home, even when they were grown," Mary said from her home near Waynesboro, Pa.

When Ann and Susan first worked for DSS, the offices were on the second floor of an office building on Cleveland Avenue.

"There were six of us working in foster care," Susan said.

A small unit, the six social workers broke down the foster children by age and gender -- some had the infants, others worked with either boys or girls.

In those early days, Ann supervised the teenage girls in foster care while Charlie Breakall worked with the teenage boys.

"Ann's desk was right next to mine for 10 years," Charlie said by telephone. "She was always a professional."

Now the adult services supervisor for DSS, Charlie said he sometimes encounters one of Ann's girls who was in the DSS foster care program with her three siblings, though in different foster homes during those early years.

"Ann and I would sometimes get them all together and that girl was so thankful for that," Charlie said.

The foster care staff at DSS now numbers about 20, Susan said.

Mary said her mother had a heavy caseload that ranged from 12 to 18 teenage girls at a time.

"She was on the road a lot, checking on her girls in foster and group homes," Mary said.

Charlie said the girls maxing out at age 18 often were immature even though they wanted to be independent. Still, they needed support, he said, and Ann was there to provide that as long as she could.

Raised in New England in comfortable surroundings, Ann was unfamiliar with some of the difficulties life can dish out, Mary said.

"Mom grew up not knowing there were kids living like that," Mary said. "But she had the courage to help them ... and she meant business."

Mary said her mother often was still working when she was home.

"Her work was her life," she said.

Susan added that Ann went to bat for her girls and took care of them.

The trait of helping others didn't escape the next generation -- Mary said she enjoys taking care of older people, something Ann never got into.

"I felt the same way about them as she did about her girls," Mary said.

Even after Ann retired, she kept working in the field she had given so much of her time and energy to for 30 years.

"Ann and I both were still doing custody evaluations for the courts," Susan said, having crossed over to protective custody work while she still was working for DSS.

But Ann did take time out for her family, especially her grandchildren, three of whom spoke at her funeral service.

"She was Grammy to them," Mary said. "Mom practically raised one of them."

A good cook, Ann also enjoyed having her family over for meals. Mary said her mother's rib roast was legendary.

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