In late April, David Tenser helped load up an SUV bound for the regional ALS Association chapter, filled “from front to back and top to bottom,” as Tenser said, with some of his daughter’s vast collection of comics and sports memorabilia.
About six month earlier in mid-November, Tenser’s 50-year-old daughter Beth died at their Pikesville home after living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS, for eight years, leaving behind a legacy most people don’t manage to reach in much longer lifetimes.
That day in April, Tenser packed thousands of collectible comic books and five dozen autographed Major League Baseball baseballs, about 50 of them signed by Baltimore Orioles or New York Yankees (Her favorite teams.)
“There were 2,000 comic books between Batman and Superman, Wonder Woman,” Tenser said. “You know, Supergirl, Super boy. And maybe something else.”
There were signed photographic prints, too. Framed action photos that Beth had taken of her favorite Orioles and, yes, she was a Ravens fan. She was also a talented photographer, but that was in addition to her artistic and graphic talents she had developed since she was a girl, majoring in computer graphics at Adelphi University, then working in New York and Baltimore as a graphic artist. Then there was Brananza — a unique, artistic breast cancer fundraising event Beth developed for Mercy Medical Center.
Beth was a bit of a Wonder Woman herself. Her father described her as “a kind and generous, thoughtful woman,” with an effervescent personality.
“She took after my wife. She was always bubbly and always smiling,” he said, tearing up. “And she was just a happy-go-lucky person. She was very special.”
Tenser’s wife Myrna also died of ALS, in 2005, about five years before her daughter Beth would start showing symptoms. Myrna’s sister was also a victim of the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in a person’s brain and spinal cord, eventually leading to lack of muscle control throughout the body, causing paralysis and death.
About two weeks ago, many of Beth’s cherished items were auctioned off at the ALS Association DC/MD/VA Chapter’s DC’s Dine to Defeat ALS.
Even in death, Beth continues to help others. Recently David took a load of Beth’s cartoon and super hero movies — again, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman — to Baltimore’s new Ronald McDonald House, where children with serious illnesses and their families get respite and support while they are in town receiving treatment.
Beth also left monetary bequests to schools she attended as a girl: Milbrook Elementary and Pikesville Middle and High schools. Tenser also supports the ALS Association, the Brigance Brigade Foundation and Gilchrist Hospice.
David Tenser doesn’t really know where his daughter got the creative spark and energy that lit up her world and the lives of so many others. He wonders if some of it was his interest in photogrpahy he’d had since he was a boy, or his early career as a cabinet maker. Or perhaps it was it his wife Myrna’s fine eye for color and design that she used to skillfully decorate their tidy and colorfully appointed apartment.
In the living room, adorning a dressmaker’s form is one of the bras Beth designed for the Brananza fundraiser. Dubbed “Give My Regards to Braway,” it includes images from famous shows such as “Young Frankenstein,” “Gypsy,” and “Wicked.” For Mercy’s 2014 event, Tenser constructed a bra/corset celebrating, what else? The Bra-timore Orioles.
“Camden Yards has been my Field of Dreams. The Special Park and its people who know me, take me away from all my worries on game days,” Beth wrote in the event catalog. “I live to play it forward to others. To share my action shots with friends, families and players. It gives me a smile. To know I have a reason to live and preserve memories.”
Now that Beth is gone, it is her father David, who is preserving those memories, along with his son, Barry, who survived being shot while working at one of his father’s shoe stores. Barry was gravely injured and barely survived, but his father says he is fine today and is himself a father. The three, grandfather, father and grandson, stay close in the wake of so much tragedy.
“I hope she is an inspiration,” Tenser said. “For people to learn what she went through or what she did. I think would be a great help.”
Tenser hopes that inspiration reaches one person in particular. Recently, he sent a letter to Oprah Winfrey, hoping she might take up the cause of ALS.
“There’s not one big person promoting it, like Jerry Lewis did [for Muscular Dystrophy],” he said. “We need somebody that has a name to do something about this disease.”