Thanks, Neighbors
Profiles in Giving

 Vol. 10, No. 48

November 27- December 4, 2002

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Thanks, Neighbors
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Here in Chesapeake Country, We’ve Lots to be Thankful for — Including the Neighbors You’ll Meet in this story.

With Thanksgiving, we enter the season our calendar dedicates to giving and sharing. We sit down to Thanksgiving dinner first to give thanks for the blessings of the past year, then to open our hearts to the weeks ahead. In a swirl of traditions, festivities and gifts, we’ll celebrate our past and look forward to our futures.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we must open the doors to this season of thanks and optimism. At Bay Weekly, we get into the spirit by introducing you to some of the people in our neighborhood — neighbors, friends and relatives — whose presence enriches us here and now. We’ve included the young as well as the old. The ordinary as well as the extraordinary. The humble as well as the famous.

You’ll meet Marion Warren, through whose eyes we see Chesapeake Country; Walter Johnson, an exemplar of how not to quit; Thanksgiving at the Inn, with SMILE; Janie and Arthur White, volunteers who help bring you Bay Weekly; Joyce Whitney Pfanschmidt, the force behind Bayside Boys & Girls Club; and young Madeline Eckel, friend to the creatures of Chesapeake Country.

Reading their stories, you’ll be reminded of many you know firsthand. We hope you’ll tell your own favorite stories at your Thanksgiving table. You’ll be adding links to the chain that makes us a community … deep in its past, hopeful about its future and rich in its present.

—Sandra Martin, Bay Weekly editor

[To jump to a specific story, click on the links below]

| Marion Warren | Walter Johnson | SMILE | Janie & Arthur White |
| Joyce Whitney Pfanschmidt | Madeline Eckel |

Marion Warren
A Lucky Man Whose Luck’s Rubbed Off
by Steve Carr

We all know the photos of Marion Warren. His stunning black-and-white images of Chesapeake Bay follow us wherever we go. The Bay Bridge bathed in shimmering moonlight; snow-covered oyster boats at winter anchorage in Annapolis; the sun-drenched Thomas Point Lighthouse. These Bay classics line our living rooms, doctors’ offices, municipal buildings and stores. They are everywhere. Whether or not they know his name, Marion Warren, 82, has touched the lives of each and every person who lives in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

This Thanksgiving, the man through whose eyes we see Chesapeake Country battles cancer and heart disease. But in typical fashion, Marion ignores his pain and focuses on what matters most: his legacy. With the help of his devoted daughter Mame, Marion has been carefully cataloguing his photo archive so future generations will be able to better grasp the treasure he has left behind.

It would be easy to turn this piece into a sad refrain about loss, but Marion would not want that.

For all his monumental talent, he has always been a modest man who has never craved fortune or fame. His life has been filled with exploration and family. His wife Mary and his talented children have been partners throughout his storied career. Together, they have traveled the length and breadth of the Bay, learning its places, making friends and photos and chronicling its many wonders. He has been a lucky man, and his luck has rubbed off on us all.

Since right after World War II, Marion Warren has spent his life trying to capture the very spirit of the Bay through the lens of a camera. He once described a photo of a solitary man in the marshes of Smith Island this way: “I think you get a feeling almost as though you’re there, and that’s, I think, what a photograph is supposed to do.”

It takes great patience and determination to catch the true essence of a stranger’s life: the grizzled old watermen who risk their lives upon the Bay; the self-reliant farmers who work their lonely fields; the quiet dignity of the African-Americans who struggled in anonymity. Each of Marion’s pictures tells an important story about Chesapeake life.

Marion Warren’s greatest gift to us all may be the snapshot record of things long gone: lighthouse keepers; elegant schooners dredging for oysters; oyster tongers; buy boats at the Annapolis City Dock; hand-built piers; peeler shanties; general stores in forgotten little towns with funny names; the Winterhaven Ferry, Trumpy’s boatyard; and oh, so much more.

Through his heartfelt photos, Marion Warren has taught us all — no matter where we live, work or play — to love and appreciate the Bay. And that, my friends, is a rare gift indeed and one for which we should all be eternally grateful.

(For more about Marion Warren, see this week’s Dock of the Bay.)

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Walter Johnson
How Not to Quit
by April Falcon Doss

No one can accuse Walter Johnson of being a quitter. Involvements that other people might measure in months or years stretch into decades for Walt; he’s just that kind of man.

Seventy-seven years old now, he’s lived for the past 56 years in a community called Lombardee Beach, less than two miles from where he grew up. And he’s been quietly taking care of the community ever since, beginning in 1939 when he became a junior firefighter at the age of 14. He served as a volunteer firefighter for 24 years and as a professional firefighter for another 24.

Through most of those years he helped man the fire station that was the heart of the community, a firehouse that the volunteer firefighters built themselves with funds raised by local residents. By the late 1950s, Walt had become the youngest volunteer fire chief in Anne Arundel County. Even after becoming a paid firefighter in 1962, he spent his days off helping around the firehouse. “He practically lived there,” says Shirley, his wife of 56 years, with a laugh.

Why did he volunteer at the firehouse all those years? “That’s a good question,” he admits. His face takes on a more serious look as he adds “Because I wanted to help protect my community.”

That commitment to his community lives in less organized, less glamorous ways, too. The clearest example is the thing that everyone in Lombardee Beach knows Walt for: cutting the grass on the seven-acre neighborhood park. When he began with a hand-powered push mower in the 1950s, the job took two or three days. Technologies changed, but Walt’s still there, now on his riding mower from March through November cutting grass and picking up trash. For most of those 50 years, he took care of the community beach as well. It’s just what he does.

So much so that Shirley has to remind Walt of the many other things he’s done through the years: the 30 years he trimmed tall brush away from a sharp curve in the road to make driving safer; his service as president of the community association; the snow he clears off his neighbors’ driveways each winter, “for the old folks who can’t get out,” he says.

Walt doesn’t talk much about what he does, but his efforts haven’t gone unremarked: In his dining room hangs a 1998 volunteer service award signed by former county executive John Gary that reads, “In appreciation of your outstanding dedication to community volunteer work.”

The county citation ends with these words: “Through the years, you have truly served as a role model for other citizens in our community.”

These days, Walt relies on a motorized scooter or walker to get around. But he keeps showing up on the playground. You can’t help but suspect he’ll be cutting that grass for as long as he’s here, just as he has for the past 50 years. Walter Johnson’s life looks like a lesson in how not to quit.

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Thanksgiving Smiles
At the Inn with SMILE
by Ellen Berger Clark

A view overlooking Solomons Harbor at the confluence of Back Creek and the Patuxent River. Vaulted ceilings and exposed framing timbers. Tables set from bottom to top with love, china and the best tableware the house has to offer. Turkey, dressing and gravy, ham, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, veggies — hundreds of pounds of each — all served in silver banquet dishes with flames keeping them warm. Bright-red cranberry sauce and white, warm and savory rolls. Pumpkin, sweet potato and apple pies and more. Plus pie wedges piled in boxes on the real-boat bar and baskets of fruit — to make sure no one goes home hungry.

You can’t buy a meal like this for Thanksgiving this year.

You can’t buy it because its free. This year, the Lighthouse Inn on Solomon’s Island is preparing to host its 12th free Thanksgiving Dinner.

Their dinner partner is SMILE Inc. — Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting — a not-for-profit ecumenical group of eight churches dedicated to helping citizens of Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in need of food, clothing or other sorts of help.

But until 1990, something was lacking. For all that was stored in its kitchen pantry and thrift store, SMILE wondered where its families would find full, fun and nutritious Thanksgiving dinners. Families at Safe Harbor, too, needed a safe, secure celebration.

SMILE took the problem to Richard Fischer, owner of Lighthouse Inn. They’d settled on him because of his reputation for helping hands. Not only did he agree to host the function, Lighthouse Inn also prepared and donated all the food for that very first dinner feeding 300 people.

Last year, 650 people were seated and served. Many others eat at home, feasting on meals delivered by volunteers. Other volunteers run a ride service so people who have no transportation can share in the lively camaraderie.

Feeding and chauffeuring 700 or more people takes many helpers. For the first three years of the now-annual tradition, SMILE’s volunteers staffed and served. Then Fischer, his family and staff offered their time on Thanksgiving Day. Now, it’s a job so sought that volunteers have to be turned away.

But never a guest. Each is welcomed at the door — traditionally by SMILE’s Irene Langford — and directed to a table. She sends the hale and hearty upstairs where you can look out and see boats and swans and clouds. “How many?” she asks each group as it enters. Oftentimes, the answer is seven or eight people.

So warm is the welcome that stories are still told of the elderly guest who complained he was exasperated with all the helpful folks who kept stopping by his table, asking after his welfare and wishing him a warm holiday. Eventually, however, all those well-wishers must have won him over, for he wrote a letter saying “thank you to one and all, I understand now that people really do care.”

At Lighthouse Inn and SMILE, they sure do.

“If you’re alone, unable to afford a nice meal or just don’t want to cook a big meal for yourself, we hope you will come,” says Jennifer Jordan, Lighthouse Inn’s manager. Thanksgiving day from noon to 3:30pm, there’s room for all in this Inn. To join call 410/326-2444.

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Janie and Arthur White
The Love You Take Is Equal to the Love You Make
by Sandra Martin

We couldn’t believe our good fortune here at Bay Weekly when Janie White came our way. Back in the mid-’90s, Bay Weekly was earnestly pulling itself up by its bootstraps, and here was a neighbor offering her help. The staffer who took her call was so awestruck that he didn’t even get her name right.

So Janie — not Jane or Jeanie — came to Bay Weekly.

Why us? She read our paper, and her home in Churchton made our office in Deale a short trip.

“I like to keep busy,” Janie said.

We kept her busy with all sorts of jobs. For pay we couldn’t get as good a classified caller as Janie. When we moved our office, she laid down shelf paper in our kitchen cabinets. And if you’ve ever gotten Bay Weekly by mail, it’s Janie who labeled your paper. She even changed the day of the week she visits her brother, Lloyd, and the other veterans at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home so she could be here when the paper was delivered.

We put Janie on display when we wanted to teach the lesson that you get as much out of a job — and out of life — as you put into it.

A widow before her 36th birthday, Janie supported five daughters and her grandmother-in-law on the work ethic she’d learned as a Depression child of Washington, D.C. “We were poor, but nobody knew it,” she says of the wealth of love and good times in the family of 10 children — now all dead but Janie and Lloyd — she was born to and the family she raised.

Nobody, we soon learned, could feel poor in Janie’s presence. She made friends with everybody, including the early-arriving drivers who deliver Bay Weekly, for Janie’s arrival time keeps getting earlier. “I like to get a good start on the day,” she says. It’s always a full day, and with four generations of extended family seeking her out, it often means getting her small Churchton home ready for company.

Age, gender or standing — none of that matters to Janie, anymore than race or religion. Answer her hello, and soon you’re laughing, for Janie has wit of both the funny kind and the life-sense kind. Soon, you’re telling her your life story.

Of course we’re a newspaper, so we thought it our business to learn her story. Taking care of all those people — and taking in even more when there was need — Janie still managed to buy a house on Minnesota Avenue in southeast D.C. and a car, her beloved Volkswagon beetle. Her job for many years as an emergency room receptionist at D.C. Casualty Hospital gave her the sense she craved of being in the thick of things. She saw life’s hard side there, but it held no surprises for her.

At the hospital, she also got to know Washington’s finest. And one of those officers, detective Arthur White, wooed and won Janie. Over the years at Bay Weekly, Arthur’s become Janie’s assistant. So we’ve gotten to know him as well, and learn how, as a young Korean War veteran back home in Ohio, he traveled to faraway Washington to get himself hired onto the police force.

For all our curiosity, it took longer to learn why Janie came to Bay Weekly. Only when she was facing the loss of a second daughter still in midlife to cancer did Janie confess that the death of her first daughter drove her our way. Now there’s another grief in Janie and Arthur’s life, with the death of his 46-year-old daughter from a voracious cancer.

When the Whites come back after Thanksgiving — and just before Janie’s 78th birthday — we’ll have to find plenty to keep them busy.

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Joyce Whitney Pfanschmidt
She Doesn’t Give Up
by Dick Wilson

All of us, every one, are full-fledged members of our society, helping when and where we can (as we bemoan the lack of effort put forth by other people). But occasionally we find one among us who has a talent for seeing the needs of a few and taking action that affects the lives of many. Joyce Whitney Pfanschmidt of Chesapeake Beach is such a person — and such a talent she has.

Pfanschmidt, 65, sees all people as valuable, and she doesn’t give up. Her life’s work as a musical and art therapist reflects her independent attitude. “I don’t believe in labels,” she says. She has worked with people who were classified as autistic and unreachable, and she reached them through therapy.

Back in 1991 and ’92, drug and vandalism arrests were on the rise in the Beaches, and the local newspapers all made note. The community view drifted toward the opinion that all young people were thugs. Most of the local kids resented such a characterization, and some of them formed a club: Teens Helping Uplift Good Standards (T.H.U.G.S.) That’s the background, and that’s where Joyce entered the fray.

As Joyce walked the North Beach boardwalk, her habit was to stop and talk to the kids. As she came to know them, they opened up to her — about how some adults looked down on them and how they wanted to change that opinion. Joyce asked some questions: “What else do you do? Don’t you have a playground? Would you like to have somewhere else to go?” The answer to the last question was emphatically, “YES.”

The Vision
Joyce had a vision. In the Beaches, she would set up a club that would attract kids and provide a safe, intellectually stimulating and comfortable environment. Husband Phil agreed to help. The first step was to acquire a facility — and fast. Joyce was driven to “get those kids off the streets” as soon as possible.

Phil approached the Calvert County Commissioners for assistance, and — after some frustrating bureaucratic delays — the kids got a room in the Community Center. With the addition of an old donated desktop computer and a couple of books, The Computer Club opened its doors to any child who wanted to join. Joyce saw the next step: installation of a phone line to allow the kids’ entry into the world of the Internet. More bureaucratic delays, but finally the kids were on the Net and interacting with other children worldwide. The club’s name was changed to Cyberpals, a name reflecting the kids’ entry into the worldwide Internet community.

Meanwhile, the community attitude changed; people were soon donating their time to teach classes in computer usage and repair; businesses and individuals donated used computers, books and other material. As word spread, membership in the Cyberpals Club grew to the point that overcrowding became a problem. Community interest grew apace; before long, the club was donating computers to other organizations.

The road ahead was not altogether smooth, however. Because they shared their room with other users of the Community Center, at the end of each scheduled session they had to disconnect all their computers, printers, monitors and modems, load them onto carts and store them in closets. At the kids’ next session, it all had to be hauled out and reconnected. Joyce realized that they needed a larger, dedicated facility.

Let’s jump forward to the present. Cyberpals is now the Bayside Boys & Girls Club, with 10 state-of-the art computers all connected to the Internet. The club has its own quarters in a new building, a membership of about 100 kids and a full-time staff. Guided by adults, the kids are exploring the world. The Bayside Boys & Girls Club has established formal associations with the corporate world, from America Online and Gateway Inc. to the Bill Gates Foundation, which provided a grant making the Bayside Club one of only two “power-up” sites on the East Coast. The club has government recognition as a non-profit foundation. All of this started on the day that Joyce “took a walk on the boardwalk.”

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Madeline Eckel
Friend to the Creatures of Chesapeake Country
by Stacy Allen

Imagine for a moment that you are a particularly unattractive venomous snake. You are stretched out in the glorious filtered sunlight on a country road, minding your own business, when along comes a human. Who knows what might happen now?

Many, concerned for their own safety, would walk wide around you. Some fear you so much they will kill you where you lie. If they don’t get you, next thing you know along comes a crushing car.

But if that human is Madeline Eckel, it happens to be your lucky day. With her gentle assistance, you’ll cross the road safely.

Creatures across Chesapeake Country have reason to feel fortunate and thankful with this young advocate on their side. Maddy, just 14 years old, has been in love with the creatures of this earth for as long as she can remember. “When I was three or four,” she says, “my dad found a huge squirming nest of garter snakes, and I jumped right in.”

Maddy can’t be outdoors for even a few minutes without rescuing a spider or admiring a common toad. This young woman is committed to critter protection from the inside out: She is a longtime vegetarian with aspirations to create a reptile rescue foundation and even a safe haven for formerly veal-bound calves.

She has a few of the usual pets — a dog and some cats — and some others that aren’t so pedestrian. Her recent favorite is Dude, a full-grown four-inch hissing cockroach from Madagascar (and Dude’s small baby). Then there is a tarantula she’s kept for five years, as well as three hermit crabs, an anole and some fish.

But her pride and joy is Cleo, a prize-winning 11-month-old Holstein cow. Maddy leases the calf as part of a 4-H program, and together the pair can often be found at Horizon Organic Dairy Farm in Gambrills. Caring for a show cow takes energy and commitment from Maddy and her parents, who spend hours on the farm and days on the road visiting fairs and competitions across Maryland.

Talking to Maddy, you might get the impression she’s more comfortable with animals than people. But beneath the quiet surface, she always stands ready to advocate. “Maddy is so quiet in class until she needs to speak up for an animal that doesn’t have a voice of its own,” says her science teacher at Summit School, Louise Morris. “Maddy would stop in her tracks to pick up a bug off the classroom floor. She just has a sense that that bug’s life is special, even though it is minuscule to her own.”

Animals are Maddy’s favorite subject to portray through art. A talented artist, she takes gorgeous black-and-white photographs (picture Holsteins in the mist) and paints vibrant close-up images of the creatures she knows and loves so well.

In Maddy, even the creatures of Chesapeake Country have a neighbor to be thankful for.

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Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly