Baltimore Stories and Tips

Maryland Historical Society Honors Everyday Working People

Treva Walkling Photo, Baltimore, Maryland

Just a few blocks away from Baltimore’s busy Inner Harbor, at the Maryland Historical Society, you can relive many important events and the people who helped shape the state’s dramatic history.

Throughout history, of course, it has been the "important people" who have been remembered and honored—The George Washingtons, the Abrahaham Lincolns. Presidents, princesses and movie stars, all seem to have their place in history and Maryland certainly has its share of these as well. It’s only appropriate that their history should be remembered at this museum.

Yet, all too often, the people who made up everyday life have been forgotten. But, now, with their new spotlight exhibit, An Extraordinary, Ordinary Life: The Life and Times of Miss Treva K. Walkling, the Maryland Historical Society is recognizing the vital role of people who were not rich or famous, but played a very important role in their times.

"Miss Treva," as she was called by her customers, was a working woman who embodies the spirit of 20th-century Baltimore. At this display, you will be able to view objects and photographs that bring to life her 47-year career as a waitress and her love of travel, horse racing, and dogs. Although Treva Katherina Phillipena Wilhelmina Walkling led what many people would consider a very ordinary life, she was definitely not an ordinary, but extraordinary woman. As anyone who knew Treva will tell you, she always had a ready smile for everyone, a sweet, yet mischievous, twinkle in her eyes, and a happy chuckle that bubbled like fine Champagne.

Treva had the wisdom of an experienced Zen master, and, in addition to being my aunt, was a profound role model for me. She enjoyed the here and now and found great pleasure in simple little things like smelling the earthy fresh aroma of a newly plowed field, laughing at the antics of a beguiling beagle, discovering a dime on the pavement – or outsmarting the age-guessing men at carnivals.

Treva was her own person.

Treva had discovered early on that the true secret of life is being yourself and you didn’t have to know her long to realize that she definitely was always her own person. As so many of her friends have put it, "Treva had a mind of her own." While still being her pleasant self, she quickly and firmly let everyone who tried to help her or pay her way know that she preferred to do things for herself.

One time, I secretly tried to give her a book of postage stamps and thought I had succeeded and left the room for a few minutes. When I returned home later that evening I discovered that, when I wasn’t looking, she had slipped the stamps back into my handbag. When I looked back on it, that explained the mischievous look on her face after I had returned to the room.

Treva was always willing to learn new things. Well into her 80’s, she willingly sat before a laptop computer as the magic of the Internet was demonstrated to her. Whether it was asking about the health of a friend or being impressed with daredevil kyackers challenging the rapids at Great Falls,Virginia, Treva was always interested in others.

But her interest was more than passive. She had a caring concern and she reached out to help others all throughout her life. Treva not only knew the meaning of a happy life, but lived it in out in her every day actions.

Treva was always young at heart.

Even at 88, Treva still was far from being old. In each new day, each new hour, she always found new zest to enjoy the here and now. My husband and I still laugh about the time she was in the hospital for cataracts and literally fell upon and consumed the pasticcio ice cream we brought her. She was as happy as a kid at an all-you-can eat ice cream bar. Why pasticcio? Because that’s the flavor she always remembered scooping out for me when I used to visit her at her job at the Purity Creamery.

It’s easy to be happy when you are have a life of luxury. But, as a self-supporting waitress – a profession that has never paid its employee what they are worth -- for almost 50 years, Treva knew what hard work was. Her feet had corns and her legs and back ached, but she never complained. It takes a special person to maintain a happy, young-at-heart attitude all throughout life and, even when stricken with the excruciating pain of arthritis, Treva Walkling was as positive and upbeat as she must have been at 17.

Most of all, Treva reached out to help others. Even when she was in poor health herself, she would drive others to their medical appointments, take them to church, shop for them, and, in general, be there, doing whatever was needed, without any thought of ever being repaid. She set an incredible example for all of us on how to live our lives.

Maryland Historical Society
201 West Monument Street
Baltimore, Maryland

This Spotlight Exhibit will open at 6 p.m. on March 7 and continue until June 16, 2002.

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