Remembering LaClaire Bunke

Ella LaClaire Bunke
1920 - 2016

Many Reservoir Hill residents probably remember LaClaire Bunke as a regular presence at Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) public meetings for many, many years, and as a Temple Garden resident.  In fact, Ms. Bunke had lived in Reservoir Hill since 1956. She moved from that original residence at 2450 Eutaw Place in 1968 to Temple Gardens, which became her permanent home.  In short, Ms. Bunke lived much of Reservoir Hill's history.

This remarkable woman of 95 years, Ella LaClaire Bunke, departed this life on May 4, 2016.  Even as her health prevented her from taking part in many community activities in recent years, LaClaire kept abreast of what went on in her city and particularly her community of Reservoir Hill.  She would pass on newspaper clippings to RHIC staff at many, if not most, community meetings she felt should be in our archives.

We wanted to offer something from Ms. Bunke's own experience.  She loved Druid Hill Park, and wrote up a couple pieces on the park that appeared in the St. Francis Neighborhood Center Newsletter and under Stories of West Baltimore on the RHIC website.  In the following excerpt, she mentions three moments in her early experience of the park:

"My very first introduction to Druid Hill Park was at toddler age, when a seemingly endless streetcar ride brought our family to the entrance. There an organ grinder with his live monkey selling peanuts greeted us. Trudging along the green bench lined roadway into the park, where numerous tame squirrels scampered for the peanuts from visitors, was a happy and exciting event.

"Next, during grammar school days, there was a citywide campaign to collect pennies from pupils in order to purchase an elephant for the zoo. When sufficient coins had been amassed, there was a contest to name the new elephant. “Mary Ann” was chosen.

"Third, in 1947 there was a tremendous outcry from citizens when the political city fathers proposed making a road along one border of the reservoir, thus separating the majestic entrance arch from the park grounds. Despite considerable objection, the Druid Lake Drive was installed, isolating the inscribed archway (with plaques attached) from its original function as the park entrance on Madison Avenue."

More recent Reservoir Hill residents who knew Ms. Bunke may not have known much about her earlier life.  She was the oldest of four children, the only daughter of the late Richard Bunke and the late Maude LaClaire Heiss Bunke.  LaClaire was a lifetime Baltimorean, and a graduate of Eastern High School.  After graduating from Eastern, she was employed as a secretary at the Child Study Center then located on Woodbourne Avenue, and the Eastern Research Lab on Cathedral Street in Mt. Vernon. In 1940, she began a career spanning 30 years with the Social Security Administration, retiring when she was 70 years old. Ms Bunke was active in church and members of St. Matthews and Calvary Methodist recall her lovingly.  

Her dear friend, Sylvia Betts Dodd says of her: "Those who knew Ms. Bunke marveled at her recollection of the lyrics of numerous "old songs" and her love for crossword puzzles.  Her sharp wit, wry sense of humor and "candid camera" photography entertained everyone. She was a gentle, caring and thoughtful person, remembering friends' and relatives' birthdays and holidays with cards, sweet treats and mementos."

To honor LaClaire Bunke and the many other residents of Reservoir Hill who have lived its history and the history of our part of the city, RHIC is re-establishing the Stories of West Baltimore page on its website.  Watch for its return this summer.