Dock of the Bay

Volume VII Number 48
December 2-8, 1999

Ushering in the Faithful: Local Life Reflected in Smithsonian

She stands like a sentinel guarding her post: Her feet firmly planted on the floor. Her white-gloved hands, one behind her back, the other held out in greeting. Her posture is straight, her head proud. She is at once Shelia M. Parker of St. Leonard, Maryland, and all the ushers who minister in the life of African American churches.

Immaculately dressed in white uniform, stockings and shoes, Parker has made the journey from Brooks United Methodist Church on Broomes Island Road in Calvert County to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. This mannequin, modeled after a former Brooks member and current Smithsonian staffer, stands in greeting at the beginning of a unique exhibit, "Speak to My Heart," whose focus is African American church life.

"Speak to My Heart" shows through photographs, objects and dioramas the uniqueness of all religions, from Islam to Roman Catholicism, as they are embraced and influenced by their African American congregations. Music from area black churches fills the museum halls with spirit.

And in the midst of it all, Usher Parker welcomes the museum visitor much as she would a congregant at her local church.

The uniform Parker's mannequin wears belongs to Adelle Harris, an usher at Brooks from 1992 to 1997, and a life-long Calvert Countian.

Ushers are an integral part of the rituals and traditions of African American churches, which is why they're included in this multi-faceted exhibit of the traditions of African-American religious life. They're so familiar that they will, it's hoped, draw a new worshipping public into the Smithsonian.

There are ushers unions and a hierarchy within the ranks that includes the president of the ushers and an executive committee. These powers select the people who rise to the status of usher, help with their training and oversee their work.

Like the calling itself, training is both structured and steeped in traditions. "We had hands-on training and also have an ushers' manual," Harris told NBT, explaining how she became an usher. "My name was given to the usher's president. It was presented at the next meeting of usher's officials. They determined that I was a suitable person."

Ushers can be male or female. Most of the men wear dark suits, white shirts and ties. The uniform for women is white, very like a nurse's attire. The caps they wear vary in color throughout the year: black, African print, white or lilac.

"Ushers are important people in the church," explains Harris. "They are the first person seen when you open the door. They are smiling and polite. When the service has already started, they show the latecomers where to sit. The usher leads the churchgoer to the bench, steps to the side and extends the right hand as a signal to sit. We pass out bulletins and collection plates. When it's hot we pass out fans."

Ushers operate in 15-minute shifts. The head usher signals when a replacement is needed. No talking is allowed, so an elaborate hand signal system is used.

The usher's help to the worshipers allows the Sunday service to run smoothly and without interruptions.

"If someone has a child who needs to use the bathroom during the service, the usher takes care of it. If a baby starts crying, the usher takes the baby so the mother can stay at the service. When the minister blesses kids, the usher carries them. When someone needs to take medications, we get water for them. We are constantly on watch through the whole service," explained Harris.

So well organized is the vocation that ushers have specializations, as Harris explained from her Calvert County home.

"Usher nurses work at funerals, not at regular church services. They go from church to church, especially at large funerals to help with the people who pass out. The usher president always makes sure boxes of tissues are at the funeral; people forget handkerchiefs."

For many years, the tradition flowered at Calvert County's Brooks United Methodist Church, earning a place in history and Smithsonian recognition.

"Brooks had the most organized black ushers. We used to have an Usher's Day. How we enjoyed coming to that! The minister preached, and ushers from different churches came. We marched around the church as the piano played.

"When I put on that white uniform and walked out the door, I felt important."

The role gave ushers extraordinary value in their congregation and in their church.

Another part of the exhibit will bring back memories to a generation of hat-wearing women. In many African American churches, hats still are an elaborate and loved attire. Brooks Church is represented in a showcase of beautiful hats. A lovely green felt hat adorned by plumes of black feathers is owned by church member Thelma Johnson. She refers to herself as 'the hat lady.' "I wear all sorts of hats," she says.

Johnson, known for her music as well as her hats, has been making music since she was 12. This is her 57th year. She sings on Sunday mornings for churches and in gospel choirs throughout Calvert County.

All this makes the real Shelia Parker - who by day is an outreach specialist at the Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History - especially proud of this exhibit. She says, "I like to draw in folks who don't usually get involved in museums."

See "Speak to My Heart: Communities of Faith and Contemporary African American Life" - an exhibit by The Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture - daily from 10am to 5pm through December at the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building, North Gallery, 900 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, D.C.: 202/357-4500 ·

-Carol Glover

In Season:Puddle Ducks and Bay Ducks
by Gary Pendleton

scratchboard by Gary Pendleton

These ducks could be mallards, black ducks, gadwall or blue-winged teal. Based on their posture, they appear to be taking off by flying straight up. That would make them some kind of dabbling duck, a group that also includes pintails and green-winged teal.

They are called dabblers because their feeding style is to tip their tails up while they nibble on submerged vegetation. Dabblers or 'puddle ducks' typically inhabit shallow fresh water marshes and rivers.

At this time of year, the Chesapeake region is visited by a number of duck species that inhabit the open waters of the Bay. These are the 'Bay ducks' or 'diving ducks' such as canvasback and scaup (lesser and greater), bufflehead and mergansers. Their feeding style is to propel themselves underwater in search of fish and shellfish, using their webbed feet like flippers. Canvasbacks, however, are known to consume plants when available, which seems to account for their reputation for good eating.

Because their wings are proportionately smaller than the dabbling ducks' wings, Bay ducks are unable to take to the air directly. To become airborne, they run across the surface of the water while they flap their wings.

Waterfowl have a significant place in the Tidewater region's natural and cultural histories. Their numbers are not what they once were, but their presence continues to add an element of grace and beauty to the scene. Let us give thanks.

Bay Life: Cynthia, Our Local Redskinette

At 32, Cynthia DeFrancesco is right on par with her life goals. She has a happy marriage, a beautiful house, a law degree, a successful career and a faithful Labrador retriever. This football season on the sidelines at Redskin stadium, she's attained another long-time goal.

DeFrancesco has become Redskinette Cynthia, the oldest rookie on the squad.

"I just believed I could do this and I did it," says DeFrancesco, who's aspired to becoming a professional cheerleader since seventh grade.

Back then, she envied the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and remembers rushing home to watch their televised specials. She never cheered in high school. Later, she tried out for the Baltimore Stars, of the Canadian Football League, but didn't make the team. The dream would be deferred for over a decade.

During those years, DeFrancesco has been busy.

After graduating from Towson, DeFrancesco went to work for a property management company in Baltimore. She worked her way through law school at the University of Baltimore and passed the bar exam in 1997.

With her career heading in the right direction, DeFrancesco was ready to take on new challenges. She wanted to try for the dream that had eluded her.

"This past winter I thought to myself, 'it's now or never.' So I decided to give it a try," DeFrancesco explained.

So she spent last winter in the gym running, riding and kick-boxing to get in shape. She went to a three-day Redskinette camp to learn routines and work on her skills. This time when the tryouts came, she was ready.

After two days of tryouts, DeFrancesco made the cut.

In some ways, the most stressful times have come after making the team.

With a full-time career, the demands of practice and a husband and dog at home, DeFrancesco's life is a juggling act. She's up early and heads out of the house at 8:30am. She spends her days trouble-shooting and problem-solving at the properties she manages. The work day ends at 5, but that's just the middle of her day.

DeFrancesco shoots home after work, grabs a bite to eat and then heads to Waldorf for a 7:30pm Redskinette practice. When practice ends at 11pm, she still has an hour's drive home. Many days, she brings a video camera and uses the tapes at home to hone her techniques. Every home game, she shows up at Redskin Stadium a few hours before kickoff to practice routines and be seen.

With new Redskin owner Daniel Snyder wanting a more visible presence from the Redskinettes, appearances stretch DeFrancesco's time even further.

"Cheerleading takes up as much time as my job does," DeFrancesco says. "But I love it. Wherever we go, everybody is excited to see us. We get treated like queens."

Cheerleaders may seem pretty faces in short skirts, but this squad proves the stereotype wrong.

All Redskinettes are either college students or professionals. On the squad this year are web developers, computer programmers and law students.

There are 37 Redskinettes, divided into four different squads. Each squad is stationed at a corner of the football field and rotates every quarter. The Redskinettes would accompany the team to any post season games as well.

DeFrancesco hopes that time comes, but for now, being there is a thrill enough for this football fan.

"I just love being that close to the game," she says.

-Michael Salmon of Lorton, Va., breaks into NBT with this article. He lived in Annapolis near Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as a child.

'The Final Answer': Maryland Parks Win $9 Million

Imagine that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is sitting across from Regis Philbin playing You Can Be a Millionaire. Imagine that the Governor has pledged his winnings to every state park and forest across Maryland.

Now imagine that the governor has won nine times! Nine million dollars to be spread out over the next three years to update and renovate our state parks and forests.

Regis won't be signing the check, but the news is still good.

"It's still very exciting," says Captain Pete Smith, this region's manager for Maryland's State Park and Forest Service. "With this money, we will be able to make the much-needed repairs and renovations at our parks."

Glendening, along with national Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, made the announcement last month. The money comes from the state's surplus.

"Our precious state parks provide beautiful settings for Maryland families, visitors and communities to meet and enjoy the outdoors," said Glendening. "This historic $9 million investment will improve recreational facilities for our families, preserve open space and encourage our children to develop a deep appreciation for our natural resources and become our environmental stewards in the future."

"I support the governor's idea 100 percent," Babbitt said. "Maryland is doing a great job of protecting open space."

The nine million will be divided into $3 million chunks to be spent in each of three fiscal years, beginning with the year 2000. Fiscal year 2000 began July 1. Over the three years, the millions will pay for 400 projects, including repairs and improvements in each of Maryland's 47 state parks and six state forests.

"Playgrounds need to be replaced, and trails will be repaired, along with 300 miles of roadways and parking lots," said Smith. "The investments will also improve park access for people with disabilities."

State parks from Tawes Garden in Annapolis, Calvert Cliffs State Park in Calvert County and Smallwood State Park in Charles County through Point Lookout in St. Mary's County all will get upgrades in the year 2000, NBT learned this week.

"What we have come up with is just an estimate of what we would like to see happen for each location, and the amount needed," Smith said. St. Mary's County parks are expected to be the big winner the first year, with $113,000. Anne Arundel parks get $49,000, and Calvert Cliffs State Park in Calvert County gets $8,000.

"We will make the necessary changes as we go along," says Smith.

Currently the DNR engineering and construction department is working out the bid packages. They will be available after the first of the year for review.

Not since the 1960s has such an investment been made in Maryland state parks and forests. "Most of the state parks were newly developed and did not require much upkeep," said Smith. "This is the first major commitment to renovate our parks in over three decades."

Anne Arundel County

Sandy Point SP | Resurface road to Pavilion B | $10,000

Sandy Point SP | Repave walkways, S&E beaches & E Beach road | $25,000

Severn Run NEA | Renovate trail heads & hiking trails | $10,000

Tawes Garden | Replace existing interpretive foot bridges | $2,000

Tawes Garden | Reroof the visitor information kiosk | $2,000


Calvert County

Calvert Cliffs SP | Resurface & restripe entrance road & parking lot | $8,000


Charles County

Cedarville SF | Painting all campground wash houses | $20,000

Cedarville SF | Seal, repair & stripe entrance road | $6,000

Cedarville SF | Replace playground equipment & surface materials | $38,000 |

Smallwood SP | Recap pilings @ Sweden Point Marina | $5,000

Smallwood SP | Redeck the marina | $40,000


Prince George's County

Merkle WS | Resurface & restripe road | $30,000 |

Merkle WS | Powerwash & restain visitors center | $8,000 |


St. Mary's County

Pt. Lookout SP | Resurface playground equipment & surface materials | $35,000

Pt. Lookout SP | Repair lighting @ fishing pier parking lot | $3,000

Pt. Lookout SP | Resurface entrance road & lot @ day use & picnic area | $30,000

St. Mary's River SP | Replace playground equipment & surface materials | $35,000

St. Mary's SP | Resurface 7 repaint roadway & parking lots | $10,000

-Lori L. Sikorski

Way Downstream ...

In Virginia, the state's Clean Water Management Trust Fund is spending $3.3 million to buy nearly 2,000 acres along three creeks that flow into Edenton Bay and serve as prime spawning habitat for herring ...

In Barrow, Alaska, they've got a reason to drink heavily. When the sun set Nov. 12 at 1:21pm, it was the last time people will see it this century - until Jan. 23. No wonder 800 people turned out in 10-degree temperature to bid 'old sol' adieu ...

In New York along Long Island Sound, some people argued that pollution did not cause the mysterious deaths of hundreds of thousands of crabs and lobsters this fall. They were only half right. The crustaceans died because of a tiny parasite, called paramoeba, marine scientists said. But they were susceptible to the parasite because of increased levels of nitrogen - which comes from sewage and lawn chemicals ...

In Boston, a report about the mass of catalogues being sent to homes is astounding. The Globe reports that 17 billion catalogues will be mailed out in the U.S. this year, using 3.3 million tons of newsprint. That's 12 percent of the printing and writing paper consumed in this country. A report by environmental advocates asks companies to stop sending catalogues to people that don't want them, use more recycled paper and do more business on-line ...

Our Creature Feature comes from New Jersey, where a woman named Linda Genteel is proving that wolves aren't the carnivorous creatures many thought they were.

Genteel, who is president of the Animal Lover's Club, has raised a vegetarian wolf. She also has nine dogs that, together with the wolf, consume about 50 pounds of rice and 50 pounds of beans each month. The wolf is partial to vegetables, too.

"He just loves his carrots and broccoli," said Genteel, whose newsletter can be found at

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Volume VII Number 48
December 2-8, 1999
New Bay Times

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