Ocean City High's first black teacher, Marizita Grimes, dies at 97

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Marizita Grimes Marizita Grimes

OCEAN CITY — Marizita Miles Grimes, an educator, consummate volunteer and loving wife, mother and grandmother, died on March 17 at the age of 97.

She was the first black teacher at Ocean City High School, who married a local legend, raised a family and taught and touched a generation of young women the art of organizing a kitchen and preparing a meal.

“She was professional with a capital ‘P,’” said Ginny Mulford, one of hundreds of students to pass through Grimes’ kitchen on the third floor of the old Ocean City High School.

Mulford, who graduated in 1970, went on to work as Grimes’ colleague after she was hired to teach art at the local high school.

“She was wonderful, a beautiful woman, inside and out,” she said. “She truly was absolute perfection.”

Grimes, of Ocean City, was born to Howard S. and Cornelia M. Miles of Crisfield, Md. on March 24, 1916. She was the oldest of four daughters and both of her parents were teachers.

She is survived by her husband, Richard “Dick” Grimes; two daughters, Clarissa G. Price of Baltimore, Md. and Rita G. Brown of Galloway; a sister, Sarah Miles Woods of Crisfield, Md.; two granddaughters, Carmen Price Bullock of Baltimore, Md. and Jennifer D. Brown of Galloway; and great-grandchildren Nicholas, Justin and Kelly Bullock of Baltimore, Md.

Richard Stanislaw, former president of the Ocean City Tabernacle, worked closely with both Marizita and Dick Grimes on numerous charitable events.

“Both of them had an enormous impact on the community, particularly in terms of race relations,” Stanislaw said. “They were both involved with the Ecumenical Council to make sure that the community took care of people in need. Marizita really looked after Dick. She was a kind, sweet woman and she will be missed.”

Stanislaw said that Dick Grimes founded the Ocean City Youth Athletic Association. He said that Grimes’ success was in no small part due to the support offered by his wife.

“They grew up in the Jim Crow era, lived through some pretty bad times for African Americans, but you never sensed any sort of resentment,” he said. “They both always had this forgiving spirit about them.”

Fran Ostrowski, a retired sewing teacher who worked across the hall from Marizita Grimes, said she was saddened to hear of Grimes’ death.

“I’m going to miss her,” she said. “She was a lovely, lovely woman, a constant professional. She loved her job and she loved the kids.”

Ostrowski said she started in 1967 and Grimes, a veteran, took her under her wing. They worked together until Grimes retired in 1976.

“We were kind of stuck back there in that corner,” she said of the location of their classrooms. “We had some good times. We did a lot back there, a lot of things that were above and beyond.

“A lot of the young girls would come to us, ask us questions. These were things that back in 1967 they would never discuss with their mothers. They confided in us. They wanted someone to listen.”

Ostrowski said Grimes handled troubled young women with ease and lots of love.

“She just loved her job,” she said. “I was young, she helped me. The staff loved her. She made me a better teacher.”

Grimes turned the “cooking and sewing” unit into a program, Ostrowski said.

“We helped a lot of people, especially those who didn’t take college prep (classes). The most important thing was to help them get a job, to make sure that they were prepared,” she said.

Mulford said Grimes and Ostrowski taught home economics at a time “when home-making was viewed quite differently.”

“She and Fran had every student that came through that building,” she said. “That included every seventh and eighth grade student, as well as every freshman. They had kids in their room all the time. They were either helping someone cook, washing uniforms or sewing uniforms.

“She was very organized and you had to do it just so, line up your ingredients, have everything measured, but there was a reason for that. You had to be prepared. She made it a formal education. You had to do it, and it made you realize that dinner doesn’t just happen. She focused on proper nutrition, made sure you understood why it was important to eat a balanced diet,” Mulford said.

She said that as a teacher, she relied on Grimes and her kitchen for myriad projects for students in the band and art club over the years. As a student, she said she found her to be incredibly knowledgeable.

“She didn’t just teach you how to cook, she taught you about kitchen hazards, and about salmonella. I had never heard of it before. I’m very aware of it now, having married a butcher. She made it fun and interesting,” Mulford said.

She said Grimes was proud of all of her students and a wonderful mother to her own two daughters.

“She was a very private person,” Mulford said.

Sonya Bertini, a 1976 Ocean City High School graduate, said Grimes made a huge impact on her.   

“She was my first and only teacher of color. In fact, at the time I had her, she was the only teacher of color in the school,” Bertini said. “She taught us that a kitchen with an island is the most efficient, and to this day I think of her when I see an island.

“It's funny how I don't remember some chemistry facts, but I do remember that the island kitchen is the most efficient!”

Bertini said she remembers a soft spoken, humble, patient and kind woman.

“Especially patient,” she said. “As a teacher, I think of her patience and how it is indeed a virtue! I also admire her for being a trailblazer in that she was a professional black woman at a time when that was not the norm.

“God bless her soul. She and her wonderful husband were Ocean City treasures and (she) will be missed.”

Grimes’ funeral service was held at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City and she was buried Tuesday, March 25 at the Cape May County Veterans Cemetery in Cape May Court House. Memorial donations in her memory may be made to Macedonia United Methodist Church, 951 Simpson Ave., Ocean City, NJ 08226.

For condolences and information, see www.godfreyfuneralhome.com.

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