The Millstone Times November 2021

Interesting People throughout History “Aunt Mary” Mary Dobkin By Pam Teel

Most people reading this article probably have never heard of Mary Dobkin, but ask someone from Baltimore and they can probably tell you who she was, and what she did for the poor youth of the inner cities. Dobkin was born in 1902, in Russia. She was three when her father died. Her mother aban- doned her soon after. She left Russia to live with her aunt and uncle, who lived in Baltimore, Maryland. That arrangement soon came to an end. When Mary was six years old, she was found barefoot, alone, and unconscious, on a cold winter night. She had severe frostbite. In those des- perate days, families often went without food, and the children were sent out on the streets to beg. Her uncle and aunt already had five children to feed. They never came to claim her, and never saw her again. Mary grew up being a ward of the state of Maryland. In 1910, Mary had been adopted by Anne and Harry Dobkin. She spent much of her remaining childhood in hospital welfare wards enduring long series of operations, as doctors tried to repair the damage to her feet and legs. She endured well over 100 operations, including the amputation of both feet and part of one leg, a little later on in life. Dobkin used a wheelchair or crutches for most of her life. She learned English by listening to a radio in her hospital room, and because her room front- ed the stadium where the Baltimore Orioles played, she became fascinated by the screaming crowds. She eventually taught herself to read by combing the sports pages for baseball news. She also followed the gamed devoutly on the TV, while in the hospital. At a therapy camp, she learned to catch and hit a baseball from a wheelchair. Her love for baseball got her through her darkest hours. After her adopted parents died, Dobkin lived in poverty as an adult in public housing in Balti- more. She saw how the children in her neighborhood acted, some stole things from local stores, other were well on their way to becoming juvenile delinquents. She believed baseball could en- courage the children in her neighborhood to do better. When a neighbor’s grandson, who lived near her in the projects, wanted to start up a small baseball team, he asked her to help him, since

she knew everything there was about the sport. She accepted the challenge, and they put a team of local boys together. When they met up to practice, she taught them everything that she knew about the game. The kids helped to sell raffle tickets to help pay for equipment for the team. After a local merchant approached her about some of the kids on her team stealing from him, she told him that she would keep the kids from stealing from his store if he would help buy uniforms for her new team. He agreed to pay for the uniforms. The Dobkin Dynamites were on the front of the shirt and the merchant’s business name was on the back. When Mary laid the rules down to her team, the kids on the team who were guilty of stealing from the merchant were given a choice. They couldn’t lie or steal anything anymore, they couldn’t swear, and they had to keep their hands to themselves. If they didn’t, they were off the team. The kids came around, because they knew Mary meant business. The merchant was often seen at their games and he and her neighbor helped Mary out when needed. With Mary as their coach, they eventually became good enough to join in with other youth teams. Mary never looked down at the families they came from, or what color their skin was, or even if they had a handicap. She let them all play. She even included girls on her teams. “You be good to kids, and most of them will come out on top,” she once stated. Mary saw the good in them all. She saved countless numbers of children from the streets by keeping them in active in sports. When Mary first started coaching, she was met with some prejudices. Number one was her being a woman coaching a boy’s team. She also had parents who reacted harshly to having a black boy on the team. Some of them pulled their sons off the team, but Mary found others to play. She met every challenge that came at her. The children affectionately called her “Aunt Mary.” Many times they would just go over to her house and hang out. Mary would always bake cookies for them. Over the years, Mary raised funds to provide hooks for a handless boy that she met while in the hospital , and then she trained him to catch a baseball with a special made mitt. When Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey threw out the first ball at a 1965 Major League All-Star game, that youngster was the bat boy for the game. Another boy, born without a hand and foot, learned to kick a football and became a water boy for the old Baltimore Colts. Mary Dobkin, the crippled woman, coached and guided thousands of Baltimore’s poorest children both on and off the baseball field. She became Balti- more’s first woman municipal baseball manager in 1941 and in the ensuing years, organized and coached sandlot baseball teams, and later formed an athletic club for children who were as impoverished as she was. The Mary Dobkin Athletic Club reached over 50,000 Baltimore children, and expanded to softball, basketball, and football activities, as well. Her youth sports programs were mainly supported by donations and benefactors. Prominent among them were Dr. Ralph and Ida Katz,. Anonymously, they donated a lot of money to keep the program going, because Mary’s organized sports teams and leagues for inner-city youths helped to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble. ...continued on page 8

6 The Millstone Times

November 2021

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