For Sophia Meredith Libman, in whose memory and honor the Sophia M. Libman National Endowment for the Humanities Professorship is named, “education opened a door to the world.”
Sophia, (pronounced Sophie) was born Aug. 21, 1916, in Pulaski County, Va. When she was four years old, she moved to Westminster, Md., where her father had purchased a Coca-Cola franchise. Sophia attended Western Maryland College for one year before transferring to Hood, where she majored in English. In 1937, she became the first member of her family to graduate from college. Following graduation, she studied at Yale University for a year and then took courses at a secretarial school and worked in Washington, D.C.
“But it was Hood that opened the world to her,” said her husband Frank Libman of Westminster. “She had a thirst for education.”
Frank, who was born Oct. 7, 1919, in New York City, met Sophia at Hoffman’s Boarding House in Westminster. Sophia was staying temporarily at Hoffman’s while her parents traveled. Frank had moved to Westminster to work for Congoleum-Nairn after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The couple was married Dec. 11, 1944, and had three sons: David, William, and Frank.
In 1948, Frank assumed a leadership role in the family business, managing the Coca-Cola franchise until it was sold back to Coca-Cola upon his retirement in 1991.
“I was busy at work, and Sophia was busy raising the children,” he explained. “Sophia was also active with the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters. She developed a passion for art, and took painting lessons for almost 50 years,” said Frank. “She painted everything, and in all media.”
In the fall of 1999, Sophia became ill while on a cruise, and upon returning home, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Prior to her diagnosis, her art teacher had arranged for a one-woman art exhibit sponsored by the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. Fifty of her paintings were chosen for the exhibit, “Beyond Vision,” an art show for the visually impaired in recognition of the fact that Sophia, an artist, had continued to paint even though she suffered from macular degeneration.
“It was fabulous for her,” said Frank, noting that the Baltimore Sun had published a feature on her and the exhibit.
Sophia died March 4, 2000, and in recognition of her love for Hood, Frank established an endowed chair at the College. Beginning this fall, Genevieve S. Gessert will serve as the first Sophia M. Libman National Endowment for the Humanities Professor. For Frank, it is a fulfillment of his wish to honor Sophia, and reflects his dedication and appreciation of the liberal arts.
Frank continues to reside in Westminster, where he is active in his community, serving as a director of the YMCA and involved in fundraising for the Carroll County General Hospital. He is also an active member and fundraiser for the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
Over the years, his business interests led to real estate land development and the purchase of a local hardware store which he developed into a flourishing plumbing business. He also takes pride in having helped to design the airport in Westminster.
“Sophia and I both loved to fly,” he said, explaining that both of them were pilots, often flying in and out of the Frederick airport.
But for both Sophia and Frank, the Libman legacy at Hood College reflects their appreciation and support of education and the creative arts. Thanks to Frank’s vision, Hood now has in place a program which will support, on a rotating basis, a scholar, who will be at Hood for three years, teaching and developing a series of cross-disciplinary programs.
“Sophia believed, as do I, that education is the key to opportunity,” said Frank.