Mae Prelow, 99, Mother to Hundreds, Dies


Mae Dedrick Prelow, who for half a century cared for hundreds of children as a foster mother and hospital volunteer in South-Central, died March 12, less than two months before her 100th birthday.

Mrs. Prelow, who lived in Carson, died of heart failure during surgery for cardiac problems, said her daughter-in-law, Leona Prelow of Carson. A funeral and musical tribute were held March 19 at New Hope Baptist Church in South-Central, where Mrs. Prelow had organized the children's choir and directed it for 50 years.

Those who knew Mrs. Prelow praised her talents in dealing with children. For 20 years, she ran a South-Central foster home where she cared for more than 70 youngsters. After closing the home in the early 1970s, she turned her attention to the infants at Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Willowbrook, where she volunteered as a foster grandparent until 1991. Mrs. Prelow spent 20 hours a week at the hospital caring for infants, especially the premature and high-risk babies in the special-care nursery.

"There's a charisma about her. Little kids just kind of look up to her," New Hope Baptist Pastor James S. McKnight said last April, as her family prepared a 99th-birthday celebration. On that occasion, he recalled that a choir reunion to honor Mrs. Prelow in the mid-1980s drew a crowd of 200 that overflowed the choir loft.

"You just mention the name of Mae Prelow, and they come back," McKnight said.

Mrs. Prelow was born in 1894 in Texas and moved in 1922 to Los Angeles, where she married and had one son. After her husband, a sanitation worker, died in the 1930s, she supported herself by operating the foster home.

She cared for six or seven children at a time, from infants to school-age children. Some were in foster care because their parents had abandoned them; others were born into families with drug or alcohol problems.

In a 1993 interview with The Times, Mrs. Prelow was modest about her work with children. "It did the children good, and made me happy to do it," she said.

At her funeral, a family friend spotted an unidentified young man seated in a pew, weeping. He explained that Mrs. Prelow had raised him and taken him to New Hope Baptist many times.

"He said: 'Everything they're saying about Mae Prelow is correct,' " Leona Prelow said.

Mrs. Prelow is survived by her daughter-in-law; her son, Clifford Prelow; two grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Memorial contributions can be made to the Mae Prelow Children's Choir at New Hope Baptist Church or the King/Drew Medical Center.

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