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Features (Bay Weekly Interviews)

A Bay Weekly conversation with Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley 
      Before running for mayor of Annapolis, restaurateur Gavin Buckley ran in high heels and a skirt during a men-in-high-heels sprint at the 2015 Annapolis Fringe Festival. That was nothing out of the ordinary for the South African-born Buckley, who grew up in Perth, West Australia. 
        Ever since coming ashore in Annapolis in 1992, Buckley has been a proponent of all things local, the arts and West Street. He has exerted influence through his ownership and management of several restaurants, Tsunami, Lemongrass and Metropolitan among them. Some of what he’s done has stuck, as did his victory in redefining what’s permissible in Annapolis’ historic district. He cites his controversy with the city’s Historic Preservation Commission over the Agony and Ecstasy mural painted on the exterior of Tsunami as one reason he ran for mayor. Other things — a dog park near upper West Street — never took hold. 
       Buckley’s enthusiasm and vision are forces to be reckoned with. He wants to make Annapolis into an arts, gastronomic, historic and sailing destination. If he can maintain and expand support from the city’s 39,000 residents and thousands more who live outside the city’s 8.1 square miles, many of the ideas he favors could gain enough traction to change the face of the 10th oldest city in the United States.
       Bay Weekly spoke to Buckley about three months into his first year as mayor. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.
 
Bay Weekly You’ve often talked about the dynamic of drawing locals in and tourists following. How do you see that working?
Gavin Buckley Starting from the top would be keeping the Sailing Hall of Fame here. We call ourselves the Sailing Capital of America, and if we’re not willing to put our money where our mouth is, we should take the sign down. Whether [the hall of fame is] housed in a boutique hotel or not, the sailing industry, the boating industry need to feel supported by the administration.
        A City Dock boutique hotel is an idea I’m putting forth. Called The Maritime, maybe it could be four stories, maybe it could have a rooftop that looks over Spa Creek, some conference rooms or meeting space above the Sailing Hall of Fame. 
 
Bay Weekly How does that vision extend beyond the boating industry to people who live here?
Gavin Buckley The main thing I want to focus on is the plaza that we create, called Lafayette Square, and how we program that plaza. It would still have to be hardscape that you could fit the Boat Show in, that you could pull a tour bus up to to drop people off and then pull out again. But it should be mainly for pedestrians, and there should be things for pedestrians to do. We’ve taken the team down to the wharf in D.C. to see how they’ve programmed a pretty much blighted waterfront area and turned it around.
        We’re bringing in Fred Kent, a famous place-making guy that was here seven years ago to do another presentation. The next day, we’re going to bring him back, put a big tent at City Dock and have a workshop that anyone will be invited to. That workshop can be about how we feel our public space here wants to look, so it’s organic, it comes from the people who live here. It comes from the locals … And you’re a local if you live in Arnold or Crownsville or Edgewater … it’s still your downtown, so getting people invested in it and committed to it, that’s our goal.
        Going up Main Street, we envision a bike path and a trolley line coming down one side of Main Street. We envision expanding the sidewalk and creating outdoor cafes coming down — on the right-hand side — from the Treaty of Paris all the way to Acme and Chick & Ruths.
 
Bay Weekly City Dock is vulnerable to sea level rise. What measures are you planning to counter rising waters and the issues that come with them?
Gavin Buckley The historic district and the water are two of our greatest assets, but the water is also our greatest threat. We have to be mindful of that or we won’t have a historic district. 
        We’re talking about a nine-foot increase. We have to prepare for that. We will appoint a resiliency officer or director who will focus on how we do that. How we’re going to deal with it is to identify the city’s assets, cultural and physical, and the city’s needs and prepare for the next 50 years. Then we’re going to come up with plans that involve the private sector.
 
Bay Weekly Have you gotten to the hows?
Gavin Buckley We should incentivize an international contest. You look at what they’ve done in the Netherlands and in countries that have had to stop big masses of water. If we put a big idea out there and included the county in the plan, we could do things that involve dikes or things like that that could save massive communities that sit on the Severn River or Spa Creek.
        Take the boutique hotel idea. If we put the parking underground, and we put the last level of parking six, eight, 10 feet above grade, that could be the creation of a sea wall for the historic district, if we decide to go that route.
         Using the private sector will be a big thing for us and bundling, coming up with ideas that are blessed by the city, maybe some even pre-permitted by the city, and taking them to the private sector so that we get civic investment is the goal.
 
Bay Weekly In terms of mitigating climate change, you say you’d like fewer vehicles. How will you move people around?
Gavin Buckley The trolleys — we’d like them to be electric. We would like to audit all the city buildings for efficiencies and try to operate those in terms of that. Getting people out of cars and making it a much more walkable city. We like the Danish model. We like it that half their country goes to work on a bike. So if you make bike paths safe, it’s a consideration. We’ve got two bike bridges planned and pretty neat bike paths that go from the historic district down to the mall and from the Poplar Trail to the B&A Trail, from the library over to Quiet Waters Park. We’ve got a lot of ideas like that that can move people around without burning fossil fuel.
 
Bay Weekly How would the city work with the county to do some of these things?
Gavin Buckley Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has a ­dedicated bike specialist on staff. He’s been talking about bringing the B&A Trail to the stadium. I have to intersect that with a bike path across College Creek that intersects it from the downtown area. We have to work together — use Open Space money to fund certain things.
 
Bay Weekly How do you foresee integrating green technologies into areas managed by the Historic Preservation Commission? Will that require changes to ordinances?
Gavin Buckley We have to consider substitute materials. We have to consider whether the environment trumps preservation in some things. I’m hoping to appoint somebody with that kind of experience on the historic preservation board soon. Then maybe somebody with a building background, too, who understands changes from that angle.
 
Bay Weekly How do you propose integrating more of the city’s history into everyday spaces to develop a greater sense of community?
Gavin Buckley The Market House is going to be a central area for everybody in the town, whatever race, rich or poor, I think it’s going to be a town center again.
        We need to do events that are inclusive. We’ve done that on West Street, and we should do that downtown as well. Kids in marginalized communities should get to see role models who’ve come out of this town and done great things, and know what a rich history we have. We have a mural coming up, Daniel Hale Williams coming to West Street, near Asbury United Methodist Church. He wasn’t just the first African American, but the first person to do successful heart surgery. Another mural we’re trying to do is Thurgood Marshall next to the courthouse. And another is [local DJ] Hoppy Adams; Chick & Ruths is another wall where we can do that. So just some inspirational characters who’ve come out of here. 
 
Bay Weekly You’ve mentioned wanting to create a no-discharge zone all around Annapolis.
Gavin Buckley We’re formulating it with the county because they’re on the same page. I want people to realize that we care about the water. This is a good place to swim. I get frustrated when people say, I’m not swimming there. I’m not eating anything from there. Cities and countries all over the planet with waters all around industrial towns bring them back to pristine condition. We should be fighting for that, too. With Steve Schuh, we’re working on legalities and how we craft it. I know it’s going to affect some boating businesses, but I think we’ll gain more than we’ll lose. 
 
Bay Weekly Through what specific ways do you intend to bring people together?
Gavin Buckley We all need to get to know each other a lot better. My staff are diverse. We are inclusive — age-inclusive, race-inclusive, sexual preference-inclusive. It’s about leadership and how you conduct yourself. Events are diverse. We just did a big plaque at City Hall that celebrates all the elected African American officials in city government; the first-ever elected African American in the state of Maryland was a city councilor. Next we’re going to do another plaque next to that for all the women that have been voted to city council — and just start to draw attention to the fact that other people have worked much harder to get there as opposed to us old white guys. I get mad at old white guys, then I realize I am one. (Laughs.)
 
Bay Weekly Which cities do you look toward for the things you would like to do?
Gavin Buckley The Austins, the Boulders, the Charlestons, the Burlingtons, the Ashevilles. Even locally, Frederick’s done well the last couple of decades. I read up on different mayors and best practices. If I see a good idea, I bring it to our team and see what they think.
 
Bay Weekly Speaking of ideas …
Gavin Buckley We love ideas. Just because we put an idea out there doesn’t mean it’s going to happen; it’s the start of a conversation. I defi­nitely don’t surround myself with people that just think the same way I do. I need other people’s perspectives. If the majority of people don’t like something, we don’t do it. But I think we have a lot of untapped potential and need to try things.
 
Bay Weekly What’s the best way for people to reach you?
Gavin Buckley [email protected] We go through the emails every couple of days, or if there’s a meeting needed, set them up.

Local students are stepping up, speaking out and marching for a safe education

       Right here in Annapolis, students are assembling behind their colleagues in Parkland to speak up for their right to a safe education. 
      Mackenzie Boughey, a sophomore at the Severn School in Severna Park, watched with rising unease as the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, overwhelmed television and social media. First she felt horror. Then inspiration. 
       Seeing people her own age and younger standing up for the friends they lost, Boughey decided enough was enough. If a lone gunman could end and change so many lives in a small, safe town like Parkland, was any place safe?
      That was a question worth talking about. Every place. 
      The determined 17-year-old athlete, bagpipe player and leader stepped up to help organize the March for Our Lives rally in Annapolis March 24 to encourage gun control and a safe future for students. Boughey sought to create a space where students, teachers and parents could safely express their outrage, ask for change — and be taken seriously.
      Severn School students Maya Rogalski, Alexandra Szynal, Maddi Meyers and Lauren Carlson joined the first planning committee meeting on February 24, two weeks after the shooting.
 
Preparation or Prevention 
      All schools prepare for fires. Some schools practice for tornadoes or hurricanes. In the 1950s, students hid under their desks during bomb threat drills. In the early 2000s, sniper attacks had Chesapeake regional schools on high alert as students took shelter indoors.
      In 2018, students are practicing active shooter drills to be ready for a rogue gunman on campus. There is a history of preparing kids for danger in school. In this case, the danger could be preventable.
      Boughey’s Severn School is working hard on emergency preparedness and had an active shooter drill scheduled before the massacre in Parkland. She appreciates her school’s dedication to safety.
     “It’s nice to know the school was thinking about preparing us before, but it shouldn’t be necessary,” Boughey says. “Our main goal is to fix it now before anything else happens.” 
 
Something Else Happens
     To that goal Boughey and fellow organizers are in support of changes that are radical in term of political achievability: improving background checks, raising the purchasing age to 21, limiting semi-automatic weapons and banning assault rifles altogether.
      Representatives for the National Rifle Association have been outspoken about adding firearms to the equation instead of restricting them. From the County Council to the White House, many elected officials agree with that stand.
      On March 1, President Trump met with NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox. After their meeting, Cox tweeted: “POTUS supports the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and doesn’t want gun control.”
      Arming teachers makes guns the solution, not the problem, Boughey says. 
      “Teaching is a hard enough job without adding guns,” Boughey says, reflecting on her father’s work as a public school teacher. He is not interested in carrying a weapon in school, nor does he have the time for the training required.
       Opinions like these — all sorts of opinions — are what Boughey hopes will be shared at the Annapolis March from Lawyers Mall to Susan Campbell Park.     “This is about the students. We will be heard,” she says. 
       “The aim of the march,” she says, “is not about politics.” The conversation has turned political and angry on too many occasions. Organizers want to make sure the march does not go that way. Positive thinking and forward movement is their intention.
      Opinions like Boughey’s are not safely expressed in some places. Movements like this march open themselves to criticism and intimidation.
        On March 24, Boughey hopes Lawyers Mall will be a safe space for area students to think and wish and pray out loud. 
 
Turning the Tide
       The kids have their supporters. 
       Students left school by the thousands on Wednesday March 14, one month after the massacre in Parkland. Demonstrations lasted 17 minutes to honor each victim killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As school administrators considered how to react, many principals, parents and teachers were supportive. 
       Parents are uniting behind their children to say enough is enough. On March 13, 7,000 shoes were laid on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to honor victims lost to gun violence. Calling on Congress to take action, protesting parents held signs that read #NotOneMore.
       “I’m so glad to see students standing up for what they believe. People are quick to dismiss them because they’re students and they’re young. But I think they’re underestimating them,” says Mackenzie’s mother. Heather Boughey. “I’m so impressed with the students from Parkland. They’re well spoken, well researched and are fighting for a change that is desperately needed.”
        There’s a long path ahead for any gun-control legislation to pass federally. But the steps already taken by the state of Florida show that on a smaller scale, changes can be made. The new Florida gun bill raises the minimum age for purchase to 21, bans bump stocks and creates a longer waiting period during the background check process.
      It doesn’t, however, ban assault rifles, and it allows the arming of school personnel.
       Legislation has a long way to go. But as far as it goes, change has come largely because of student activists like Boughey.
       In Maryland, Congressman Anthony Brown welcomed the planning committee, as well as representatives from Moms Demanding Action, for an open discussion about school safety and gun control. 
       On February 27, Brown and Pennsylvania colleague Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a bipartisan bill to tighten gun safety by raising the purchasing age for assault rifles.
      “This common-sense bipartisan bill is a critical first step that closes a dangerous loophole in our gun laws,” Brown said. 
      Both congressmen say they will do what they can to gather support for the bill from their colleagues. Their goal is to prevent Parkland from ever happening again.
 
The March
       On March 24, students will have their safe space. From 11am to 1pm, the March For Our Lives gathers in downtown Annapolis, beginning at Lawyers Mall.
        For the first hour, ideas will be in the air as speakers share their thoughts on gun control. 
      Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley will be there, saying a few words in support of the march.
      There’ll representatives from Moms Demanding Action, a powerful grassroots organization founded in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. Speakers from Moms Demanding Action will explain common-sense solutions, including legislative solutions, to gun violence. 
     The father of a Virginia Tech survivor has been invited. Students, teachers and school administrators will be there, and, organizers hope, elected officials who have the power of action.
      After the speeches, the marchers make their way down to Susan Campbell Park at City Dock to sign a banner petition for gun-blocking legislation. There’ll be voter registration for students who’ll be 18 by Maryland’s primary election in June and the general election in November. 
      In the midst of the nationwide debate, Boughey and her peers stand resolute: “Whether we fix this or not,” she says, “we’ll still be here fighting.”

A Bay Weekly conversation with writer, birder and ­educator Katie Fallon

       Ewww, vultures! How can you stand them?
      Katie Fallon, who finds lots to love about those bare-headed carrion-eaters that so many find fearsome and disgusting, has heard it all before. Fallon is a vulture advocate and in the business of changing minds. So she hopes her March 21 audience at Quiet Waters Park will leave with a new appreciation for the birds and the role these fabulous flyers play in our ecosystem.
       Writer, birder, educator and parent, Fallon gives the first John W. ‘Bud’ Taylor Wildlife Lecture, hosted by the Anne Arundel Bird Club to honor the beloved naturalist and artist, who died last year.
       Fallon’s love of vultures goes deep. She cofounded the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, which annually treats more than 300 injured birds, including turkey vultures and black vultures. Now she’s written the definitive book — Vulture: The Private Life of an Unloved Bird — on vulture life, love and parenthood, with the latest science on these common but misunderstood creatures. 
       Here’s a preview of what to expect at her lecture.
 
Bay Weekly Your first book, Cerulean Blues, was about a tiny, beautiful, elusive and threatened bird, the cerulean warbler. Your new book is about a large, ubiquitous bird that few could find handsome. Your new book’s title calls them “unloved.” Why? 
Katie Fallon I, of course, love them, and a lot of people do. But if someone calls you a vulture, it’s not a compliment. Vultures in cartoons are always the bad guys, and if someone is greedy or underhanded, they’re often called a vulture. People find their eating habits disgusting, but that doesn’t make sense to me; it’s not as if humans eat live prey. I wanted to write something that showed their “disgusting” habits in a un-disgusting way. 
         Vultures do a really important job of cleaning up all of our dead stuff, and they’re super efficient. They can very quickly remove dangerous pathogens from our ecosystem. Between the acid in their stomachs — which has a pH approaching battery acid — and the powerful bacteria in their guts, their digestive systems destroy anthrax, botulism toxins and cholera. They completely neutralize anything dangerous in an animal carcass.
 
Bay Weekly Two species of vultures are common in the U.S. Why did your book focus on turkey vultures? 
Katie Fallon I like black vultures, but when I started writing about vultures around 15 years ago, I didn’t see many black vultures in West Virginia. Turkey vultures were all over the place and came into rehab much more often, so I was more familiar with them. Black vultures have been moving north and are now more common. A non-releasable black vulture named Maverick lives at the rehab center, and he’s very outgoing. My kids, 3 and 5, are able to feed him by hand. He never bites. He has a neat personality that’s totally different from the turkey vultures. Turkey vultures are, in general, more timid. 
 
Bay Weekly Why do black and turkey vultures hang out together? 
Katie Fallon They’re both social, and they both like to be where there’s a reliable source of carrion: near roads. They both seek good winds so they don’t have to spend valuable energy flapping. Black vultures will often follow turkey vultures to food because they don’t have the excellent sense of smell that turkey vultures use to find carrion. 
 
Bay Weekly Why have black vulture numbers increased? 
Katie Fallon I think climate change is definitely a reason. Both turkey and black vultures probably originated in the tropics. As the world gets warmer, it keeps road-killed animals from freezing. We have more cars and roads than we used to, so more animals are killed. Black vultures tend to roost in urban areas, where the pavement creates heat islands. Ranchers used to blame vultures for spreading diseases among cattle, and the birds were killed in huge numbers. Now we know that the opposite is true. And now vultures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. 
 
Bay Weekly What are other misconceptions about vultures?
Katie Fallon Turkey vultures are often accused of killing pets and livestock. While black vultures occasionally kill weak and dying animals by pecking, turkey vultures do not. Both vultures have big, flat chicken feet incapable of grasping. People will say, I saw a turkey vulture carrying off my neighbor’s cat. That’s biologically impossible. But they get blamed for that kind of stuff a lot. 
 
Bay Weekly When people want to repel vultures — could you talk about that?
Katie Fallon Some people want to get rid of their vultures. I can’t understand why (laughs). Vultures like to roost on communication and water towers, and the droppings are pretty acidic and can damage equipment. To get them to move somewhere else, sometimes hanging balloons will work. A town in Virginia hung an inflatable killer whale on their water tower, which apparently deterred their vultures. Vultures don’t like sprinklers. Flare guns and fireworks sometimes work to make them relocate. But often if you scare away one group, another may come in to that same good spot. In the fall and winter, vultures roost together, but it’s not a permanent settlement. In the spring and summer they’re busy raising young. 
 
Bay Weekly You write that our turkey and black vultures are doing well, but vultures in other parts of the world are in trouble. 
Katie Fallon Yes. Asia and Africa have many vulture species adapted to eating the large animals there. In Africa, herdsmen will poison the carcasses of cattle, with the intention to kill predators that might threaten the living livestock. Vultures will die as unintended targets. Also, people who poach elephants or rhinos will often poison the carcass after they leave it, so that when vultures land and eat they die instead of congregating in the sky and alerting authorities to the poached animal. There are cases of 70 vultures dying on one poisoned carcass. 
 
Bay Weekly How can we help ­vultures?
Katie Fallon Don’t buy ivory. Notice vultures, learn about them and appreciate them. Don’t hate them! Vultures are a good introduction to birdwatching. They’re big, easy to identify and they group up in impressive numbers. Go to a vulture festival and spend money there. There are several vulture festivals across the country.
 
 
Wednesday, March 21, 7-9pm, Quiet Waters Park Blue Heron Center, Annapolis, refreshments served: 410-222-1777: $5 suggested donation w/books available for purchase and signing.
Forensic artist puts images to 200-year-old descriptions
       Lot Bell, who became a free woman in 1816, survived through two centuries of history in a few words written by the man who had claimed her ownership. Granting Lot her freedom in his last will and testament, ­Silbey Bell described her of “pretty dark complexion, long face and high cheek bones … a very remarkable scar on her head on the left side thereof which resembles a mulberry very much.” On the 30-year-old woman’s Certificate of Freedom, those words were the equivalent of her passport photo.
       Now, thanks to the Maryland State Archives’ Faces of Freedom, this forgotten figure in Maryland history — with thousands to follow — is faceless no more.
      “We want to recognize the humanity of all people gripped by the drama of slavery in Maryland,” explains Chris Haley, director of the Archives’ Study of the Legacy of Slavery. “We want to return their voices and faces to them.”
       Haley knows the history of slavery well. Nephew of Roots author Alex Haley, Chris Haley also descends from Kunta Kinte, a slave who arrived at Annapolis’ docks on the slave ship The Lord Ligonier and whose story became famous in the older Haley’s writing and 1977 television miniseries.
       “Our aim is to bring life to the identities of these unknown individuals by using Certificates of Freedom, Manumissions and runaway slave ads,” Haley explains. “We then take it to the next level by using a professional forensic artist, whose expertise is putting a face to words.
       Descriptions from Certificates of Freedom are more detailed than wording from the other documents. The certificate and the description on it were the only evidence formerly enslaved persons had to prove who they were and to vouch for their freedom. Without good descriptions of all of the prominent facial features, a free or freed man or woman was more likely to be arrested and enslaved again.
 
Breathing Life into Words
       Lt. Donald C. Stahl of the criminal investigations division of the Charles County Sheriff’s office was the forensic artist Haley chose to reconstruct the Faces of Freedom. 
        From a Certificate of Freedom, Stahl explains, “I first pull out all of the details.” Lot Bell’s description also noted that she was “rather straight and well made, narrow between her temples, rather flat nose, with a full mouth and thick lips.”
      It’s a process, Stahl explains.
      “Given the description, I first try to form a picture of the face in my mind.”
       As well as Lot Bell, Stahl has reconstructed Samuel Curtis, a 23-year-old freed in 1838. He depicted Curtis with an open mouth because “the certificate stated that ‘his lips are thick and when he laughs shows his upper teeth.’ So I felt that was a distinguishing characteristic.” 
       Then the forensic artist seeks a photographic reference “to provide finer details like lighting and shading.”
      The next step is “research on the era to include a period feel.” Stahl tries to get a feel of what life would have been like back then to avoid making people who lived two centuries ago appear in the image of today.
      There is, however, a degree of artistic license “When we started the project,” Stahl says, “Chris and I agreed there had to be. While a good amount of information is included in the certificate of freedom, every single feature is not described in detail, so I have to develop something to complete the face.”
       The images we now see of Lot Bell and Samuel Curtis are, Stahl says, each a “true composite image made up of several pieces. It’s what we do in law enforcement to take a description and come up with a semblance.”
       Stahl’s participation in the project is a labor of love. Because it’s completed in his spare time, a facial reproduction can take anywhere from a few days to several months.
      “This is a very worthwhile project to be involved in,” he says. “I’m so used to drawing bad guys that it’s refreshing to do it for something good.”
 
Chronicling the Trail of Freedom
       In 2001, the Maryland Archives began organized research on the unsung heroes who fought against enslavement and aided escapes to freedom. Beyond the familiar names Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were thousands of other unknowns who risked imprisonment to help. Begun with three volunteers, that project, beneath the Underground Railway, gained funding from the National Park Service Network to Freedom Program. It has since spun off the Legacy of Slavery and Faces of Freedom projects.
      Haley spreads his arms in celebration as he walks to the display case holding the reproduction of Lot Bell and a copy of her original Certificate of Freedom. Having learned his ancestry through his uncle’s research and writing, he’s made it a mission to help others exploring family history.
      “Anyone can find their own roots if they dig deeply enough,” he says. “It’s all recorded just waiting to be discovered. All it takes is time and perseverance.”

Dr. Joan Gaither’s quilts document lives and history

      Mention quilts, and people often share memories of grandmothers or great aunts working with needle and thread, joining pieces of fabric with precise stitching.
      Dr. Joan Gaither, who documents history with cloth and thread, describes herself as “a quilter who breaks all the rules.” Her quilts are covered with images, words and objects: buttons, ribbons, pieces of jewelry, shells — anything that can be sewn to fabric and symbolizes an aspect of the story she tells.
       She stitched her first quilt after the death of an aunt whose story and family history she wanted to memorialize. As she added text and photos to represent the lives and careers of seven generations of her family, the quilt grew to an impressive 10-by-12 feet. It includes the colorful and imaginative embellishments that now characterize her work and features brilliant Maryland state flag colors representing her family’s ties to Baltimore.
       That experience 18 years ago launched the Maryland Institute College of Art professor into fiber arts and three-dimensional collage. Gaither has since made over 200 quilts, telling her stories and those of black Americans. Many have themes of identity, racism and social justice. Others honor the lives of individuals who have influenced national politics, education and the arts.
       Through this month, you can see her quilts in Baltimore in the exhibit Freedom: Emancipation Quilted & Stitched at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which celebrates the contributions and legacies of people of color in Maryland.
       Each image, object, fabric and color, she explains, has symbolism. Most quilts are edged in African mud cloth. A strip of blue stands for the ocean passage. Red, white and blue fabric represents America. Pieces with railroad tracks are the Underground Railway and the flight to freedom. 
      “The strips are often held together by safety pins, some still open,” she explains, “to symbolize the pain of slavery, oppression and injustice.”
       The topics of the quilts on exhibit range from Gaither’s personal history to broad topics of national interest. Laid out in a pattern like the Maryland flag, her Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt has blocks that represent all of the counties in the state, plus Baltimore City. Each block focuses on events and people associated with emancipation. More than 400 people across the state helped in creating this quilt, which will continue its travels throughout Maryland when the exhibit closes at month’s end.
        Collaboration is a hallmark of Gaither’s work. She brings together local communities, school children and church groups to create and construct quilts. One of her largest quilts (10 by 14 feet) depicts the entire Chesapeake Bay and celebrates the lives of its black watermen. That inspiration was, she says, “my discovery that there was very little record of the contributions of African Americans to Bay-oriented industries.” Individuals from towns all around the Bay contributed information, family photographs and objects to make the history come alive.
       No experience required is the message at Gaither’s quilt-making workshops. People come with words, photographs and mementos. She brings ink jet printers, scissors, markers, boxes of embellishments and inspires her quilters to capture memories and stories on fabric. Sewing is done with large needles and simple stitches.
        A group of young children who swarmed into her exhibit the day she and I visited were drawn to details on the quilts, calling out to one another as they noticed yet another fascinating or unusual embellishment: strings of beads, a political button, a plastic crab. She answered some questions, then encouraged the kids to talk with their families and elders: “Ask them questions about their lives,” she said, “about what they remember from when they were young.” 
        “Memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses” are our stories, author and journalist Aleks Krotoski says. Gaither’s quilts are just that, capturing history, documenting and honoring lives, describing their lessons about the past and their calls for justice and equality.
       Follow Gaither on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanMEGaither.

Love stories from Chesapeake Country

When Susan Met Anthony …
Susan and Anthony Nolan
 
Playing Cupid gave me opportunity to talk with him outside work
 
       Newly single in her late 30s, my friend Lisa lamented the absence of single men. “How does anyone find someone?”
      Then it happened. She had met someone, and he was kind, funny, smart and handsome.
      “How did you meet?” I wondered, after all her disappointment.
      “Penitentiary pen-pal program,” she answered.
      Stunned into silence, I did not want to know more.
      But the question stayed with me. 
      IF I were looking for love, where would I find it?
      My mother suggested church. “Single men do not go to church,” I told her — “unless they live with their mothers.”
       Another relative had a bold idea. “You go downtown to that Senate Office Building and introduce yourself to Lindsey Graham. He’s single and he’s a South Carolinian.” I rolled my eyes, remembering Gerald O’Hara telling Scarlett, “It matters not who you marry, daughter. Just as long as he is a southerner and thinks like you.”
        My friend Melissa pulled dating websites up on her computer. “See? See? Hundreds of thousands of available men looking for someone. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be compatible with at least one of them.”
       I was asking, but I wasn’t looking. I enjoyed being single.
      Yet friends and co-workers kept trying to set me up. Happily married colleague Ed whispered, “Our new assistant division chief is single.” 
       “I am never, ever dating anyone I meet at work. That’s just so inappropriate,” I told him.
      “You have so many other appropriate ways to meet men?”
       I changed the subject. I was getting good at that.
       Cathy, my supervisor, also told me about our new division chief. She came back from a meeting singing his praises. “Anthony’s a good listener. Don’t you find that an unusual and appealing quality in a man?”
      Finally, to prove I would “never, ever date anyone I meet at work,” I plotted to find him another woman.
      Mary seemed a likely candidate. Like Anthony, she was in her 40s, never married, Roman Catholic, with a large extended family including many adored nieces and nephews. They both enjoyed travel and the outdoors. I could introduce them at the art gallery she managed. 
      He agreed. Mary agreed and offered the bonus of inviting a single guy for me to meet. “There’s less pressure in a larger group,” she said.
      It went off beautifully. Everybody liked everybody. But there wasn’t any chemistry.
      I continued my efforts to find a match for our assistant division chief. Playing Cupid gave me opportunity to talk with him outside work. Our friendship grew.    But no matter whom I introduced, Anthony was uninterested.
       Eventually, he explained why.
      One evening after a workshop together, I found the following message on my answering machine:
      “I want you to know I am an intelligent person. I’m well-educated. I’m well-read. I’m well-traveled. Yet when I am in your presence, I am speechless. Why is that?”
       I swooned, realizing I would never find a suitable match for this man because he was smitten with me. It could have been a scene from a Jane Austen novel — had Emma Woodhouse an answering machine.
      Our courtship was brief. We married a few months later. We’ve shared 11 action-packed years in which we have treated the traditional wedding vows of for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health like a to-do list, checking off each item a dozen times over. Our failures and successes have brought us closer together and more in love.
       Friends and family still rib me about how I swore I would “never, ever date someone I meet at work,” and I laugh at how close-minded I once was. Now, I say yes to love wherever you find it — be it at church, a bar, the Senate or an online dating app. 
       As for Lisa and the guy she found via the penitentiary pen-pal program, she was right. He is kind, funny, smart handsome and — fortunately — reformed.    They, too, will be celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary this year.
 

When Elisavietta Met Clyde …
Elisavietta Ritchie and Clyde Farnsworth
 
The wooing of a brilliant loner 
     Dissident Russian artists was my topic toward an M.A. at American University, so when Norton Dodge, professor of Russian economics and collector of Russian dissidents’ paintings, held a conference at his Cremona estate, where several émigré artists and their canvases would be present, I was delighted. 
      Guests included New York Times journalist Clyde Farnsworth, recently back from Paris. Guessing that Clyde had surely met the existentialist novelist Albert Camus, I settled next to him. Conversation revealed that Camus’ The Exile and the Kingdom reflected Clyde’s situation as a brilliant loner.
      He scribbled his phone number on a matchbook. A month later I called: On my own after 24 years of a mostly good marriage, I didn’t suffer for lack of diversion. Nor did Clyde. 
       I could bring an escort to dinner at my father’s friend Dr. George Mishtowt’s. An evening of brilliant conversation and Russian songs, and Clyde was a baritone. He also practiced his violin daily …
       Our respective children asked, “Why don’t you two get married?”
       My answer: “He hasn’t asked me.”
       Summer 1992, on the cusp of his transfer to Canada (I assumed another romance over), I drove him to a knee operation. Afterward I settled him in our guest bed while I slept on the couch, at midnight back to the ER, then home again to his bed of pain. 
       Suddenly at 2am he asked, “Why don’t we mosey down to the Prince Frederick courthouse tomorrow and pick up a license?”
       I phoned Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, my doctor daughter, then a captain at a military hospital in South Korea. Her answer zoomed across the Pacific: “Do so quickly before the anesthesia wears off!”
       Around the world and all these years later, we still have a cottage at Broomes Island and are settling in at Asbury Solomons.

When Amanda Met John …
Amanda Bowen and John Barnett
 
Which of the brothers would it be?
       It was a time in my life where I was in this phase of do I go to college? Do I stick with the job I have? 
      A friend talks me into going with him to hunter safety classes at Meyers Station Nature Park in Odenton.
      In class he leans over and says sorry that I don’t see any guys you would like here. I was a little confused because I didn’t know I was there to pick up a guy. Little did I know I would.
      Night two, in the middle of discussing safety precautions in hunting turkey, I scan the room. In the back are two younger guys, arms folded, sitting low in their chairs. 
      Day three, we are out practicing loading our firearms and shooting at targets. That was my chance to approach the men, who I figured were brothers. Instead, the taller brother introduces himself to me. I’m not going to lie; as we talked, my eyes are elsewhere. Especially because as we talked, he is steadily texting an ex, who, he says, won’t leave him be.
       Ummmmm thanks for the honesty ... moving on from Jeremiah.
       That evening, we’re invited to their house for a bonfire. The shorter brother, John Barnett, is off sitting by himself. I pull up a chair — and the rest is history. 
       Nine years and two beautiful babies later, at 27 we live in Galesville and are still having bonfires and enjoying the few chances we get to hunt together.

 
When Blair Met Jay …
Blair Dawson and Jay Weaver
 
The sandwich that stole my heart
 
       We have been together ever since he posted a picture of a sandwich on Facebook three years ago. 
       In 2014, I lost my parents and decided I was going to live for me for once. I had gastric sleeve surgery, lost a lot of weight, started to go to the gym and enjoy myself. Well, he posted the picture of that sandwich, and I just had to comment on it. We met three days later, and we’ve been together ever since.
      The sandwich is called a Wedgy, and it’s from a little place in Knox, Pennsylvania. We’ve gone and had it three times. It’s one of my favorite things. 
      I am 35, and Jay is 51 and we have been together three years and are now engaged. 
 

When Diana Met Gary …
Diana and Gary Dinsick
 
Sure that our romance was over, I wrote him a formal goodbye
 
      We met at a college dance at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Union. Our reasons for being there were as divergent as our personalities. He was an outgoing and focused sophomore preparing for an Army career. I was a starry-eyed 17-year-old, uncertain what I wanted in life but knowing I wanted to share it with someone. 
      At first glance upon meeting him, I saw only brownness. Jeans, sweater, shoes, eyes, hair — everything was brown. Framing his sun-bronzed face were the worst eyeglasses I’d ever seen. Later on, once we knew each other better, he told me he’d hated the pantsuit I was wearing that night.
      From the beginning, ours was a push-pull relationship. I was the student, the introvert; he thrived on running with the guys. Three years later, after his graduation, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army and left for a three-year assignment in Germany. Sure that our romance was over, I even wrote him a formal goodbye.
      It was a lonely time, my senior year without him. I got down. Even my sociology professor remarked on the change in me. When I confided my situation, my prof informed me that my soldier would find someone else.
       I know, I whispered back.
       His reply: “Why don’t you find a man and spend your life making him happy?”
       Still, my erstwhile beau kept writing. Nine months later, I married him in beautiful Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Forty-three years, three children and a long Army career later, we’re still together. He’s still my Valentine.
 

When Amy Met Michael …
Amy Stielper and Michael Malone
 
We met when I took his job
 
       During the early 1990s, Michael Malone clerked for a judge in Leonardtown. At the end of the one-year position, the judge hired me, and Michael spent the next few weeks training me. 
       The odds were against us, as he was returning home to Anne Arundel County to practice law, and we both were seeing other people.
      But after two weeks together, poring over law books and dissecting trials, Michael asked me out.
      “No, I’m going shopping with my mother,” I answered — but followed up that lame but true excuse with “I’m free the next night.”
      We married a year later. Now I joke that Michael learned early that his chocolate is mine, his bedcovers are mine and his job was mine.
      The irony? I now work for Michael in his law practice. He is also a delegate representing central Anne Arundel County.
 
 
 
 
 

 
When Esperison Met Gladys …
Marty and Gladys Martinez
 
He had pawned his watch so he could pay for a cab that night
 
       My grandparents, Esperison “Marty” Martinez and Gladys Bradley, met a few weeks before Valentine’s Day on a bitter January night in 1952. At 18 years old, he was a newly capped seaman duce sailor, stationed at Quonset Point Naval Air Station. She was a much more mature 20-year-old, living in a little house with her parents and two younger sisters and working a steady job for an insurance company. 
      Their meeting should have been highly unlikely given that his base was some 20 miles away, he was without a car, and he had very little cash. But that Saturday night brought them together at a Polish community dance hall, a popular spot for locals to dance the polka. 
       She was there with six other girls, sitting at a table having drinks, when he and his friend showed up. He got up the nerve to approach and ask one of the girls for a dance. She said no. Never the type to be easily defeated, he moved on to the next girl, my grandmother. She was also a hard sell; she looked him up and down and said, Well, okay.
      On the dance floor they swayed to Eddie Fisher’s Anytime, and ended up talking late into the night.
       When it was time to leave, he offered to take her home. Earlier he had pawned his watch for the evening’s cash so he had enough to pay for a cab. It must have impressed my grandmother, for they arranged for a second date, which evolved into many more slow dances and a dinner to meet her folks, all before a church wedding on October 11 of that same year.
       Some said their marriage would never last due to the mere nine months of dating, but two kids, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and 65 years of marriage later, the Annapolitans have given up on the time clock and now do “Whatever it is that may move us to contentment.”
–Ariel Martinez-Brumbaugh
 

When Ariel Met Pat …
Ariel Martinez-Brumbaugh and Patrick Beall
 
At my recommendation, we got friendlier
 
      We were friends of friends first, then just friends and then friends who sometimes kissed under a starry sky when we got caught up in the moment.   Then, one June day in 2006, we made plans to go kayaking with friends, but only Pat and I showed up. We paddled across Herring Bay and then back into a marsh. Sensing that tension in the air that only comes with new romance, we opted for a bit of adventure and tied our boats to a tree in favor of marsh  mucking. We picked around submerged logs and sank up to our knees. We emerged on the shore muddy and laughing. I remember stretching out on a bed of marsh grasses and talking until the sun began to set. 
        A few weeks later, at my recommendation, we went on our first date. In the following years, we endured international separations, moved in and out of apartments together, traveled with friends and have since settled into a world of “I have to work late tonight” and “Whose turn is it to take out the trash?”
       Eleven years after that June day, at my recommendation, Pat proposed.
 

 
When Brad Met Linda …
Brad Wells and Linda Eversfield Wells
 
We shared a room before we fell in love
 
        We met in the Tampa airport in June of 2005. We were both going to a mutual friend’s wedding and the younger sibling Jane convinced us to all share the same room to save money for partying. Everything was PG, and we had a great time. 
       Leaving Tampa was pretty awkward because we both knew the situation was a long shot. The only thing I could think to do was mock her dimples by poking my inflated cheeks and twisting my fingers into them, saying “Bye, Dimples.” Game on point! 
        She claims that she fell for me because I’m a dork.
We remained friends for three years while talking long-distance every day.
Eventually I decided she was never leaving Maryland so decided to pull up my roots from Kentucky and replant on the Bay. Those roots have now grown into a six-year marriage and two beautiful children. 
 

 
When Michelle Met Leisha …
Michelle Farley and Leisha Suggs
 
Coffee with a hint
 
       When I moved to College Park in the fall of 2006 to start graduate school, I quickly fell into a habit of getting coffee at the student union coffee shop on my way to class. One of the baristas always remembered my drink, and we started chatting for a few minutes when it wasn’t too busy. 
      In early November, after I had been gone for a week for a conference, the barista handed me a folded piece of receipt tape with my drink. She had written her social media contact in the giant black crayon they used to mark the cups.
      The first time we hung out, I was swamped with coursework, and she offered to come with me to photograph my assigned site for a paper. That led to more hanging out.
      We’ve now been together for over 11 years, married for almost five. We married the day the law changed in Minnesota, where we moved after I graduated in 2008.
      Leisha was born and raised in Saint Mary’s County, where most of her Suggs family still lives. She taught me the importance of Old Bay seasoning, stuffed ham, and how to properly pick a blue crab. She now works as a therapist to homeless youth and receives a lot of compliments on her Maryland Terrapins lanyard.
 

 
When Jessica Met Steve …
Jessica and Steve Grzybowski 
 
At senior week, I fell for the ­person who drove me absolutely crazy in high school 
 
        Our story starts in first grade at Lothian Elementary, where we went to school together and had numerous classes with one another. Those classes continued through middle and high school. Though we went to the same school, we never really noticed each other. I was a spirited cheerleader, and Steve was an old country boy who couldn’t have cared less about school.
       Our senior year, our good mutual friend’s mom worked in the office, and I was her assistant for one of my classes. Her son and Steve came in to bother me every day, but there was no romance between us. I used to tell her I felt sorry for whatever girl married either one of them.
       After graduation I headed to Ocean City for a week with my girls, while Steve headed to Florida with a buddy. They arrived just before a hurricane, so turned around and drove to Ocean City. As we had mutual friends, Steve ended up at our condo for parties and sorts.
      Back home, I asked a mutual friend for his number because we had had a pretty good time at the beach. After two weeks of him blowing me off, we have been together ever since. We tied the knot on May 16, 2009, at the young ages of 21 and 20. 
      We have three beautiful children and will be married for nine years on our anniversary and together 12 years total in July. We both are South County-born and raised and now raising our own family in South County as well.
Never thought I would go to senior week and find a husband let alone one I’d known all my life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

When Julia Met Robbo …

Julia and Robert Howes
 
I loved his truck
 
        I knew Robbo through our dads, who both were into classic cars. I had seen him a few times here and there, thought he was cute, but never really considered him like that. In 2012, my mom and I were at 7-Eleven in Deale when he pulled in. He was driving his lifted 1984 Chevy Scottsdale, and I loved the truck. I said hi to him, and we had small talk. I asked him about the two girls in his truck (who turned out to be his cousin and her friend), and he said if I went out with him, he would leave them there. I gave him my number but didn’t go with him.
      Less than a month later we were dating. He was 18, and I was 15. Everyone said we were too young, but we got married anyway and have been married for 121⁄2 years now. We have a beautiful seven-year-old daughter, bought the house he grew up in and his parents built, both work in South County and own a commercial crabbing business.
 
 

 
When Pam Met Billy …
Pamela and Bill Krug
 
A glimpse into the future
       We grew up seven houses apart and have been best friends since fourth grade. We became official when we were 19 years old. 
      When we were little, I was on a bike ride with my dad, and little Billy Krug came peddling up the street and said to my dad, “You know what, Mr. Gunnell? I love your daughter, and I’m going to marry her one day,” and then pedaled off. I was nine or 10 and remember being so embarrassed. 
      We are now 37 and have been married for 13 years but have been together forever. We have three children, ages 14, 11 and 8.
 

 
When Paula Met Ernest …
Paula Taylor Tillich and Ernest Willoughby
 
And vice versa
 
       “Professor Willoughby would swipe the breakfast sweet roll I’d put on the far side of my desk in the corridor of the building where he had his office,” Paula recalls. “I was a graduate student in biology at Syracuse University where he was a biology professor.” 
      Ernest’s retelling of that time at St. Mary’s College is a little different. “She ate a sweet roll every morning for breakfast and began leaving a fresh one on the edge of her desk, knowing I would pass every morning on my way to my office.”
       This mute communication continued until one day …
       Forty-five years later they are retired, having raised three children, living at Asbury Solomons.
 

 
When Jessica Met Michael …
Jessica and Michael Hickman
 
He rolled down the window and hollered … then Love Story
 
       We met at the stoplight in Edgewater on Solomons Island Road by Lee Airport.
       I was 17, and he was 22. I was in my truck, and he was in his. 
       I was sitting at the red light with my hair down and window down, looking all fabulous in my big truck and jamming out. He was turning in by Ledo’s to go to the gas station. 
        As he pulled up to the pump, I decided to show off and rolled down my other window as I pulled in after him. He ran up and asked for my number. Thank God I gave him the right one.
      That was September 2009. We’ve been married for over four years now and have two kiddos and a house in South County. 
 
 

 
When Heather Met Bobby …
Heather and Bobby Lamb
 
Some said we’d never last, and some may not have wanted us to
 
       I was good friends with his sister, and he would be at the house when I would hang out there. 
       One night the three of us were supposed to go to the movies, but she backed out. I wasn’t sure about it but we decided to still go. Glad we did. 
       Things moved kind of fast. He eventually moved in with me, and not long after I became pregnant with our son. There were some that said we’d never last, and some that may not have wanted us to. Now he is 47, I am 46, and we celebrated 21 years of marriage in November. We live in Galesville with our son Justin, 21, and daughter Emily, 19.
 
 
 
 

 
When Tricia Met James …
Tricia and James Huffman
 
Workplace romance works out
      My husband was one of our contractors at work. We’d had friendly conversation and joked around, but he was super shy. One day he insulted me by saying all I do is sit there and look pretty. It went from there.
I am 30, James is 35. We have been married four years and have four kids.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
When Leigh Met Nick …
Leigh Glenn and Nick Beschen
 
A decade of gentle nudges
 
       We met in January of 2008 through his older brother, a cheeky fellow, to whom I free-cycled a couple of gardening books and women’s overalls for his wife. 
       Older brother and younger drove together to a niece’s wedding in Florida in May 2008 and got to talking women. Nick had not been in a relationship for a while and his brother told him he knew “this woman” but wasn’t sure how to connect us. “You can just give me her number,” Nick said.
       We spoke by phone. I loved his voice (Bay Weekly readers who have frequented community theaters may know that voice, too, as Nick has been in many productions over the years). 
      Our first date, he drove to Tysons, and we walked to Clyde’s. The second date, a week later, I drove to Annapolis. We were fortunate that, despite a storm, the power came back on in time to prepare and enjoy scallops, rice and broccoli before heading to Rams Head to hear Last Train Home. After the concert, we talked. All. Night. (Not since college had I stayed up all night talking with anyone.)
      It’s nearly a decade later, and I love him more than ever.
 
 

 
 
When Tracy Met Chris …
Tracy and Chris Roy
 
We found each other on CB radio — twice
 
      We didn’t have internet back in the day. I stole my dad’s CB radio because it fascinated me (and to be in touch with a boyfriend). In my travels and meeting new people on the radio, I hit it off as friends with one guy who was then engaged.
       After his marriage didn’t work out, he came looking for me just as my CB radio fad was coming to a close. We met back up and started hanging out together, and one thing led to another.
      Thirty-two years later we are still friends, married for 25 years this ­September.
 
 
 

 
When Kim Met BJ …
Kim and BJ Welch
 
A match made in a music-lovers chat room
 
      We met in 2004 in a chat room on AOL. He was a musician looking for local support for his band. I was a newly graduated 18-year-old ready to leave my home in Baltimore.  
      We officially started dating on July 2, 2004, and quickly got pregnant (whoops!). We married October 22, 2005, and now have five children. Four boys: Corey, Josh, Billy and Austin. Then our miracle girl Dixie who was born April 2016, at just 27 weeks, weighing one pound. Almost 14 years later, this young marriage is still going strong.

SaveSave

Rich or poor, Owensville ­Primary Care turns no one away

Over $10,000. That’s what the average American spent for health care in 2016, and up is where that number is heading.
     “My wife’s health insurance jumped 38.9 percent,” laments a friend recently retired. “My pension is disappearing.”
     Across the age spectrum, you hear endless variationa of the same story.
Last year, 11.9 percent of Anne Arundel County residents couldn’t afford to see a doctor, according to the county’s Report Card of Community Health Indicators. Seventeen percent didn’t have a primary care physician.
     In a culture where health and wealth are inextricably linked, Owensville Primary Care is a haven. It welcomes all with these words: This Health Center serves all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
     It is an oddly placed haven.
     If you wanted to show off southern Anne Arundel County’s pastoral ideal, you couldn’t do better than take a drive down Owensville Road, the east-west link between Rt. 2 and Galesville. Amid imposing white homes set back on yards rolling into farm fields, the modernistic stucco building might, if noticed, raise a question. 
     Its placement tells a truer story of Southern Maryland life than the scenery. It’s a story in many ways little changed since Owensville Primary Care was founded in 1974 to, in CEO Sylvia Jennings’ words, “address the needs of a very low-income, rural, minority population that did not have access to health care.”
     Over four decades, Jennings has seen need persist and — for many of those years — overseen Owensville Primary Care’s ability to deliver care regardless of race, age or income.
      “We pledge to provide quality health care to our entire, diverse community at a responsible cost,” Jennings says. “That’s our mission.”
     Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, that pledge has included helping people, patients or not, find qualified health care programs. Nowadays, people losing their subsidies are welcome for advice and alternatives.
 
A Melting Pot
     In the utilitarian waiting room, you find yourself in a microcosm of the larger Southern Anne Arundel County community, where homes — and with them wealth — run the full range from mansions to shanties. Here, your neighbors — black and white, young and old, more and less affluent — visit as they wait. You might find — as I did on this day — a kid sucking a lollipop. Two elderly women, black and white. A tattooed hipster with an ear gauge in his lobe. A workingman in an Orioles cap. Yourself.

Owensville Primary Care outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, retiring after more than 20 years.

       Owensville Primary Care has become, over the years, an American melting pot. 
     “I came in one morning to find a Jaguar in the parking lot next to a jalopy,” says Jennings, the white-topped dynamo who for two decades has been CEO of this federally qualified Community Health Center, one of 16 in Maryland and some 1,400 nationwide.
      The numbers support the impression of diversity. Of October’s 1,156 patient visits, 38 percent were paid by commercial insurance, 32 percent by Medicare and 28 percent by Medicaid, with two percent self-paid.
 
Walking Into a Nightmare
       Jennings, 82 and days from retirement, works behind the scenes, in an office stocked with tall jars of Hershey’s Kisses. Jolly, direct and demanding, she does not want a visit to her sanctum to feel like “a walk down the hall to the principal.”
      For the office she is now dismantling has been the scene of many hard decisions.
      “I walked into a nightmare,” Jennings recalls.
      In 1981, the well-intentioned, six-year-old South County Family Health had descended into bankruptcy. With $1.5 million owed, court administrators threatened to “nail doors shut and walk away,” Jennings remembers. That’s when she joined the board, deputized by her boss, Virginia Clagett, then South County’s councilwoman.
      Paying off that debt took eight years.
      A second round of troubles in the mid 1990s brought Jennings back on the board to captain “a sinking ship.” First she laughed at entreaties; finally she accepted. That was 1997. She spent the next two years cleaning up the mess.
 
The Team
      Jennings has been the force that kept Owensville Primary Care on track.
      But hers is not the face you’re likely to know if you happen to be one of its 3,400 patients, from birth to geriatrics. 
      First you meet the reception crew, who, Jennings says and experience proves, are “welcoming and treat you not as a stranger but as a friend.” 

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Back, doctors Thomas Sheesley, Jonathan Hennessee and Wayne Bierbaum. Front, nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, behavioral health director Dr. Jana Raup and physicians assistant Ann Hendon.

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Rebecca Woolwine, Judy Bracken, Amber Snay and Billie Aisquith in back row. Keri Mahan and Brittany Galloway, seated.

      Many, like office manager Billie Aisquith, have been here as long as Jennings. Increasingly, they are “cross-trained in multiple functions,” like Vickie Payne, who is also a fire department EMT just certified as a medical assistant through Anne Arundel Community College’s online program.
       “When they expand their skills, they expand their incomes,” Jennings says.
       Next, you enter into the hands of nurses — among them nurse supervisor Vanessa Greenwell, Owensville Primary’s longest serving staffer at over 30 years — who’ll take your weight and height, blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen readings.
       They turn you over to health care providers, who range from doctors to nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, to physician assistant Ann Hendon.
       At 28 years in, chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum calls his egalitarian work at Owensville Primary “what I’ve wanted to do since I decided to go into medicine: helping people manage in difficult circumstances.”
       Doctors Jonathan Hennessee and Thomas Sheesley are National Health Service Corps Scholars, who repay their medical education by working in communities with limited access to care, in their cases for a term of five years.
      Behavioral Health Director Jana Raup or Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jen Thornton offer counseling and therapy.
 
Right People for the Job
       From the bottom up and top down, salaries are a priority with Jennings, who brings her medical experience as a nurse along with administrative experience alongside a state legislator.
      “I really focused on getting people a decent wage,” she said. “Even then, $7 an hour for nurses was ridiculous.”
        “The money wasn’t there so it was a long process,” says Sharon Widemann, Jennings’ long-time colleague and now successor as CEO.
      Nowadays, Jennings calls “our salaries very competitive,” good enough to draw expertise from outside South County. 
       “Young physicians fresh out of school are paid a very good entry-level wage that appreciates the fact that family-care physicians are difficult to recruit,” she notes. 
      For five years, Jennings and Widemann, who came on in 1994 as an accountant, “got our hands dirty with work to make sure we had the right hiring.”
        Computerization brought the next challenge. 
      “When IT hit us all with electronic records, we were able to draw the best staff among community health centers, who are doing wonders for our record keeping,” Widemann says.
 
Finding Wherewithal
      Every step took money. 
      Community health centers are backed by tax dollars. Owensville Primary Care has a $4 million budget, with federal funding of about $1.5 million, supplemented by fees for service, donations from citizens and small government grants for targeted programs.
       Federal and private funding supported the construction of the building back in 1976, enabling Owensville Primary to move out of the old Owensville primary school. The building was county property until 2002, when it was surplussed to Owensville Primary. That same year, a state grant of $200,000 and a loan from the county paid for renovation. Later grants paid for better parking. This year, the behavioral health center moved into its own remodeled space, replacing the old post office that shared space with Owensville Primary.
      Grants enabled growth in services. In 2013 federal monies brought on behavioral health case managers, certified application counselors for Affordable Care and expanded Medicare, plus two more physicians. 
      A brand-new grant supports response to the opioid addiction crisis with mental health, public awareness and Narcan training.
      From Jennings’ years with Clagett as both councilwoman and delegate, she understood the levers of government. 
     “She has kept us in the minds of politicians who help our cause,” says chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum.
      Jennings retires with Owensville Primary Care “in the black.” But not without a touch of uncertainty. Federal funding for community health centers expired September 30, and Congress has yet to reauthorize it.
 
‘A’ For Accountabiliity
     Recovery from a troubled past has made accountability part of each day’s work.
     “We hold ourselves accountable with committees for quality care, insurance and improvement,” Widemann says. “Once a month, a group of clinical and administrative staff review incidents and look at how our patients are doing. If one provider is doing a great job, we see how to share those best practices.”
     Patients have two ways to rate their satisfactions, and a sign on the reception desk invites complaints if you’ve waited more than 20 minutes to be seen. Quality measures are posted on the front door and the website.
      Accountability is one of the hallmarks of Jennings’ tenure, according to Bierbaum who has worked beside her the whole time.
     “Our goals have been continually strengthened through her vision of what we should become, so that everyone knows that we stand for service delivered with compassion, accountability and professionalism, always trying to do better in our mission,” he says.
     On January 2, Jennings passed on title and responsibility to Widemann. She leaves with satisfaction, relief and confidence, in a transition that, she promises, “will be seamless.” Preparing Widemann to continue the mission has been Jennings’ final achievement. 
     That, and revisiting 22 years of history, paper, electronic and human. 
     Amid the sorting, preserving and trashing, there was reflecting.
     Jennings already had reached retirement age when she was persuaded to come to the rescue of Owensville Primary Care.
     “I thought I’d do it a couple years and get it straightened out,” she recalls. 
      But day after day, year after year, she returned.
      “What I do every day of my life is so satisfying that it has allowed me to work till 82,” she says.
 

Outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, left, and her successor, Sharon Widemann.

      Now, 20 years in, she allows herself to be “very personally pleased with myself for the job I have done here. Some people will call me smug, but you have to have some personal reward. I’m not talking about money but about feeling I have contributed something to my neighbors and friends.”
      Widemann’s mission is continuing a success she helped create.
     “We have a very fully equipped and functioning federal community health center, a strong executive staff, strong providers and a growing behavioral health component,” the new CEO says.
      Her plan is to reach into the community to bring affordable health care to people still unserved. Growing the behavioral health unit is a particular goal.
      She steps comfortably into Jennings’ big shoes.
     “We’re not a one-woman show anymore,” Widemann says. “We’re a team effort. Plus, I know where Sylvia lives.”

High-schoolers’ oral history project revisits Vietnam through the stories and memories of its veterans

      No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.
–Richard Nixon
 
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For more than 45 years, Bill Ticknor has kept the 326-year-old St. James’ Parish abreast of history

      Moving from his hometown of Baltimore to the pastoral setting of Lothian was a shock for Bill ­Ticknor. Assigned there after ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, he had trouble sleeping in the rectory because of the quiet. 
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A Bay Weekly conversation with landscape architect Sheila Brady
      We’re all converts, right? We’ve learned by heart the advantages of native plant gardens.
      They’re amenable to the peculiarities of our climate, which nowadays is peculiar indeed.
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