The staff and board of Mt. Airy Learning Tree are deeply saddened by the passing of Barbara Bloom, our organization’s founder and a dear friend to us all.
Barbara Bloom had a dream: to create an affordable community education program that would bring residents together to get to know each other, share their diversity and where neighbors would teach neighbors in a community setting. That dream became Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
When Barbara founded MALT in 1981, the program offered just 17 courses and enrolled 125 students. “We had the idea that we all could learn from each other, and in doing that, our community would benefit,” Barbara once said. “The Mt. Airy Learning Tree has long surpassed that goal.”
Barbara suffered from chronic pulmonary lung disease, and died peacefully in her home on Monday December 7th 2020. She would have been 80 years old this coming spring – the year MALT will turn 40.
MALT is raising funds in honor of Barbara, all donations will be dedicated to ensuring that our organization – Barbara’s legacy – can continue operating post-Covid. Make a donation in honor of Barbara here: https://buff.ly/3naRA8t⠀
Barbara Bloom interview
by Karl Biemuller
Karl: Everyone says that you were the moving spirit about Mt. Airy Learning Tree. Tell us about this!
Barbara: Yes, I was. What I realize when I look over MALT’s history is how incredibly lucky I was to quickly draw many talented people to MALT from the beginning. Before we started to gather classes, I asked East and West Mt. Airy Neighbors to jointly co-sponsor us, and that’s how Bill Ewing and Susan Beetle, Eversley Vaughn, Dianne Reed, Pat Henning, Gayle Koster and others got involved. I think my gift probably was in asking for help. It never occurred to me not to say, “Would you like to do this?”
Karl: What was MALT like in the beginning?
Barbara: It wasn’t always easy. People we asked to teach didn’t seem to understand what we were doing, which seems odd today. At first they didn’t have any idea of what we were talking about. “Huh? Why would people want to study bird watching with me?” or “Why would people want to learn how to repair bikes?” After several sessions we could just show them the brochure and it got easier to recruit teachers.
In those early years, our policy was, “If you can’t afford the fee, pay what you can and come anyhow.” One of our first courses was on women’s assertiveness. The first three registrations didn’t pay anything. I thought, “Oh, we’re cooked.” Fortunately enough, the later registrants all paid for the other courses, but it made for an anxious beginning.
Karl: There was a lot of talent in Mt. Airy, wasn’t there?
Barbara: Actually I think that’s still true. People are eager to be helpful and just need to be asked.
Karl: Where did the name Mt. Airy Learning Tree come from?
Barbara: Eversley Vaughn, one of our first organizers, quoted the famed photographer, musician, writer, and film director, Gordon Parks. In Parks’ book “The Learning Tree” it says “Everything you need to know you can learn under this tree”. It seemed appropriate for what we were setting out to achieve. You will see those words in the mosaic MALT commissioned to celebrate our 25th anniversary, outside Lovett Library on Germantown Ave.
Karl: How do you feel about MALT today?
Barbara: I’m just very pleased with what it has become and what people have made of it. I’m delighted that the people who have followed me have done so well and made it their own.