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Jean E. Toms

April 02, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Jean Baish and H. Lehman Toms were married July 8, 1951.
Submitted photo

Jean Toms was known as someone who always went above and beyond.

Gifts spilled far beyond the base of the family Christmas tree, with each carefully selected present wrapped, then topped with expertly tied ribbons.

“She could look at you and figure out your size, and bought you just the right gift,” said daughter-in-law Cinda Toms, who is married to Jean’s oldest of four children, Rick.

“She was always buying you things and surprising you, things you didn’t know you needed,” said daughter Susan Toms.

Jean was quite a shopper and kept a surplus of gifts on hand, just to be prepared.

Granddaughter Hilary Hellane, a college student at Colorado State University, remembers as a youngster having to do a lot of walking on shopping trips with her mother and grandmother. Invariably her stroller would end up being used to hold the multitude of shopping bags.  

The Boonsboro farmhouse on Toms Road where the family lived was no ordinary farmhouse. It was decorated in Williamsburg colors, antiques and Maidstone furniture, her family said.

About eight or nine years ago, Jean left the farmhouse and moved to Northgate, no longer able to drive because of macular degeneration. That turned out to be a good move, since she developed a circle of friends who got together regularly for lunch and other social events.

Even though Jean couldn’t cook when she married H. Lehman Toms in 1951, she learned and eventually anything from her kitchen was sought after. One of her first dinners for her new husband was homemade strawberry shortcake, leaving him wondering where the rest of the meal was.

The Tomses hosted coffee hour the fourth Sunday of every month for about 20 years at their church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, with another couple, the Shiflers.

“Everybody showed up for that,” Rick said.

“It was a lot of work and everything was baked from scratch,” youngest daughter Sally Hellane said.

Sally and Susan remember baking a double-layer coconut cake for a 4-H contest. It wasn’t up to Jean’s standards, but the girls were tired, so she sent them to bed.

The next day when the girls told the judges their cake had two layers, they discovered that the cake actually had three layers, an extra layer added by Jean, unbeknownst to them. They placed second in the contest.

“When I was in college, she’d send a pound cake four times a year. It was big, moist and heavy, something to look forward to,” Rick said.

The family recalls Jean’s positive attitude and faith.

“She never gave up on anybody,” Rick said.   

Jean was a go-getter — working for about 25 years as a nurse before having a family. After her four children got older, she hosted large events at their home, and volunteered at church and for numerous community organizations.

Her involvement for 30 years with the Hagerstown Lioness Club, as well as the Washington County Republican Club, Retired Nurses and the Sharing and Caring Committee at Trinity Lutheran Church stand out.

“Her philosophy was ‘Get out and get going. Make something happen,’” Rick said.

Jean was born and raised in Carlisle, Pa., one of four children. One of her brothers died in World War II, the other from colon cancer.

She and her only surviving sibling, younger sister Janet Noggle of Carlisle, took turns calling each other on Sunday evenings.

“She was just a wonderful, wonderful sister,” Janet said.

The five-year age difference made Jean a perfect age to baby-sit Janet or take her along with her friends.

Janet remembers Jean’s 16th birthday in a hotel with an orchestra and all the girls getting corsages.

“It was really super,” Janet said.

Jean came to Hagerstown for nursing school and graduated in 1950 from Washington County Hospital School of Nursing.

Hubert Toms, who became her father-in-law, was a patient of Jean’s, liked her and made a point to introduce her to his son. Jean and Lehman married about a year and a half later.

Jean’s nursing career was always a source of pride for her. She was hospitalized three times because of lack of oxygen due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and enjoyed talking to her nurses, sharing that she was a registered nurse herself.

“She always loved her work,” Sally said.

Jean died on one of her granddaughter’s birthdays, with family by her side. Besides her children, Jean had six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“She tried to do too much and just ran out of juice,” Rick said.

Besides working in the emergency room at Washington County Hospital and for Express Care until her retirement in 1999, Jean helped out as needed at high school football games, church and other places when there was a medical need.

“They followed us, whether it was Scouts, band or 4-H. Whatever it was, they followed us and had fun with us,” Rick said.

The Toms’ dairy farm was the site for hayrides for church, and 4-H youth and barbecue chicken dinners, made with Jean’s famous vinegar-based sauce, for the Republican Club and Farm Bureau.

Sally remembers all Washington County kindergarten classes visiting the farm to see how a dairy farm worked. Jean threw parties for other people, served as a welcoming committee for new neighbors and even hosted a large reception at the farmhouse following her husband’s funeral.

And forget the paper plates. Entertaining for Jean meant getting out the crystal punch bowl and silver trays.

“There was always something going on with a big crowd,” Rick said.

He has fond memories of the homemade ice cream cranked on the farm with cream from their cows. Susan remembers growing tired of steak because they had it for dinner just about every night and asking for TV dinners when they first came out.

“We were organic before it was fashionable to be organic,” Sally said.

The holidays were a big deal for the Toms family.

“At the holidays, you never knew who would be at the table. She said ‘There’s always room for a couple more,’” Cinda said.

Jean even took in one of Susan’s high school friends when her parents kicked her out of the house. Relatives from Wyoming stayed in the vacant tenant house on the farm for a year when they needed a place to live and helped with the farm.

“We never did without. We never drove a Mercedes, but if she could get it for us, she would. If it brought us joy,” Susan said.

Susan fell in love with an appaloosa horse she named Freckles and Jean persuaded her husband to get it for their daughter.

“They were perfect together, an excellent team. We didn’t know that until later in life,” Susan said.


Editor’s note:  Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in 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 Jean E. Toms, who died March 26, 2011, at the age of 81. Her obituary was published in the March 28 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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