Remembering Connie by Margie Elsberg

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Editor’s Note. A special friend of Chestertown (and the Chestertown  Spy) passed away last week at the age of 90. Connie Godwin died peacefully early Tuesday morning in the town she loved. Margie Elsberg, her close friend, collaborator, and neighbor, was kind enough to share these thoughts with our readers and our community

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Connie Godwin

In the late 1970s, Connie and Stu Godwin were living in Anchorage, Alaska, looking forward to Stu’s retirement from the FBI. They decided that they wanted to move back east, even though they had enjoyed their decade in Anchorage, so they spent a few days driving through small town Pennsylvania, looking for a place they liked.

Frustrated that nothing seemed to fit, they turned south toward the DC suburbs to return their borrowed car, and that’s when Stu spotted a sign for Chestertown.

As a small child, he’d seen a performance on a show boat in Chestertown, the same show boat, Stu says, that inspired Edna Ferber’s book “Show Boat” and the hit Broadway musical.

“I decided I wanted to see the town again,” Stu said, breaking into a broad smile as he remembered the day. “So we swung into town and it had everything we were looking for: hospital, college, water, pleasant atmosphere.”

And that’s how Connie and Stu Godwin chose Chestertown, a town they loved and that loved them back. They built a house at the end of Birch Run Road by phone and mail while still living in Anchorage, then moved in 1980.

After 36 years of friendships and community involvement, Connie Godwin died peacefully on Tuesday morning at Shore Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a few blocks from her home. She was 90 years old.

A native Washingtonian and the daughter of a Hearst newspaper editor, Connie was a newspaperwoman and a news junky all her life. As a student newspaper reporter at the College of William and Mary, she helped break a story of that was picked up by the Associated Press about college quotas for minorities. Later, back in DC, she was a newsroom go-fer, a copy boy, at Phil Graham’s Washington Post—a job she was proud of for the rest of her life.

FBI assignments took Stu and Connie to Knoxville and Miami, years when Connie was busy with her young family, but when they moved to Anchorage, Connie returned to newspapering. She thrived as an editor at the Anchorage Times, a paper that she bragged was “the largest newspaper in the largest city in the largest state.” And when she and Stu moved to Chestertown—their three kids were mostly out of the nest by then—Connie moved to the Kent County News, working for Editor Hurtt Derringer.

It wasn’t long, however, before the phone rang, and she got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who’d been interviewed by Connie in Anchorage more times than either could count, had heard that she’d moved “to Washington” and he wanted to know if she’d take a one-day-a-week job as his press secretary.

The rest is history.

The one-day gig morphed pretty quickly into a full-time second career that lasted for 20 terrific years. Connie took an apartment on Capitol Hill and, because she never drove, Stu would shuttle her to work on Monday mornings and pick her up late on Friday nights. (“Alaska is four hours west,” Stu explains, “so the office started late in the morning and finished well into the evening.”)

When Connie retired in October of 2000 at the age of 74, she was the longest serving press secretary on the Hill, and also (her favorite statistic) the oldest.

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Connie with Sen. Ted Stevens (AK)

Here’s what Mitch Rose, now a senior vice president and top lobbyist for NBC Universal, wrote when he heard that Connie had died. He worked with Connie in Sen. Stevens’ office for nine years, including four as Chief of Staff.

“Connie was the steady rock in Ted Stevens’ press operation for years. They were peers in age, and much like him, she was more concerned with getting the work done right rather than getting the credit….She was the rare adult in a young people’s world of Capitol Hill and seemed to thrive off the energy. She led by example and there are literally hundreds of young Alaskans who owe her a debt for the honest, loyal and earnest role model she provided.”

On this side of the Bay, Connie has always found time for Chestertown and Kent County. She served on the boards of Kent Youth, the Chester River Hospital, the Chester River Hospital Foundation, Soroptimists, Questers and the Kent County Historical Society. She was, until the historic house was put up for sale, a docent at Geddes Piper House.

Connie and Stu had four children, Mark, “Peekie,” Chris and Gregory. Gregory was a little boy when he died many years ago, and Chris was a much-loved stalwart newspaper copy editor in Delaware who died in 2009. Connie is also survived by three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and there’s one more on the way.

Mark Godwin and Peekie O’Connor live in Des Moines. Peekie is a physical education teacher who won “Teacher of the Year” honors a few years ago, and Mark Godwin recently retired after 18 years as Deputy City Attorney of Des Moines.

Mark says Connie was “the single most vigilant mother and grandmother ever,” and Peekie agrees. She adores Connie’s favorite warning to her brood—“Ah! Ah! Sharp corner! Sharp corner!”

After her retirement, around 2003, Connie and I started teaching an occasional series of journalism classes for WC-ALL, popular because Connie filled our classes with world-class guest speaker journalists who were happy to repay Connie for decades of kept deadlines and honest information.

Working with Connie and being her friend has been one of the great joys of my life.

Chestertown, Camus and Otherness with Alice Kaplan

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If it were not for the fact that Chestertown’s very own James M. Cain had penned The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934, Albert Camus’s classic novel, L’Étranger (The Stranger), would never have been written. That is one of the conclusions that Alice Kaplan, professor and former chair of the Department of French at Yale University, shared with Washington College students earlier this week during her brief stay on the Mid-Shore.

And also one of many insights that Kaplan provides in her latest book, Looking for The Stranger, on Camus, and the power and influence the novel has had on generations of young people around the world since it was published in 1942.

The novel tells the story of Meursault, an indifferent and remote French Algerian, who returns home to attend his mother’s funeral, only to find himself a few days later killing an Arab man during an unanticipated fight with a friend. The main character is then placed on trial, where he is regarded as a dangerous stranger to society, not becuae of his crime, but due to his perceived lack of grief over his mother’s passing.

While there has been an ongoing academic debate about Camus’ philosophy of the absurd with The Stranger, what Kaplan zeros in on is the intentional lack of interest or compassion Camus provides for the dead Arab, by never giving him a name nor a personal history. It is this sense of “otherness” that holds such a contemporary interest for her, even seventy-four years since it was published, as American politics and policies must deal directly with issues related to outsiders.

The Spy sat down with Professor Kaplan at the Custom House in Chestertown this week to discuss Albert Camus, The Stranger, and the true meaning of being on the outside.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Alice Kaplan’s book can be found at local bookstores or on Amazon here

The New Eastern Shore Farmer with Future Harvest CASA’s Aleya Fraser

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Through the support of the Town Creek Foundation in Easton, The idea of creating a support structure for small-scale farmers on the Eastern Shore has now come into being. Last year, the Foundation provided a two-year grant to Future Harvests CASA (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) to hire a Delmarva representative with the primary task of developing training and outreach programs to encourage a new generation of sustainable farming taking place on the mid-shore

Last February, Aleya Fraser was selected for this important position. While Aleya had been training in college to ultimately become a physician, she saw another future for herself after working on a small farm in Baltimore and seeing first hand the positive social, economic, and environmental impact that these small enterprises can have on their communities.

The move to the Mid-Shore to work on the Delmarva not only allowed her to work with new and aspiring young farmers in the area, which now is close to one hundred in number, Aleya is also walking the walk and has found a small plot of land near Preston to be part of this movement.

Last week, the Spy drove over to Preston to chat with Aleya about her program and the need to develop small-scale farming on the Eastern Shore.

 

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Senior Nation: Heron Point Pioneers Look Back on Creating a New Community

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Typically, if someone lives in a community for over 25 years, they become respected elders for their neighbors. And that is certainly the case for the early pioneers who moved into Heron Point at Chestertown in 1991.

When these original residents signed their contracts for the new retirement community, Heron Point was still in many ways just a concept. While nowadays these retirement communities are quite the norm, three decades ago they were still viewed as somewhat of an experiment in living for a new generation of seniors looking for an alternative to what many of their parents had experienced.

Nonetheless, for many of the first arrivals, the experiment itself was the fun part. By becoming the first wave of several to follow, these pioneers were tasked to create an entirely new culture for the now three hundred residents of Heron Point.

Last week, the Spy caught up with four of the original pioneers, Betty Griffin, Frances Reynolds, Rev. Jules Scheidel, and Sally Reidinger to reminisce about their decision to come to Chestertown, and their important role in creating a new culture for Heron Point.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Heron Point, please go here

The Low Hanging Fruit of Being a Bike Friendly Community with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

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The way the current mayor of Salisbury, Jake Day, tells it, the small city’s move to qualify as a “Bike Friendly” community by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) was a total no-brainer.

While reviewing the city’s master plan for transportation, Jake, and other Salisbury leaders realized that with only minor changes to their street and sidewalk goals, they could qualify under LAB guidelines of being “Bike Friendly”at the “bronze” level by simply applying for it. They agreed to do that quickly, and last year, the city of Salisbury was the only town on the Eastern Shore to join a handful of towns and cities in Maryland to earn this special badge of distinction.

It is fair to ask, what, if anything, a town gains by going through this exercise. And Mayor Day has some interesting and hopefully encouraging words for other communities looking into this kind of strategy. In his Spy interview, Jake outlines the history and benefits of being bike friendly for pennies on the dollar.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the League of American Bicyclists program, please go here.

D.J. Spooky, Alex Castro, and the Great Future of Art in Chestertown

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Over the next three days, a fellow that goes by the name of D.J.Spooky will be walking the streets of Chestertown. While the name might not immediately be recognized at first, the enormous effort and teamwork needed to bring the artist and author to Washington College speak volumes about how important it was for the former Metropolitan Museum of Art artist-in-residence to be on the Eastern Shore this Fall.

The Spooky visit is also the kind of event that should give every resident of Chestertown a sense of profound gratitude that Washington College is amongst us. By pulling together resources from SANDBOX, the Starr Center, and WC’s Concert Series, the College continues to demonstrate, year after year, its ability to bring some of the best international examples of artists and writers at the very peak of their creative output.

D.J. Spooky’s visit also marks an important moment in Chestertown’s cultural history. It will be the last art program that SANDBOX founder, and first director, Alex Castro, will host before his well-earned retirement in December.

It’s safe to say that this is a very bittersweet moment for those who know of Alex’s remarkable contribution to the arts in Chestertown. After years of extraordinary professional achievement as an architect, magazine publisher, and gifted artist in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Castro and his wife, Kelly, chose Kent County as the place to begin a new phase of their life experience in 2009. And since that moment of arrival, Alex’s handiwork can be seen in virtually every part of the community’s art and cultural undertakings.

Alex has not only contributed to the community through creative leadership roles with groups like RiverArts and the Sultana Education Foundation; he single-handedly obtained a $600,000 grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation for Washington College to create SANDBOX as a way to integrate WC into the community through art.

In his second interview with the Spy, Alex talks about SANDBOX, the future of art in Chestertown, and the use of the word “soup” as a metaphor, which he first used six years ago in his first interview with us, to describe the carefully blended combination of art, artists, and arts organizations into creating a remarkable rich texture that now makes up one of the most exciting and emerging new centers for art in the mid-Atlantic region.

This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about D.J. Spooky, please go here. For information about SANDBOX, please go here.

Senior Nation: A Working Model for Senior Transportation with Pam O’Brien

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After hearing about the Partners in Care project based in Easton, one might wonder why the organization simply didn’t call themselves “Partners in Cars,” since the lion’s share of their work is coordinating rides between those Mid-Shore neighbours and those nearby who need rides to doctor visits, the local drug store, or some food shopping.

But as Pam O’Brien, who coordinates Partners in Care on the Eastern Shore notes, the organization’s mission is so much more than a friendly and free ride service. In her interview with the Spy, Pam talks about Partners in Care, which was started in 2009 in Talbot County, and the 1,000 plus connections made every year to pair up neighbours for rides and friendship.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Partners in Care, please go here or contact Pam at 410-822-1803

Health Care Delivery Work Group Update with Deborah Mizeur

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Somehow it seems fitting that the person appointed to co-chair Maryland’s Health Care Delivery Work Group on rural hospitals spent her early career working on health access issues in very remote parts of Alaska of all places.

Deborah Mizeur cut her teeth on health policy while working on the problem of tuberculosis in the 1980s before moving to Washington, D.C. where she became an expert on national health policy as a key staff member of the Committee on Ways and Means in Congress.  It was during that time that she held primary policy responsibilities on issues that ranged from health tax and coverage expansion to health quality, information technology, and Part B Medicare reimbursement.

It was only after working decades on federal and state health issues that Deborah started a second life as a clinical herbalist, nutritionist, Reiki master, and owner of the Apotheosis organic herb farm located outside of Chestertown, which she shares with her wife, former State Delegate Heather Mizeur.

And while the vast majority of her energy goes into running Apotheosis, she agreed last spring to co-chair, along with Joseph Ciotola, the health officer and EMS director for Queen Anne’s County, a study group on the future of rural hospitals in Maryland, particularly on the Eastern Shore.

In her interview with the Spy, Deborah talks about the remarkable opportunities to create a new model for rural health care and regional support for the Mid-Shore. She also talks about the current focus on the working group and the timetable to meet her goal of having a final report ready for review by September of 2017.

The next meeting of the Health Care Delivery Work Group will be in Cambridge on November 1 at the Hyatt Regency from 1PM to 5PM. Another session in planned for Chestertown on January 9.

This video is approximately thirteen minutes in length 

Spy Eye: Sandbox and the Making of a Mural on Morgnec

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With artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn guiding the process, Washington College’s SANDBOX and RiverArts acting as hosts, key support from the Cordish Company and Yerkes Construction, and, most importantly, the help and dozens of volunteers from Bayside HOYAS and Kent County Public Schools, a remarkable piece of public art was created last weekend to brighten up a neglected part of Morgnec Road.

And thanks to SANDBOX’S Sean Meade, all of this was captured with time-lapse photography for the benefit of Spy readers.

This video is approximately three minutes in length