Hogwarts for a Day!


The 4th Annual Chestertown HP Festival kicked off Friday evening, Oct. 6 with a dance party in the Garfield Center, attended by more than 250 festival-goers. Based on the popular Harry Potter fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling, the festival drew attendees of all ages from the entire middle Atlantic region.

For the festival, High Street was closed from Queen to Spring streets, with various vendors and exhibits along the way. In Fountain Park, a number of vendors offered Harry Potter-related items — such as Meckley Brooms of Lancaster County, Pa., which brought a selection of authentic-looking witches’ brooms. Vicky Meckley, whose husband is among the fourth generation of broom makers, said the 120-year-old company has been to a number of Potter festivals over the last year and frequently sells out its stock. The company also produces brooms for everyday use. She and the other family members at the booth took turns walking around town and enjoying the historic district.

The park was the site of a number of festival events, including a “Defense Against the Dark Arts” display where participants created giant bubbles to represent their “patronus” or magical protector.   The costume contest was also held in the park.  At other points around the downtown area, events included a “Magical Hall of Talking Portraits” at Kidspot, a Charms Class at the Sultana Education Center and a showing of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” at Kent County Public Library. Everywhere you went, there were people in Harry Potter-related  costumes, both young and old, dressed as wizards, goblins, and dozens of Harrys and Hermiones, .

Goblins and Galleons, The Goblin Bank

At Olivander’s Wand Shop, AKA Bob Ortiz Furniture Studio, wizards could purchase a variety of wands from five different vendors. Michael and Ramona Liles of Philadelphia, selling at the Vele Cruce table, said they were attending their first festival.

A popular feature was the scavenger hunt, in which participants visit businesses all over the downtown area searching for clues. Those who found all the clues and returned their form to the booth in front of the Garfield received a prize. Each of the participating businesses was renamed after an equivalent locale in the books — so that the former Chestertown Bank building, now the headquarters of KRM Development, became Goblins and Galleons, with a clue hidden in the old bank vault, and Book Plate became Flourish and Blotts Bookseller.

This year, there were enough successful participants that the festival had given out all its prizes by 3 p.m. — an hour before the official end of the hunt!

Wilmer Park was the setting for the Quidditch tournament — a team sport with similarities to soccer and basketball. There were several competing teams, from as far away as Philadelphia and Washington. The sport differs from the version in the Harry Potter books in that none of the players are flying on broomsticks — although they are required to carry a symbolic broomstick between their legs during play. There were a good number of spectators picnicking in shady spots around the park — with food provided by several vendor trucks, many of them local.

The Quidditch Goals – Three Rings

Stretching Before the Game


Hogwarts faculty members Professor Dumbledore (Jim Landskroener), Nearly Headless Nick (David Ryan) and Professor Lupin (Zac Ryan)

The Garfield also offered “The Hogwarts Experience,” a chance for young festival-goers ages 8-12 to take part in a re-enactment of one of the key elements of the Harry Potter world, the famous school of wizardry. In two different sessions, 40 participants entered the theater where they were greeted by Headmaster Dumbledore and a panel of wizards. Each came to the stage to be sorted by the traditional “sorting hat” into one of the four Hogwarts houses — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin. They were then sent to tables where faculty members instructed them in magical arts, from the use of wands to cast spells to the detection of hidden properties of objects — such as the taste of different colors of jelly beans. The actors playing the faculty wizards gave enthusiastic performances, and the young students clearly enjoyed the experience.











In these “magic classes,” students get to take out their wands and practice repelling a “boggart,” a magical being who takes the form of your worst fear.  With courage and heart – and just the right magical words –  students learn to vanquish their own personal boggart, a handy skill to have.











The close of the festival was marked by another dance, the “Azkaban Prison Break Party.” named after the key event in the third of the Harry Potter novels.

All in all, it was another successful Festival.  This year the festival was re-titled The HP Festival because the organization had received complaints from Warner Brothers’ legal department. But that didn’t throw a blanket over the fun – the magic was definitely there for this year’s festival.


Dumbledore, Professor & Headmaster of Hogwarts (portrayed by Jim Landskroener)

Nearly Headless Nick (David Ryan)








The Faculty of Hogwarts – Left to right: Professor Sprout- Madeline McSherry, Professor Trelawny – Amelia Markosian, Professor Dumbledore – Jim Landskroener, Nearly Headless Nick – David Ryan, Professor Lupin – Zac Ryan

A Goblin works at His Desk in the Bank

Merkley Brooms 

4th Annual HP Festival

Diagon Alley










Diagon Alley is the Wizarding World’s Shopping District that is magically concealed from muggles’ eyes in London and  in Chestertown is located in the Old Mill alley just off Cross St near the old train station.

The Evergrain bakery and coffee shop became Wizardgrain for the day. A wonderful place for young witches and wizards to introduce their parents to butterbeer and everlasting gobstoppers.

Choosing a wand at Olivanders (Bob Ortiz Studio)

4th Annual HP Festival






Ryan, Harris Tout Tax Reforms in Dixon Valve Visit


Dixon Valve CEO Dick Goodall, at right, introduces House Speaker Paul Ryan (L) and Rep. Andy Harris to employees

Chestertown received a rare visit of a national political figure Thursday, Oct. 5 when Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, came to town to promote the Republican Party’s tax reform proposals.

Accompanying Ryan on his visit to Dixon Valve and Coupling was Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes the Eastern Shore. In the two-hour visit, Ryan and Harris toured the factory floor, had a question-and-answer session with workers, and met with management. At the conclusion of the visit, Ryan briefly took questions from members of the press.

Ryan and Harris talk to Dixon Valve workers during a plant tour

Dick Goodall, CEO of Dixon Valve, introduced the visitors, said he was really pleased to have Ryan and Harris. He said the visit was “a good opportunity, because we’re all invested in this country,” including all the things that happen in Washington. He told the assembled employees to ask questions freely – “I know you won’t hold back,” he said before turning the microphone over to Harris.

Harris, who introduced Paul, said he noticed several new pieces of equipment in the factory since his last visit, about four years ago. He said that was a good sign, because business needs to grow and progress to keep up with foreign competition. He said the two things most businesses worry about are regulations and the tax rate. He said he and Paul had just cast votes on the budget for next year, which would include a tax plan to improve the prospects for business.

Paul thanked Harris for being a leader on both taxes and health care. He said the two congressmen were here because they want the country to prosper in the face of global competition. “We need to be ahead of the global competition if we want good jobs, good futures that pay us well,” he said. He said Dixon is in competition with Chinese companies that make the same products, but while China taxes its businesses “at no higher than 25 percent,” Dixon faces taxes of 35 percent – not counting state taxes that raise the rate even higher. “That’s the story of America,” he said, Overseas, taxes can be as low as 12.5 percent, as in Ireland. He said the U.S. tax code was last reformed in 1986, while other countries have adjusted their rates many times since then. “This is messed up and we’ve got to fix it,” he said.

House Sp[eaker Paul Ryan

Paul also said the Republicans want to make it possible for companies to write off equipment purchases the year they make them, rather than waiting to recoup the expenses. With these incentives, he said, American companies will be encouraged to keep their operations in this country instead of moving them overseas.

Finally, he said, the tax code is so complicated that nobody without an accountant to help them navigate it can benefit from its various provisions. He said the GOP plan would allow most workers to fill out their tax forms “on a postcard,” while retaining “good middle-class incentives” like credits for home owners or saving for kids’ college education.  By doing so, “w know we can be a more prosperous country,” he said.

During the question-and-answer session, a young Dixon Valve employee asked how long it would take for the benefits of the GOP tax plan to take effect. “I’m 20 years old, and I’d like to move out of my parents’ house,” he said.

“Don’t worry – there is a future,” Ryan said. Congress will lower individual tax rates as well as business rates, he said. He said the plan will remove the marriage penalty and make it easier to save money to raise a family. He said American businesses have to pay higher wages and provide more benefits than Chinese companies. “The very least we can do is lower their tax costs” so they can hire more workers and pay them more, he said.

Ryan also talked about educational reforms to give young people the skills they need to operate the kind of advanced machinery in plants like Dixon Valve. He said House Republicans have passed bills to give workers the skills they need in the modern workforce. He also said the nation needs to reduce the cost of higher education.

After the employee Q&A session, Paul met with Dixon management and with the head of the American Association of Manufacturers to discuss how tax reform would help them.

During the press session, Ryan was asked about a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that said 30.5 percent of Maryland taxpayers would face an immediate tax increase under the GOP proposal, the highest percentage in the nation. The report said the increase would arise from the proposal’s elimination of a deduction for state and local taxes. Ryan said he hadn’t seen the report, but he said its analysis is likely to be slanted due to the Institute’s liberal bias. He said increasing the standard deduction and eliminating loopholes would benefit most middle-class taxpayers.

Ryan was also asked if Congress is contemplating a ban on the “bump stock,” an attachment that allows the AK-47 rifle to fire on full automatic, as in the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. He said he had never heard of the attachment before news of the shooting broke, but he said fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for many years. The bump stock appears to be a way to dodge that prohibition, he said. He said regulations should catch up with that development, and that more research would be needed “to find out how this happened in the first place.”

Protesters hold signs outside Dion Valve

Across High Street, outside the Dixon Valve plant, a group of protesters – about 60 at its peak – held signs and chanted slogans. The total number of protesters was somewhat higher  as people came and went over a three-hour period.  The first protester arrived before 1:00 pm while the last ones went after the press conference ended and Ryan’s caravan with police escort left at about 4:15 pm.  At the height of the demonstration, around 2-3 pm, there were several groups representing various organizations such as Indivisible.  Many cars honked and their occupants waved energetically in support of the demonstration. Four or five students from the Washington College Republican Club were also present, though it is unknown if they were there in protest, in support, or just out of curiosity.  There were no disturbances. Two police officers were present and directed traffic.


Recycling — Make It Better


Ford Schumann

“We’re doing our small part to save the Earth.”

So said Ford Schumann of Infinity Recycling, appearing at the Chestertown Council meeting Oct. 2. After giving an update on the program, he offered suggestions for improving the town’s curbside recycling program.

At present, Schumann said, 1367 — about 58 percent — of the households in town take part in curbside recycling, which he said is very good for a voluntary program. He said he has been distributing door hangers promoting the program to houses not yet enrolled.

Infinity conducts a dual-stream operation, in which residents are asked to sort their recycling into two categories: paper and containers – glass, plastic or metal. He said the advantage of dual-stream is that it produces a much higher level of usable material for the company. In single-stream programs, Schumann said, there is a 25 percent contamination rate, and almost none of the glass can be reclaimed. Because of the dual-stream operation, Infinity is able to reclaim almost all the glass it collects for recycling.

Also, the dual-stream system allows hand-sorting of the containers into marketable components on an assembly line. The assembly line crews are from the Benedictine School and Kent Center, Schumann said. For hiring Kent Center workers, Infinity received a Governor’s citation last week. He said he hopes to expand his payroll as business allows.

Schumann said Infinity has run out of the green recycling bins that were distributed by Kent County when it had a curbside recycling program, but has some in different colors for anyone who signs up for recycling.

As far as ways to improve recycling, Schumann noted that the town’s recycling bins are too similar in appearance to its trash cans, which means the two are often confused. “If you look at the contents of the two, they’re pretty much the same,” he said. He said it would make sense to paint the recycling cans blue, which is the color widely used for recycling containers. He said he could get volunteers to repaint the cans.

Also, if the recycling cans were placed next to the trash cans, it would make it easier for users to use them properly, instead of having to walk several yards to find the right container. He said New York City places recycling and trash containers next to each other and it seems to work well. “It would be great if we could do it,” he said. Also, he said, the town could require events to offer recycling. Many already do, but it could be made universal, he said.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked how Schumann is working to increase participation in the program. Schumann said he has begun distributing door hangers. He said he would also be willing to go door-to-door in evening hours to publicize the program. He said he signs up one or two households a week, on average.

Stetson asked if a once-a-week trash pickup would improve recycling participation. Schumann said that might work if the town began a program to pick up and compost organics. That could reduce the need for trash pickup to once every two weeks, Schumann said.

Stetson said it might encourage people to recycle if they knew it would reduce the amount going to landfills, which in the long run would result in a reduction of taxes that support operating a landfill in Kent County.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper noted that the town pays a flat amount for each household in the recycling program, whether they put out recycling every week or not. She asked if the charge to the town would increase if more households recycled. Schumann said there would be an increase, but the town would also benefit from wider recycling and less trash going to the landfill. He said he would be willing to work out a town-wide rate, but that would mean the responsibility for increasing recycling would fall on the town, which might not be as aggressive in recruiting new households into the program.

Schumann was appearing on behalf of the town’s Environmental Committee, which makes monthly reports on its activities.




Sink or Swim! — The Cardboard Boat Race


Almost there! Contestants in the Cardboard Boat Race near the shore.

The Washington College community turned out in force for the Center for Environment and Society’s annual Cardboard Boat Race on Saturday, Sept. 23.  They were rewarded with a beautiful day, an array of activities and exhibits by the CES staff and students, and music by the High and Wides. New President Landgraf went straight from his inauguration in the morning to the race and his first official duty  — as a judge for the Cardboard Boat Race.

Seven contestants lined up for the three-o’clock start, all home-made concoctions of duct tape, cardboard boxes, ingenuity and plenty of hope. So it was in a way fitting that the first across the finish line was A Boat Full of Hope, whose crew handily out-paddled the competition. Second place was a hard slog, with the Minnow beating out the Student Life entry by a slim margin.

The crowd anxiously watches – will they make it across the finish line before they sink?

Despite the ambitions of the cardboard shipwrights, several of the entries rapidly took on water, barely making it to the midway buoy before sinking. Their sailors swam, valiantly pushing their waterlogged crafts to shore. There were “spotters” in kayaks and other boats located in several strategic places, ready to rescue any fatigued swimmers.  Fortunately their rescue services were not needed this race.  And all participants were wearing life-jackets just in case. The crowd and announcer John Schratweiser cheered all them on, with especially enthusiastic cheers for the sinking craft and their occupants. Among those who ended up swimming to shore were the crew of the popular favorite, the Goose, named for the school mascot — which ironically also took the judge’s award for Best Design.

Boatful of Hope, signed by numerous friends and well-wishers in the manner of a cast on a broken arm.

A Boatful of Hope had the slogan “All you Need Is Love” and was signed by numerous friends and well-wishers in the manner of a cast on a broken arm.  Their good wishes must have worked (along with the duct-tape) as Hope won the race!

The S.S. Minnow 

The boat Mermaid – loudly cheered around the course by the mother of one of the sailors – took the award for Team Spirit, while the Jurassic Park themed T. Wrecksosaurus took the prize for best theme. Honorable Mention went to the aptly-named There’s Room for Two.

The T. Wrecksosaurus crew brought a mascot – a friendly dinosaur who happily posed for pictures with audience members.  In between selfies, the dino danced, chased his boat crew – who were all wearing explorers’ pith helmets – nuzzled up to unsuspecting spectators, and nibbled at people’s heads and arms.

Dinosaur Mascot of the T-Wrecksosaurus boat

Spectators could also take part in a 50-50 raffle, a drawing for a ride on the CES’s oceanographic boat Callinectes, or a private tour of the CES’s research stations on Chino Farms.

Mastodon-spearing was a popular event. Note that except for one “Bulls-Eye,”almost no one hit the target.

Another popular attraction was a mastodon-spearing event, with participants using a special thrower to launch spears at a model mastodon on the far side of Wilmer Park.  Sponsored by the Anthropology Club, the event highlighted the skill and strength needed by ice-age hunters to bring down their prey.  Most of those who gave it a try were barely able to throw their spears half-way down the course where their spears would land near signs with messages like “Become a Vegetarian,” “Clovis but no Cigar,” or “Don’t worry! Bugs have protein, too!” The final sign, for those few whose spears actually reached the target, declaimed “You’ve MastoDONE it!”

Each participant got three throws using the atlatl, an Aztec spear-thrower, to determine if they were hunters or gatherers!

Aztec atlatl – spear-throwers

Cardboard Boat Race – The Judges

John Schratwieser, MC Extraordinaire!

High and Wides

The High and Wides provided lively music all afternoon.

Float or Sink experiment for kids by Center for Environmental Science


It’s Official — Washington College Has a New President!


Kurt Landgraf is sworn in by Larry Culp, chair of Washington College Board of Visitors and Governors

Kurt Landgraf is now officially Washington College’s new president.

In ceremonies on Martha Washington Square on the college campus, Landgraf was sworn in on Saturday, Sept. 23, on the college’s Fall Family Weekend. He is now the college’s 29th president, in a line stretching back to William Smith in 1782.

A tent was erected in event of showers, but the weather was close to ideal as the academic procession filed in, led by members of the Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes and Drums.  When all were in their places, the Rev. Darcy Williams of Emmanuel Episcopal Church spoke the benediction and WACapella sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Patrice DiQuinzio, provost and dean of Washington College

After a welcome by Lawrence Culp, chair of the Board of Visitors and Governors, Provost Patrice DiQuinzio introduced a series of greeters beginning with Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino. Cerino said he looked forward to the college’s extensive projects along the Chester River waterfront, and to a new era of cooperation between the college and the town. “In three to five years, it will be a different place – a win-win for Washington College and Chestertown,” he said.

Joe Holt, director of Institutional Giving

Arian Ravanvakhsh, chairman of Alumni board








Joe Holt, director of institutional giving, and Arian Ravanbakhsh, chairman of the alumni board, greeted Landgraf on behalf of the college staff and alumni, pledging their support and cooperation. And May Kiros, president of the student government association, told how he responded within an hour to an email welcoming him to the college , saying he would love to meet with her. WACapella then returned with a spirited performance of “Come Join the Family,” with solo bits by several members.

May Kiros, class of 2018 and president of the WC Student Government Association Association

WACapella Choir

Richard Guarasci, president of Wagner College, Landgraf’s alma mater, greeted him on behalf of the academic community. He praised the college’s tradition of liberal arts studies as a key to nurturing the critical thinking that is essential in an age of information overload. He noted the emergence of new demographic groups, many previously neglected, in the academic world, calling liberal arts colleges “a beachhead for continuing opportunity.” He praised Landgraf’s honesty, openness and directness, and his willingness to solicit ideas from all segments of the community. “Kurt Landgraf is up to the task; he relishes the challenge,” Guarasci said. He ended by urging the new president to become the agent of positive change.

James Allen Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, read a newly-composed inaugural poem, inspired by a letter to George Washington from the college’s first president, William Smith. Echoing the letter’s phrases, Hall described the college as a “monument” to Washington, “only half-built,” but inspiring the nation’s youth to live up to the ideals he embodied. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Culp then administered the oath of office to Landgraf, and draped the chain of office over his shoulders.

Washington College faculty procede to inaugural tent.

Landgraf began his inaugural address by noting how fortunate he has been, giving much of the credit to the liberal arts education he gained at Wagner College and the influence of one professor who took him under his wing. He thanked the Board, the faculty and the community for choosing “to honor a man from very humble beginnings who understands how powerful liberal arts education actually is.Washington College is one of the finest representations of what liberal arts education can be and can achieve in our great country.”

“The best scientists, the best businessmen, and the best policymakers are grounded in liberal arts education,” he said. “The reason is, they have a sense of history, philosophy, and international affairs. They know how to approach problems critically and analytically. They know how to communicate effectively. And fundamentally, they learn the difference between right and wrong.” He told the assembled faculty, “You teach them how to do that.”

Landgraf went on to outline the “three pillars” of society that a liberal arts education helps nurture: capitalism, democracy, and the rule of law. Capitalism, he said, needs “a strong moral compass” — the kind imparted by a liberal arts education — if it is to truly serve the whole of society and not just the richest segment.

Democracy is at the very foundation of Washington College, Landgraf said, noting that the school was “established for the singular purpose of educating responsible citizens who could lead this country in its new democracy.” By teaching the lessons of history and philosophy, Washington College gives its students the tools to make decisions based on a sense of right and wrong.

As for the rule of law, he said, “For those who serve to protect the law — police officers, attorneys, judges, juries and, yes, even business leaders —having a moral compass is not just incidental, it is imperative.” To accomplish that goal, he said, “everyone associated with this college has a critical responsibility to maintain the sustainability of this institution so that we can ensure that this country will get a moral compass and travel the high road for every citizen.”

Landgraf gave two examples of decisions he made because of the moral compass he gained at Wagner College: pulling the Dupont Company out of South Africa in protest of its apartheid policy, and withdrawing a drug from the market in response to learning it was toxic. He made these decisions, he said,, “because I remembered the moral compass that said above all, do what is right, not what is convenient.”

Landgraf concluded by telling the audience, “I promise you this, I will give you my heart and my soul. I will do everything that I can to make sure that the values of this school, that the faculty of this school, and the alumni of this school, and the board of visitors and governors of this school, know that this place will be sustainable for generations to come, because I want to conclude by saying, I love this place.”

The audience responded with a prolonged ovation.

The ceremonies concluded with WACapella singing the alma mater, “Old Washington,” and a benediction by the Rev Darcy Williams. Attendees then partook of a buffet lunch on Hodson Commons.

Chesapeake Caledonian Pipes and Drums led the procession.

Richard Gillin, Inauguration Marshal,  director of Humanities Program and professor of English Literature at Washington College

James Allen Hall, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House

Chris Cerino, mayor of Chestertown

“I love this place,” – Kurt Landgraf, president of Washington College

Photography by Peter Heck


Parents Group Challenges Commissioners on School Funding


Francoise Sullivan (L) and Jodi Bortz of the Support Our Schools group

The Support Our Schools (SOS) parents’ group came to the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, and they had a clear message for the county officials.

Jodi Bortz, Robbi Behr and Francoise Sullivan, three of the founders of the SOS group, told commissioners Ron Fithian and William Pickrum that education should be a priority for county government, and that they will hold elected officials accountable for any shortcoming in the county’s support for the sehools. Commissioner Billy Short was absent from the meeting.

The SOS group read a statement responding to a letter the commissioners published in the Kent County News, in which they said the county is faced with flat revenues both from taxes and from state funding. The commissioners’ letter also noted that they are responsible for running the entire county, not just the school system, which is partially funded by the State of Maryland.

In a reply published in the Chestertown Spy Sept. 14, SOS challenged the commissioners’ assertion and presented data supporting their position. At the meeting Tuesday, the parents reiterated their challenge, noting that the percentage of Kent County’s contribution to the schools is 37 percent of the budget, lower than the statewide average of 42 percent. SOS also questioned why the county required the school system use its fund balance to make up a promised $1.6 million contribution from the commissioners. Sullivan said the schools’ fund balance should be the same percentage as the county’s, which is 7.5 percent of the budget.

Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian (L) and William Pickrum

In response, Pickrum said schools in “a lot of other” Maryland counties don’t have a fund balance. He said “it doesn’t take forever” for the commissioners to supply additional funding when the school board faces an emergency. He also noted that the county has taxing and borrowing authority, while the board of education does not.

The commissioners called on Pat Merritt, the county’s chief finance officer, to present data supporting their position. Merrit presented slides showing that the county’s contribution to the schools has remained essentially level over the last five years. She also said that the discrepancy between Kent’s contribution to the school budget and the higher percentage in other counties is explainable by the fact that Kent has only 10 percent of its population in the public schools, compared to an average of 15 percent statewide.

Bortz said the health of the school system is a key ingredient of the economic health of the cuunty. She said the commissioners would be well advised to increase the funding for the county’s Economic Development Commission so it can publicize Route 301 economic zone, the county-wide gigabit internet service, and attend regional economic events to publicize the county. An increase in economic activity will produce an increase in tax revenues, providing more money for sehools and everything else, she said. “We stand ready to assist,” she said.

Behr said as the SOS group concluded, “Let’s make Kent County a place to live, rather than a place to die.”

The meeting began with a presentation by Superintendent Karen Couch, who summarized the school district’s decision to terminate its contract with Reliable Transportation of Baltimore, the contractor brought on to provide bus service to the county schools. After receiving numerous complaints of late buses, missed pickups, poor communication and other problems, the school district decided to adopt a hybrid system, under which it would use local contractors for some routes and purchase about 13 buses to serve the rest of the routes in the county. She detailed the financial arrangements, and requested the transfer of $175,000 from the school district’s fund balance to cover the cost of the adjustment. The commissioners approved the request.

Couch also asked if the school district could park some of its buses as the county’s public works department on Morgnec Road and others at the Kent County High School lot in Worton. Current zoning does not allow a bus depot in the county. She said the school district would apply for a zoning text amendment to allow a depot for school buses, and requested a waiver of the application fee. The commissioners approved the request to use the Morgnec road facility for bus parking. As for the fee waiver, County Administrator Shelley Heller said it should be requested when the application is submitted. “That should be a no-brainer,” said Fithian.

The commissioners also approved a request by the school district to fuel the buses from county supplies, which are purchased in bulk at a considerable savings over market price. The audience at the meeting gave Couch a round of applause at the end of her presentation.


Bus Company Working to Fix Problems


Reliable Transportation’ school buses parked at the former bowling alley on Route 213 in Queen Anne’s County

The Kent County Public Schools’ ongoing problems with bus service brought out a large crowd to the Board of Education meeting in Rock Hall, Sept. 11, and both the school board and the new bus company, Reliable Transportation of Baltimore, said they were making every effort to solve the problems.

Buses have been up to an hour late, failed to arrive at all, or dropped students off at the wrong place – sometimes as much as a mile away from the designated bus stop.  Buses have broken down enroute and run out of gas. Poor communication between the bus company, its drivers, the schools, the parents, and the school administrative offices has exacerbated the situation.

Jay Walbert, the bus fleet manager for Reliable Transportation, said in an interview at the bus depot on Sept. 12, that the company has 30 buses, including spares, available for the school district. There are 24 routes in the county, he said, including four buses for special needs students. The buses, all of which are owned by Reliable, are parked in an enclosed lot at the former Kent Bowling Center on Route 213; the company is parking the buses there because Kent County zoning does not currently permit a bus depot in the county.

Walbert said Reliable attempted to hire local drivers with knowledge of the area, but with limited success. At the time he talked to the Spy, he said there were only six local drivers working for Reliable. Others had to be hired in Baltimore, and elsewhere, requiring them to commute to Kent County. Walbert said some local drivers had agreed to work for Reliable, but then failed to appear on the day they were supposed to start work. He said he was still trying to find qualified local drivers who were willing to work for Reliable. Drivers are paid for six to eight hours a day, $19.50/hour, plus benefits, he said. In addition to the regular to- and from-school routes, drivers take students to sports events, field trips, and other special trips.

Training for new drivers, Walbert said, began about two weeks before school opened.  However, as a number of expected new-hires did not show up, Reliable had to scramble to find replacements before school opened.

While new drivers were given training in their routes, Walbert said, many of them have trouble distinguishing landmarks in rural areas. Some side roads are poorly marked or not marked at all, and in some areas, tall corn stalks hide signs. “All corn fields look the same” to a city driver, he said. He said the company put guides with local knowledge on the buses to help the drivers learn the routes.

He also said there were technical problems with some of the equipment obtained from the Kent County Board of Education. All but one bus had radio equipment as of Sept. 12, and a receiver had been ordered for that one, he said. However, the radio base station was an older model that needed to be rebuilt, he said.  So communication with all buses while they are on the road should be available as soon as the base station is fixed.  He did not have a timeline for that. As for possible workarounds of using GPS or cell phones, he noted that there are areas of the county where neither GPS systems nor cell phones reliable.

Walbert said he had received angry and threatening phone calls at his home number since taking the job with Reliable this summer. “I just hang up if they start to curse me,” he said. On the other hand, he said some parents have brought donuts for the drivers, and a group of parents in Galena apologized for the way some drivers had been treated.

Walbert, who lives in Queen Anne’s County, said that he completely understands and agrees with the importance of bus safety and accurate, on-time performance.  He understands that the buses are carrying “precious cargo”. He said that the company is hiring and training new drivers and believes that the problems will be ironed out soon.

This is the first year of a 4-year contract for Reliable Transportation of Baltimore.  Previously the Kent County Public Schools had contracted since 1997 with Kent County Bus Contractors LLC to provide bus service.   Kent County Bus Contractors LLC – known colloquially as the LLC – is a consortium of local bus owners who had organized, among other reasons, to make negotiating contracts easier. This way the school system did not have multiple contracts.  However, due to budget problems, the school system decided to put the contract out to bid for the 2017-18 school year.  Reliable won the bid.

The Kent County Board of Education meets tonight, Sept. 18, at the school board offices in Rock Hall; the open portion of the meeting is at 6:30; the transportation problems are on the agenda. The Support Our Schools group, parents who are concerned over a wide range of educational issues in the county, plans to make a presentation to the Kent County Commissioners Tuesday night, Sept. 19; the meeting is at 6 p.m. in the county office building, 400 High St.

A Perfect Day for Jazz!


It was a perfect day – temps in the low 70s with the occasional light breeze and fluffy white clouds that came and went in a blue sky.  Some sat on folding chairs in the big tent where they were closer to the musicians.  Others brought canvas chairs or blankets and sat out on the lawn, enjoying the music and watching the ships sail by.  All in all, about 300 people came to the big tent by the Chester River for the 2017 Chestertown Jazz Festival.

Andy Bienstock, the jazz DJ of WYPR, was an ideal choice as master of ceremonies for the festival. A regular visitor to Chestertown, Bienstock relaxed and enjoyed the sun in between introducing acts. Before the final act, he was presented with a basket of Kent County goodies — including wine from Crow Vineyands and a hand-made cheese board from Bob Ortiz — by festival impressario Dr. Mel Rapelyea and Leslie Raimond of the Kent County Arts Council.

Mel Repelyea and Andy Bienstock

Founded and chaired by Rapelyea, the festival is co-sponsored by the Kent County Arts Council and the Garfield Center for the Arts. The first Chestertown Jazz Festival was held in 1996 though there has not been a festival every year.

The festival started at 11 a.m. and ran til 6 p.m. with a total of six acts in a wide variety of jazz styles.  Something for everyone.  There was a focus on youth this year with two of the groups featuring young musicians, one only 13 years old, but he played a mean upright bass that could be the envy of many professional musicians three or four times his age.

Friends of Faith






Starting out the day was the gospel group Friends of Faith. With six singers backed up by piano, bass, and drums, they brought high energy to the stage with their rendition of modern gospel songs.

Next up was Capital Focus Jazz Band, a group of young musicians playing traditional New Orleans style jazz.  It was impressive that musicians so young – several teenagers and no one over 25 – had such a strong feeling for music nearly a century old.  They played tunes from King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton along with some Swing standards and an original by one of the band members. Maya Collings, a high school student and the newest member of Capital Focus, played piano and sang “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” with the accompaniment of the whole band.  See their website for more information and to hear some of their music.

Capital Focus Jazz Band

Maya Collings of Capital Focus Jazz Band 

The John Thomas Quartet played a high-energy set of modern jazz standards including “Stella by Starlight” and “Solar”.  Tenor saxophonist Thomas was inspired by Joe Henderson, but he is equally adept at jazz and classical styles.  He has taught the saxophone at the college level and is currently the Director of Jazz  Ensembles at the Baltimore School of the Arts.  Thomas has also appeared with such popular groups as the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Glen Miller Orchestra, Ben Vereen, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.

John Thomas

The Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet  brought hip harmonies reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer or Lambert, Hendricks and Ross with their scatting interpretations of tunes like “Cloud Burst” and “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” 

The Washington-based Jazz Academy of Music is a big band consisting of high school students under the leadership of Paul Carr. The group of about twenty musicians appearing at the festival was only half of the whole band but it produced a fully-authentic big-band sound with impressive soloists. The other half of the full ensemble was performing at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival the same day.

Jazz Academy of Music

Gabriella Capizzi belts out “Angel Eyes” with the Jazz Academy of Music

The closing act was the Joey DeFrancesco Quartet featuring DeFrancesco on Hammond organ,  vocals, and trumpet.  Jason Brown on drums, Dan Wilson on guitar, and Troy Roberts on tenor sax covered the stylistic range from Thelonious Monk to Sam Cooke — but the focus was on funky, hip-shaking numbers that had the crowd on its feet. A perfect way to end a perfect day for jazz!

Photography by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell.

Joey DeFrancesco at the organ

Carolyn Jewell, WYPR Director of Membership, shows off new WYPR T-shirt.

MC Andy Bienstock is one of the founders of WYPR (Your Public Radio) and this year marks the 15th anniversary of the station.  They had a booth with a collage of photographs depicting the shows with their hosts and guests over the 15 years.  Attendees also got to see a preview of the new member gifts that the radio station will be offering in the coming year.  (They weren’t for sale; if you want one, you’ll have to wait for the next pledge drive!)

Big Red Bull

Walker Family

Several vendors and organizations were on-site to provide food and souvenirs.  There was delicious pit beef and pork from Big Red Bull catering while the Walker Family food truck offered a range of food and beverages. Crow Winery was there as well as Lockbriar Farms.  Lockbriar’s ice cream was one of the most popular items of the day.

Lockbriar Farms

Carol Mylander of Chestertown and Karen Fazekas of Annapolis enjoy the festival.

Nehemiah Williams – festival assistant

Chestertown Jazz Festival staff

The Sultana sailed regally by while the music played.

View of  the Chester River from the Jazz Festival at Wilmer Park in Chestertown, MD.


Church Hill Theatre’s “Doubt” is a Must-See


Sister Aloysius (Kathy Jones) and Sister James (Kendall Davis) discuss what to do. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

Community theaters thrive on cozy mysteries and popular musicals; but at their best, they can take on far more challenging projects. For clear proof, theater lovers need to look no further than the production of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt — A Parable, now playing at Church Hill Theatre.

Written in 2004,  Doubt won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 2005 and was an Academy Award-nominated film starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in 2008. The play’s original production ran 525 performances. It has seen numerous revivals, including a number of international performances in France, Germany, the Philippines and Australia.

Directed by Michael Whitehill, the play deploys a solid cast in a tense examination of the kind of issue that can destroy a community. Set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, it begins with Father Flynn, one of the parish priests, delivering a sermon on the subject of doubt. Warm and colloquial, the sermon quickly establishes the priest as likable and humane – a good example of the kind of change that was coming to the church (and society at large) in the 1960s.

Father Flynn (John Haas) preaches a sermon on “doubt”.  (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

But the second scene throws a cloud over that impression. Two nuns – young, idealistic Sister James and older, traditional Sister Aloysius, the principal of the school – meet to discuss Sister James’s classes. Sister Aloysius quickly makes it clear that she holds a dim view of the changes in the church, and of Sister James’s more modern ideas – including her enthusiasm for teaching history and her naive view of her eighth-grade students. The discussion focuses on one student in particular – Donald Muller, the school’s first black student. As the plot develops, young Donald – who never appears on stage – becomes the focus of everyone’s attention.

The conflict turns critical when Sister James tells her principal that Donald has come back from a meeting with Father Flynn with the smell of alcohol on his breath. What is going on? There is no solid evidence but Sister Aloysius is certain that something is going on, something that might bring scandal to the parish and to her school. The overall themes of the play comes in the attempts of the two nuns to get to the heart of the issue.

Mrs. Muller (Barbi Bedell) is called into the principal’s office to discuss her son Donald. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)

The play builds up to its crisis through several meetings among the characters, in twos or threes, with an appearance by Donald’s mother introducing new – and even more confusing – evidence into the building case. The characters move back and forth between doubt and certainty about all the questions arising from a seemingly minor incident. The theme of doubt builds relentlessly – and in the end, the audience is likely to be torn between those who want to see the best in the characters and those who fear the worst. But the core of the play concerns the process of moving between certainty and doubt, of living in ambiguity, of whether we ever can be really certain — and of how being certain can limit what we see.  Power struggles go one both between the characters and within each character’s conscience.

Whitehill has assembled a strong cast, and they make the most of the challenging script.  John Haas takes the role of Father Flynn, and his performance does a good deal to give the play its bite. For the play to achieve its point, the audience has to find Flynn likable and sincere – even a bit charismatic – and Haas does that very convincingly. A history professor at Chesapeake College, Haas has been onstage in several previous CHT productions – but this role is among his strongest to date.

Kendall Davis, a 2016 Washington College graduate – with a double degree in theater and English – plays Sister James with just the right degree of earnestness. Davis has had several recent roles in CHT productions, including in Jake’s Women and Witness for the Prosecution. Here, she brings a warm portrayal of a character caught in the transition between her calling to a very traditional institution and the new ideas filling the air in the early ’60s.

Kathy Jones is appropriately stony as Sister Aloysius, in many ways the least sympathetic character in the cast — and yet, what if she’s right?  She is the classic stereotype of a Catholic school teaching nun – a ruler-wielding, by-the-rules disciplinarian, sure that she is right.  But Jones lets her character’s human side show through just enough to prevent the principal from being only a stereotype. Sister Aloysius likes gardening and listening to a transistor radio – that she confiscated from a student!  And she cares about her school and its students.  And she will fight when she feels her school, its students, or its reputation are in danger. An outstanding performance in a very challenging role.

Barbi Bedell takes the role of Mrs. Muller – a role she played in a production of the same play at the Garfield Center in 2009. As with the other characters, the role is more complex than it may at first seem — Mrs. Muller is intent on protecting her son from a range of threats far wider than the nuns are aware of. Bedell effectively conveys her practical wisdom and her deep commitment to her son’s future.  She may be the only one who understands that everyday life is complex and uncertain.

The set was attractive though unusual, with the stage divided between two mini-sets: an outdoor shrine at stage right, and Sister Aloysius’s office at stage left. This meant that the majority of the action took place on one wing of the stage or the other, with two sermons by Father Flynn the main exceptions.  The lighting is used to good effect, fading in and out to indicate change of place or the passage of time.  There are no blackouts or scene changes to disrupt the flow of the story.

Tea with Sister Aloysius who rules the school from her office. (Photo by Steve Atkinson – courtesy of Church Hill Theatre)







The play runs about 90 minutes with no intermissions. Each performance will be followed by a talk-back session with the audience, director, and actors – an interesting look both at the audience’s reactions to the performance and at the very serious thought the cast put into realizing the play’s themes. About half the audience stayed for the discussion – which got into considerable detail about the script and the strategies the director and cast used to make it work on stage. Whitehill said on Wednesday that the audience members who stayed for the talkback were eager to share their perspective, with one night’s audience staying two hours after the final curtain to discuss the issues raised by the script and the performance. Be sure to stay for the talkback — it adds a real dimension to the play’s themes.

In case I haven’t made it clear, this production of Doubt is a must-see for anyone who enjoys serious, thought-provoking drama. Kudos to Whitehill and the outstanding cast, and to Church Hill Theatre for this high-caliber production.

Doubt will be playing through Sept. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 2 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $20 for adults, with a $5 discount for CHT members; student tickets are $10.

For reservations, visit the theater website or call 410-556-6003.