Betsy Ross, Benny Benson,
Robert Heft and You
What do these four people have in common?
The Shady Side Rural Heritage Society hopes the answer is a flag
by M.L. Faunce
Benny Benson was just 13 when he created the flag for the Territory of Alaska in 1927. His design, chosen from 700 entries from schoolchildren all over the Last Frontier, now flies as the flag of the 49th state.
Robert Heft was a high school student when he designed our nation’s 50-star flag, adding Hawaii to the Stars and Stripes. Now mayor of an Ohio town, Heft has a 51-star version ready for when the next new state is admitted to the Union.
In Southern Anne Arundel County, another new flag awaits its designer. The flagpole is ready and waiting at Captain Salem Avery House and Museum, the home of the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society.
Behind the blank banner is a love story.
Barbara Owings’ Flag
“Barbara Owings put her heart and soul into preserving the history of our area,” says Mavis Daly, Heritage Society spokeswoman, of the woman in whose memory the flag will fly.
“She had a sparkling personality and was able to bring people into the effort.”
Owings oversaw the restoration and transition of Captain Salem Avery House from waterman’s home to a museum dedicated to the area’s cultural and resource history.
“She was the person who acquired most of the period furnishings that bring the museum to life today,” Daly said.
Owings died at 63 in 2004.
“She’d been born prematurely, and illness stalked her all her life,” said her daughter, Lisa Owings Purner. “No matter what, she would just push on.”
In her memory, a flagpole was raised at the museum to fly the American and Maryland flags. The flagpole with yardarm is anchored by a ship’s wheel, the museum’s logo, and is dedicated to Owings as “founder, president and helmsman.”
The flagpole suggested to Robert Owings another way to honor his wife of 48 years.
“Barbara always liked bringing the community together,” said Society president June Hall.
Thus Owings opened a contest to design a flag to fly over the region his wife loved, where, he said, “everybody knew each other: Galesville, Shady Side, Deale, Tracy’s Landing.”
Imagining a Flag
In designing Alaska’s flag, young Bennie Benson looked to the sky, choosing the Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and the North Star for his symbols. Describing his choices, he said: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska Flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the union. The dipper is for the Great Bear, symbolizing strength.”
Alaskans had flown only the U.S. flag since the territory was purchased from Russia in 1867 until Benson’s flag was chosen in 1927.
In Shady Side, contest organizers seek a flag that represents the region historically and geographically. For example, Robert Owings says, “the main craft here with all the oystermen in the past was the log canoe.”
The image might be found along the meandering shoreline of the West River and its creeks, flowing into Chesapeake Bay; the marshland and wetlands teaming with life; sailboats and workboats, watermen and women; crabs, oysters and rockfish; heron, osprey and swans, resident and visiting migrations.
Or it might be found along the scenic byways of Southern Anne Arundel County; in the upland, fertile farmland, both furrowed and fallow; in ancient barns where tobacco once dried: a land of pleasant living peopled with good folks the likes of Barbara Owings.