Ginger Samuels

September 01, 2012|By JANET HEIM |
  • Ginger is dressed for her great-nephews wedding in the 1990s.
Submitted photo

With the name of a famous dancer, Ginger Rogers Samuels might have been destined to have some good moves. Her love for dancing and sense of style went hand-in-hand, said daughters Crystal Keys of Columbia, Md., and Thelma Wells of Hagerstown.

And she liked to dress her daughters alike, down to the crinoline skirts.

“My mom was a party girl. She loved to dress up, go to dances and dinner out,” Crystal said.

“Ginger loved sparkles, dress up and jewelry. Whenever we went anyplace, she stood out,” said lifelong friend Christella Keyes of Woodstock, Md.

Even though Christella moved away, she said she and Ginger never lost their connection and liked to “talk about our kids and grandkids.”

Ginger’s love for family was unquestionable. In addition to her two daughters, she had two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The single mother worked hard her whole life to provide for her children. She and her girls lived with Ginger’s mother, always surrounded by strong women.

“We called her Gingie. When we got mad at her, we called her Mother,” Thelma said.

For the past 3 1/2 years, Ginger had been raising one of her great-grandchildren, even after she got sick.

“He was something. He loved her to death and she loved him to death. They just connected,” Thelma said.

“They were inseparable,” Crystal said.

Known for her straight-forward approach, Ginger was born and raised in Hagerstown, the youngest of five children. She attended North Street School, a segregated school in Hagerstown, but did not graduate.

“She was a very likable person, genuine. If she said it, she meant it. That’s the way it was. I miss her very much. You just don’t find friendships like that,” Dolores Harmon said in a phone interview. She and Ginger had been friends since Dolores moved to Hagerstown 30 years ago.

Crystal, the oldest, was born when Ginger was 16, so Ginger went to work instead of finishing school. Thelma was born two years later.

“She gave us a good life. She was a wonderful, loving, caring woman,” Thelma said.

Ginger’s oldest sibling, a sister, lived next door and her three other sisters lived nearby. Their brother moved to Philadelphia after serving in the military.

Holidays were spent with family, creating many happy memories. Each Mother’s Day was celebrated with a different color theme.

“Families were close back then. Everybody, even neighbors, were family when we were coming up,” Thelma said. 

Ginger got married in the 1970s and moved with her husband, who was in the U.S. Army, to Okinawa for two years, then to California. When the marriage broke up, Ginger returned to Hagerstown.

She never married again, but had her share of boyfriends, her daughters said.

“She was one of those people, ‘If you don’t like my kids, I don’t have time for you,’” Crystal said.

Ginger learned how to drive but never got her license. For the past 28 years, she lived on North Potomac Street near the former YMCA building because it was a convenient location.

She worked in several fields — at the Dagmar Hotel as a dishwasher, as an elevator operator, in sales at Montgomery Ward, then for Fairchild assembling airplane parts.

“My mom never had any assistance with us, like welfare. Back then, your kids were your responsibility, whether you had them young,” Thelma said.

Ginger retired at age 62. Even working on the factory floor, she put her best foot forward.

“She was up every morning and her jeans were ironed and her shirts were ironed,” Crystal said.

“She dressed to impress,” said Thelma, who added that her mother loved finding unique fashions, especially dresses with sequins, fur coats and animal prints.

Caring for family including her gift for cooking.

“She loved to cook everything. What wasn’t she good at?” Thelma said.

Ginger didn’t care much for baking, but always cooked greens and made big batches of whatever she was making, so everyone would have leftovers to take home.

“She liked to experiment. She was always taking recipes out of books,” Crystal said.

A death in the community meant Ginger would whip up something to take to the grieving family.

“She was always there for everybody,” Thelma said.

Ginger enjoyed soap operas like “Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” When working second shift, she’d tape her soaps and watch them after getting off work at midnight.

She also enjoyed “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” and the new crop of reality TV talent shows. Playing the slots and lottery scratch-offs also were favorite pastimes.

“She never spent a lot of money, but she had the luck,” Thelma said.

Ginger also looked forward to going to the Elks Club for special events such as Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve.

Thelma said that throughout her life, Ginger caught any illness that was going around.

“She was always sick, but never complained. She was a trouper ’til the end. She was a diehard Redskins fan, a diehard woman. It was amazing to see how she could bear it, almost grin and bear it,” Thelma said.

Ginger battled and beat breast cancer, among other health issues. The day after her 75th birthday, she learned she had esophageal and lung cancer, which she fought for more than a year as it spread to her brain.

As she was fighting cancer this time, Ginger was saved. Unable to attend services at Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, she never missed the Bobby Jones Gospel show on TV every Sunday morning and looked forward to receiving communion during home visits.

Her home-going service at the church was well attended, drawing people who knew Ginger as a good listener, friendly and social.

“We know she’s in a better place. She found peace,” Crystal said.

“She struggled through this sickness so hard. It’s bittersweet. The book was done,” Thelma 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 Ginger Samuels, who died Aug. 8 at the age of 76. Her obituary was published in the Aug. 10 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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