Spy Review: Finding Family “On Golden Pond” by Peter Heck

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“On Golden Pond” Cast & Crew Kneeling – Pat Fee & Kathy Jones Standing – Steve Atkinson, Paul Briggs, Nita Wieczoreck,, Brian McGunigle,, Bonnie Hill, Jeff Daly, Doug Kaufmann, Heather Oland, John Crook, Meg Lenher      Photo by Jane Jewell

“On Golden Pond,” now playing at Church Hill Theatre, is the story of an old married couple enjoying a vacation at their Maine summer home. It’s a poignant family story with characters who love one another but need to negotiate rough spots and deal with ghosts from their past.

The play by Ernest Thompson is probably most familiar from the 1981 film version in which the lead parts were played by Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda, with Jane Fonda as their daughter. Jane Fonda acquired the film rights to the play, seeing it as an ideal vehicle for her and her father, for whom it was his last appearance on-screen. Henry Fonda and Hepburn both won Oscars for their performances – his first, her fourth.

Thompson’s theatrical version, which premiered in 1979, featured Tom Aldredge and Frances Sternhagen and ran for 382 performances; Craig Anderson directed. The Church Hill production is directed by Bonnie Hill.

The plot revolves around Norman and Ethel Thayer, who arrive at their country house in April, finding it in need of repairs. It becomes evident early that Norman is beginning to lose his short-term memory. Although he is retired from a position as an English professor, he makes a production of searching for jobs in the local paper – one gets the impression he is doing it to tease Ethel, who has evidently had to put up with such behavior more than once in the past. Later, Charlie, the mailman – whom they’ve known since he was a teenager – drops by and, over a cup of coffee, reminisces about the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, on whom he had a crush when they were both young. And as it happens, he brings a letter from Chelsea, who promises to visit later that summer, bringing her new boyfriend Bill and his young son Billy.

Chelsea introduces young Billy to her parents Ethel and Norman.      Photo by Steve Atkinson

The plot revolves around the relationships between the central couple and the various visitors who come to their lakeside home. Norman’s sometimes prickly exterior is balanced by Ethel’s ability to smooth things over and jolly him along. Chelsea, on the other hand, still nurses resentment over the way her father treated her when she was growing up. Chelsea’s new boyfriend Bill refuses to get drawn into the mind games Norman plays with everyone. On the other hand, young Billy, who stays with the Thayers while Chelsea and Bill vacation in Europe, soon finds himself adapting to the older couple’s ways and the country lifestyle.  Billy loves going fishing with Norman — and teaching the older man the latest teenage slang.

In the Church Hill production, Brian McGunigle and Nita Wieczoreck are cast as the central characters. McGunigle, who is making his CHT debut as Norman, has numerous credits with the Tred Avon Players, including “A Man of No Importance,” and with Shore Shakespeare, including “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He makes the lead character–whose biting wit and cynical worldview might make him unpleasant company in real life–sympathetic and in the end, quite likable.

Wieczoreck is familiar to CHT audiences from numerous appearances in everything from musicals and comedies to dramatic roles, including “Is He Dead?” and “Oliver,” as well as backstage work, especially in costuming. She is warm and outgoing in the role of Ethel, putting up with her husband’s cranky side while showing concern for his lapses of memory; a good choice for the role. A particularly fun scene is where she and her daughter join in singing the songs of the summer camp on Golden Pond that they both attended as young girls.

Ethel and Norman listen to the loons and watch the sunset on Golden Pond      Photo by Jane Jewell

Paul Briggs, who is establishing himself as a versatile character actor both at CHT and the Garfield, takes the role of Charlie the mailman, a local institution. He does a fine Down East accent, and effectively shows a character who is neither bright nor a deep thinker without stereotyping him as a local yokel.

Heather Oland, another CHT regular, has also appeared with Shore Shakespeare, most recently as Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She gives a strong performance as Chelsea, conveying both the warmth she feels for her mother and the tensions with her father. She calls her father “Norman” not “dad” while always calling her mother “Mommy.” While the role is less central than the two parents, it brings together several of the play’s key themes, and Oland’s performance makes the emotional connections clear.

Jeff Daly, takes the role of Bill Ray, Chelsea’s new boyfriend – a California dentist with a son from a previous marriage. The character is a bit reserved, not really hitting it off with Norman. The tension between the two is a prime example of the competitive stance Norman seems to bring to every relationship, whether in Monopoly games with Ethel, fishing with young Billy, or his entire relationship with Chelsea.

Norman and Billy prepare for a day of fishing on the lake while Ethel looks on.   Photo by Steve Atkinson

The role of Billy Ray Jr. is played by John Crook, a veteran of CHT’s Green Room Gang summer theater camp. His experience shows itself in a solid performance. He captures the young boy’s varying moods, from his initial boredom at the idea of spending the summer with two elderly people to his eventual enthusiastic joining Norman in competition over who can catch the biggest fish.

The setting for the play – a single room in the Thayer’s summer home – is quite appealing. The audience can see through the windows as characters enter and leave by the front door, and the lighting of the sky outside the windows evokes the mood of scenes with great effect. And close observers may notice a photo of Hepburn to one side of the living room. Kudos to Earl Lewin for the design, Carmen Grasso and Tom Rhodes for the construction, and Doug Kaufmann for the lighting design. The soundtrack by Patrick Fee – with a recurring motif of loon calls – adds to the overall mood, as well.

Mock-up of the set made by Earl Lewin         Photo by Jane Jewell

“On Golden Pond” will naturally appeal to older audiences, many of whom will see echoes of their own lives in the main characters’ relationships.  But younger people will also relate to this story of growing up and growing old.  “On Golden Pond” resonates with anyone who has fond memories of a summer spent at the lake or beach or had a special time with grandparents. A warm, nostalgic play with a fine director and cast to bring out the emotional nuances of the script,  this is a production any theater-lover will want to see.

The play will continue for two more weekends, through April 22. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults, with a $5 discount for CHT members; admission for students is $10. For reservations, call 410-556-5003 or visit the theater website, www.churchilltheatre.org.

Norman and Charlie the postman and Ethel      Photo by Jane Jewell

Young Billy teaches Norman the latest teen-age slang and explains “suck face.” Photo by Steve Atkinson

Norman calls the operator.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Town, County Strike Deal to Fund Chestertown Movie Theater Opening

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Kent County Commissioners Meeting, 2 April 2018: From left, Bryan Matthews and Mayor Chris Cerino ask Kent County Commissioners Ron Fithian, William Pickrum and Bill Short to lend $75,000 to the principals of Chesapeake Theaters, who plan to reopen the Chester 5 movies in Chestertown. County attorney Tom Yeager is in the background.

The Kent County Commissioners and the town of Chestertown have struck a deal that should result in the reopening of the town’s movie theater, hopefully by May 31st of this year.

At the county commissioners’ meeting, Tuesday, April 3, Mayor Chris Cerino and Bryan Matthews, representing the economic development committee of Main Street Chestertown, asked the commissioners to advance $75,000 to the Chesapeake Movies group, which is planning to refurbish the vacant theater for an opening Memorial Day weekend. The funds would come from the county’s revolving loan fund, which was created to facilitate economic development in the county. As an incentive to businesses and entrepreneurs, these county business loans have interest-rate below current market rate with terms of five to seven years. The town plans to repay the loan from proceeds of the entertainment tax, which the theater would pay after opening.

The Chester 5 theater closed in June 2017, leaving local residents with little option beyond driving to Middletown or Dover Del., Annapolis, or Easton for first-run movies. The long-time theater manager under the old management, Charlene Fowler, said that the newer theaters in Middletown and Dover had been drawing movie-goers away from Chestertown for several years, with tax-free shopping and dining opportunities as additional reasons for locals to make the thirty- to forty- minute drive. The condition of the local theater, which had not been renovated for many years, was also a factor.

Representatives of Chesapeake Movies were seen working in the theater, removing old seats, in September, and at the time they said they planned to open for the Christmas season, traditionally a busy time for theaters, with many Oscar contenders being released at that time. However, an anticipated deal with Silicato Development, the owners of the shopping center, fell through, and for a while it appeared the theater would not reopen.

But negotiations warmed up again in February, and the principals of the theater company appeared at the March 19 Chestertown Council meeting to request the town’s help in closing the deal. Mike Klein, Ira Miller, and Bob Weinholdt told the council they were near to a deal with Silicato. They said they were prepared to invest $500,000 in the renovation, and Silicato had offered to provide another $270,000, much of which would go toward the purchase of state-of-the-art projection and sound equipment for the theaters. To close the deal, they asked the town to advance them $75,000 on anticipated entertainment tax revenue to close the deal. The town would make the advance back from proceeds of the entertainment tax, which they said could be as much as $20,000 in a good year. The theater would be completely renovated, with upgraded seats, an expanded concession area, new restrooms, and a program of first-run films along with some indie films. “It’ll be unlike anything Chestertown has ever seen,” said Weinholdt.

Chestertown council members were enthusiastic about the prospect of the theater reopening, but as Cerino noted, the requested advance would amount to nearly 10 percent of the town’s cash on hand. Guarantees would need to be in place in the event of the theater going out of business before the advance was repaid. After discussion at the Mar. 19 meeting, the council authorized Town Manager Bill Ingersoll to carry on negotiations with the theater group to find a way to help them bridge the monetary gap and reopen the theater.

Then at the April 2 Chestertown Council meeting this past Monday, Ingersoll said the town had settled on a plan to sponsor a request for the Kent County Commissioners to make up the advance from Kent County’s revolving loan plan. He said that Cerino and Matthews were on the agenda of the next County Commissioners’ meeting scheduled for the next day. Ingersoll credited Kay MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, economic development coordinators for the town and county respectively, for helping to facilitate the plan.

Then at the Kent County Commissioners’ meeting last night,  Tuesday, April 3, Mayor Cerino succinctly outlined the proposal for the theater reopening and for funding it from the county loan program, with the town forwarding the entertainment tax proceeds on a quarterly basis to repay the loan.

Matthews gave an overview of the economic benefits of keeping theater-goers in Kent County instead of Delaware, spending their money in stores and restaurants in addition to the movies. He noted that the theater would employ 12 to 15 people, which he calculated as an annual influx of some $300,000 into the county’s economy.

Commissioners Bill Short and Ron Fithian were enthusiastic about the possibility of the theater’s reopening. Commission President William Pickrum, on the other hand, hit a note of caution about the use of taxpayer money to finance a private business. He said the plan to repay the county from entertainment tax revenues was dependent on the theater staying in business long enough to realize that level of income.

Cerino said the town would be willing to commit to a memorandum of understanding or some equivalent mechanism to guarantee the loan. He said he realized the $75,000 being asked for exceeded the $50,000 cap for the revolving loan fund, but he noted that the theater was a business that would benefit both the town and the county as a whole, describing it as “a win-win.”

The commissioners voted unanimously to grant the loan. While the final details need to be settled, the theater appears to be on track for its Memorial Day opening. Get your tickets now!

Marching to End Gun Violence

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The march started at noon on High St at the corner of Mill St. in front of the old elementary school now the Kent County offices building.      Photo by Peter Heck.

Chestertown’s March for Our Lives was held on Saturday, March 24 to coincide with the big national march in Washington, DC. The local event was one of more than 800 nationwide and around the world in response to gun violence in schools, especially the murder of 17 students in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

Around 500 marchers assembled at noon in front of the Kent County government office on High Street, then proceeded down High Street and Cross Street to Wilmer Park, where they heard speakers and musical selections. Marchers, carrying signs and banners, remained on sidewalks so as not to interfere with traffic. The line of marchers was at least two blocks long as it made its way through town. Along the route, many of them chanted, “Enough is enough,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, school shooting’s got to go,” referring to the epidemic of shootings that have plagued the country in recent years.

Gathered in front of the old school building now the county offices.     Photo by Peter Heck

At the park, Paul Tue, one of the organizers of the march, greeted the crowd and invited them to move closer to Hynson Pavilion, where a PA system was set up. Tue, who works with local youth as one of the founders of the Bayside HOYAS, said he was “blown away” by the turnout. He told attendees that if anyone was overcome with the emotions of the event, there were several therapists on hand for them to talk to.  He asked the therapists to raise their hands so people would know who and where they were in the audience.

Tue said there had been 209 school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999, and gave a list of several of the more notorious, concluding with the Parkland shooting and the murder of a schoolgirl by a classmate just a few days ago in St. Mary’s County here in Maryland. “I believe I live in the greatest country in the world,” Tue said, “but today is a day to put our point across.” He asked how many shootings would have to take place on Capitol Hill itself before lawmakers were willing to change the laws governing weapons. He said there was a booth set up to register voters at the rally and urged attendees to call their representatives in Congress and the Maryland General Assembly.

Barbie Glenn, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event, then took the microphone to introduce the speakers.

First up was Dr. Kathryn Seifert, CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services. “We know the way to prevent violence,” she said, It will require identifying young people at risk and providing services to help them. A lot of scientific research has been done, and the causes — though complex – are clear. It’s not just mental illness, but “a perfect storm of multiple problems.” Most school shooters are white males, who find their guns at home – not at gun shows. The majority of shooters were identified as unstable before they picked up a gun, she said. She recommended a mental health program in every school, to allow evaluation and early treatment of the problems that lead to gun violence. The U.S. has the second highest rate of child abuse worldwide, and is in the top five nations for its rate of sexual abuse of children, she said. Both have been shown to cause personality disorders including violent tendencies in later life. The victims need treatment “before something happens,” she said. “Let’s get started.”

Alana Fithian Wilson, an 8th grade sstudent at Kent County Middle School, speaks during the Wilmer Park rally that concluded the March for Our Lives Photo by Jeff Weber

A trio consisting of Clark Bjorke on guitar, Phil Dutton on keyboard, and Mary Simmons sang a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” with new lyrics targeting the problem of gun violence. The group later returned for two other numbers, including Pete Seeger’s “If I Had a Hammer” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” Many crowd members sang along with the familiar protest songs from the 1960s.

Taking the microphone next was a group of Kent County Middle School students, Alana Fithian Wilson, Riley Glenn, Tilera Wright, and Ty-Juan Billingslea. They are members of Students Talking About Racism, a group formed after a racial incident at the school. Each gave a personal reaction to the issue of gun violence, with an equal helping of emotion and evidence. Wilson said that violence is one of America’s biggest problems, with racism as a leading cause. “We need people like you to get involved,” she told the crowd. “It’s time to take a stand, and it needs to be unified.”

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

Glenn said that gun violence has a devastating impact on American youth, backing the assertation with statistics. Particularly telling was the observation that more students have been killed in U.S. schools since Columbine in 1999 than American soldiers killed in combat since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Billingslea said guns are the third leading cause of childhood deaths, with 40 percent the result of suicides. Black children are three times as likely to die from a shooting as their white peers. Exposure to gun violence leads to greater likelihood of drug or alcohol use and criminal activity later in life, he said.

Wright said students at KCMS are being asked to perform “active shooter” drills. She said she would like to see more school resource officers and metal detectors at school. Parents need to take their children’s concerns seriously, she said. “Politicians need to pass stricter gun laws,” she concluded.

Ti-Juan Billingslea was one of four Kent County Middle School students who addressed the crowd at Wilmer Park.  Standing beside him is Paul Tue, of Bayside Hoyas, one of the rally organizers.    Photo by Jeff Weber

Tue praised the students’ passionate advocacy. “Activism has no age limit,” he said.

The concluding speaker was Grenville Whitman of Rock Hall, representing Kent County Citizens to Prevent Gun Violence. Gun violence kills Americans every day, Whitman said. “We’re here to petition our government for redress,” he said, noting that the right to do so is guaranteed by the Consitution. “It’s also our right not to be shot and killed,” he added and went on to say that the same right extends to our families, our children and our neighbors. “It’s everyone’s right.” He noted that some think that gun ownership is equally important, and the issue is being fought out in Congress and 50 state legislatures, with the Maryland General Assembly passing some sensible firearms regulations in the current session, making the state one of the safest in the nation. Whitman noted that the local assembly delegation voted for a ban on “bump stocks,” which transform semi-automatic firearms into fully-automatic weapons.  He said the delegates should be congratulated for their votes, noting that they will undoubtedly be criticized for it by pro-gun constituents.

 

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

Whitman noted that 2018 is an election year and urged participants in the march to register and vote. The crowd responded by chanting, “Vote, vote!” Many local offices are up for election, Whitman said, noting the presence of several elected officials and candidates in the crowd, including County Commissioner Ron Fithian and commission candidate Tom Timberman, as well as Andy Meehan, a candidate for State’s Attorney. Whitman said voters should ask all candidates about gun safety, and cast their votes accordingly. “(Rep.) Andy Harris…” he began — to be interrupted by a loud chorus of “Boos”– “Andy Harris is the only Maryland congressman to accept NRA donations. “Vote him out! Vote him out,” the crowd responded.

A last-moment addition to the list of speakers was Casey McQueen of Dover, Delaware, who said he had come to the march because students in his school had been shot. “Blow guns away,” he said, to applause.

Photo by Jeff Weber

Bishop Charles Tilghman, head of the Kent County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, closed the rally with a prayer. He urged the audience to continue rallying and marching to attain the goals of a country free of gun violence.

There was a multitude of signs in the crowd – both printed and hand-made – with clever and often very pointed slogans.  Some were slogans that are being used nationally while others represented the heartfelt responses of the individual marcher.  Slogans included “Protect Our Kids, Not Guns”, “Bullets Are Not School Supplies”, “Make America Safe Again”, “We Deserve to Live”, “Students Demand Action”, “Moms Demand Action”, “Civilians Don’t Need Assault Weapons”, “Love Not Guns”, and “Fear Has No Place in Schools”.

The Chestertown march was reportedly the only one on the Eastern Shore, though there were a couple in Delaware. The Chestertown event drew over 500 people, which is approximately 10% of Chestertown’s entire population.  However, not all participants were from Chestertown or Kent County.  Several marchers, including some from the Unitarian Universalist church, came from Easton to take part.  Marchers were there from several other Maryland counties and from Delaware. The event in D.C. was estimated as high as 800,000 strong, making it the largest single-day march in the city’s history. Across the country, in addition to the originating Washington, D.C. rally, there were supporting events in most major US cities including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis. Every state had at least one “March for Our Lives” event. Around the world, there were many more with most but not all in Europe.   Events in these cities were attended by both local citizens and Americans living or visiting in the various foreign countries.  In Canada, over a dozen cities, including Toronto and Montreal, held rallies. There were also rallies in London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris plus other European cities. In Japan, a large march was held in Tokyo, while in Australia, events were held in Sydney and Brisbane. There were two in Africa, one each in Ghana and Mozambique as well as some in various Asian and South American locales. The Washington, D.C., event was largely organized by the teen-aged survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Fl., February 14, 2018.

On average, more than 90 people are killed by guns every day in the US.

Photo Gallery by Peter Heck, Jane Jewell, and Jeff Weber

Relaxing after the march outside of Sam’s coffee shop are Leah Schell, Brook Schumann, Ilex Hoy (on lap) and Japhy Hoy (holding sign).      Photo by Jane Jewell

“Make America Safe Again” made and carried by Penny Block.      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Jeff Weber

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Chestertown resident Charles Taylor      Photo by Jeff Weber

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Chestertown Movie Theater — Back in the Picture?

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The Horizon Cinema team at the Chestertown Council meeting. Monday, March 19. Shown are Mike Klein (standing), Ira Miller and Bob Weinholdt.

The on-again, off-again saga of Chestertown’s movie theater took a new twist at Monday’s town council meeting. The principals of Horizon Cinema, which originally planned to reopen the theater last November under the name Chesapeake Theaters, came before the council to propose a deal that could get the theater open by Memorial Day weekend.

Kay MacIntosh, the Chestertown economic development coordinator, introduced Mike Klein, Ira Miller, and Bob Weinholdt of Horizon Cinema, which operates four multi-screen theaters in and around Baltimore. She said Silicato Development, which owns the Washington Square mall where the Chester 5 Theater is located, had been willing to work with a theater operator to reopen the business since it closed nearly two years ago. However, initial talks between Horizon and Silicato broke down sometime before a projected November/December 2017 opening. The deal is now back on track, she said, but the parties are about $75,000 apart in their negotiations. Horizon is asking the town to advance that amount to Horizon to help close the deal and allow the theater to reopen. The town would be repaid by the revenue from the 4 percent amusement tax on theater receipts, a source of income it has not received since the closing of Chester 5. She said the reopening of the theater would benefit the local economy, with movie patrons coming from out of town and spending money in local stores and restaurants as well as going to the shows.

Klein took the floor and said he was happy to answer any questions from the council. “I wish we’d opened in November,” he said. “This project can be really successful, and we want to make it a real community theater. There’s been a lot of community interest.” Klein said he’s been speaking to various local groups, including MacIntosh and Jamie Williams, the Kent County economic development coordinator, and to Washington College about Horizon’s plans.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether the theater would show first-run movies, and how many screens it would offer. Klein said the group was aiming for first-run films and plans to operate all five of the screens currently in the building. The building will be completely renovated, including the restrooms and the concession stands. Plans are to build platform seating to give viewers in the back part of the auditorium a better view. New drapes and sound systems, as well as larger screens, are to be installed, and the food offerings will be expanded to include pizza and other finger foods such as fries.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked who would decide what films to program. Ira Miller said he would be in charge of the booking. “We’ll have all kinds — family films, sci-fi, art films. We want to bring everybody to the theater,” Miller said. He said the theater would do fundraising projects for local nonprofits, “to give back to the community.” He said they were also considering offering special prices for Washington College students. “You’ll have people coming from Millington to Chestertown for the movies,” he added. Responding to a question by Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, he said the theater would have between 12 and 15 employees.

Mayor Chris Cerino asked Ingersoll to give the background on the amusement tax, from which the Horizon group said the proposed $75,000 advance would be repaid.

Ingersoll said the tax dated to about 1991, and was designed for special events. It originally included arcade video games, but with the decline of that fad, it was recently almost entirely dependent on movie revenues. Since the closing of the movie theater, “It’s currently close to zero,” he said. He said the tax would possibly return up to $20,000 annually if the theater did well. Horizon’s request for the $75,000 advance was unusual, he said, but he didn’t see why the theater wouldn’t generate that amount over a reasonable time period. He said Horizon is ready to invest some $500,000 in renovating the theater. He said the deal should be structured so the advance would be paid back if the theater closes before the entire sum is raised. “We need to support the theater to make sure it’s a success,” he said.

Weinholdt, who supervises construction and renovation for Horizon, said the town was not to blame for the closing of the theater. He said the previous operators had not renovated or upgraded the facilities since the theater opened. “You can’t expect people to sit in a theater like that,” he said. He said the new projection and sound systems would cost some $270,000, which Silicato has agreed to finance. He said the theater would initially have “rocker back” seats, but plans were to replace them with recliner seats, which would take about 16 weeks to arrive once they were put on order. The theater as a whole will be unlike anything Chestertown has ever seen, he said. “We want to open for the summer — that’s our biggest season,” he added.

Cerino said it would be better for the town if Horizon made up the $75,000 difference with Silicato and the town refunded the amusement tax to them. “You’re asking for about 10 percent of our cash on hand,” he said.

Weinholdt said the principals had just spent $750,000 to open a new theater in Fallston. “We don’t have a lot of cash flow,” he said. Theaters have a small profit margin, especially in small markets like Chestertown, he added. Asked if Silicato could advance the amount, he said the developer has already promised $270,000 for the projection and sound systems. “We need the money up front to do the job,” he said, adding, “We’re willing to work with you.”

Cerino said the town has given tax incentives to other businesses, particularly in the new Enterprise Zone. “I can see us doing that” for the theater, he said. While he was “interested in helping,” he said he wanted to “eliminate the risk for the town.” He said he was also worried about setting a precedent other prospective businesses might use to ask the town for a payment to help them locate here.

Rebecca Murphy, standing at right, tells the council about the benefits of reopening the movie theater.

Rebecca Murphy, a real estate development specialist who has worked with Miller’s theaters in Baltimore, and who is a part-time Chestertown resident, said the amusement tax would provide a “finite and guaranteed” source of income to repay the advance. “If you all agree this is something the town wants, the question is, do you want to put a deal together to allow [Horizon) to get from today to an opening?” She said the old theater was paying $12,000 annually in a bad year. “If that’s the floor, you’re out in seven years. It’s money you won’t get any other way.”

Councilman David Foster questioned whether the tax revenue is “guaranteed.” “I can assure you we’re interested,” he said, but “we need to know what happens if you don’t succeed.”

MacIntosh said the town needs the theater to remain attractive to residents and potential residents. She said the town would miss an opportunity if it doesn’t make the deal work. The property could end up as another big box store if it can’t reopen as a theater.

Tolliver moved to authorize Ingersoll to negotiate with Horizon on behalf of the council; the motion passed without opposition. “I think we can get a win-win,” said Ingersoll.

Cerino told the Horizon group, “We appreciate your coming in. I’ve got your back, but I’ve got to do due diligence for the town.”

Miller said, “When we open, it’ll be a great day for Chestertown.”

The Chester 5 Theaters at Washington Square shopping center in Chestertown

 

Council Looks at Cutting Trash Pickups

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David Sobers of the Chestertown Environmental Committee speaks to the Mayor and Council about a proposal to reduce trash pickups in town to once a week

Waste disposal and the town’s website were the top subjects at a two-hour long Chestertown council meeting, March 5 in Town Hall.

David Sobers and Ford Schumann, representing the Chestertown Environmental Committee, presented a proposal that the town adopt once-a-week trash pickup. Schumann read a letter from former mayor Margo Bailey pointing out that anticipated savings from scaling back the trash service could be used to promote recycling.  Seventy percent of households in Chestertown currently participate in the town’s recycling program which has once-a-week curbside pickup every Friday. And with fewer trash pickups, residents would have an incentive to recycle an even greater proportion of the waste. “There’s no such place as away,” Bailey concluded. “When you throw something away, it has to end up somewhere.”

Sobers then gave a more detailed presentation, giving statistics in support of the proposal. The town generates 1,687 tons of waste annually, compared to 265 tons of recycled materials and 200 tons of yard waste, which is composted. It pays $166 a ton for waste disposal, of which $102 is the fee for collection. The cost per household is $101 annually. For recycling, the annual cost per household is $46.

Moving to once-a-week pickup would result in a savings of $40,000 to $80,000 annually, not counting yard waste, Sobers said. Meanwhile, increasing the participation in recycling from 70% to 90% would cost between $20,000 and $40,000. At the same time, the environmental committee recommended upgrading the recycling containers in use, providing larger, wheeled containers to households at a one-time cost of about $45 per container. Street containers should also be improved, the committee said, increasing usage by making the difference between trash cans and recycling containers more obvious.

Increasing participation would involve sending notices to households. publishing articles in the local press, and involving the public schools and Washington College in spreading the word. Another possibility would be giving awards or certifications to businesses that reached certain milestones for recycling. Residents wishing to join the recycling should contact town hall.

Councilman Marty Stetson expressed support of moving to once-a-week trash pickup. He said he had made the suggestion when he was first elected, but Bailey, who was mayor at the time, was opposed. “I’m glad Mayor Bailey finally saw the light,” Stetson said with a smile.

Mayor Chris Cerino said the current waste disposal contractor may be “getting out of the business,” due to the recent death of one of the owners. Thus it might be the right time to consider moving to once-a-week pickups. He said it would be something for the council to look at more closely during budget deliberations later this Spring.

Francoise Sullivan of Moo Productions gives the Chestertown council a virtual tour of the town’s website (on screen at top) at the March 5 council meeting

The town’s webmaster, Francoise Sullivan of Moo Productions, was on hand to discuss the town’s website. She gave a brief overview of the website, showing some of the submenus and links, partly for the benefit of the two new council members.

Stetson said the website should be designed to attract visitors to town. He said the current design is primarily aimed at residents, with information on subjects primarily of local interest. He suggested making the front page a rotating series of pictures of the town, featuring the approach across the Chester River bridge. “That’s what’s unique about the town,” he said. He also said a voice-over by Cerino would be a good way to give the town an appeal to visitors.

Cerino endorsed the idea of making the site more appealing to visitors. He said the Sultana Education Foundation website, which Sullivan also maintains, could be a model, and volunteered to supply some photos for the front page.

Sullivan said the suggestions were all workable. She said she would get together with Cerino and start making the suggested changes.

Also at the meeting, Prof. Elena Deanda of the Washington College Department of Spanish and Larry Samuels of the Diversity Dialogue Group gave a brief presentation on a community street fair scheduled for April 14. The group has requested a street closure for College Avenue between Campus Avenue and Calvert Street. The event will feature activities for kids, music by local and college bands, information booths by local organizations, and food trucks.

The council approved the appointment of Owen Bailey to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. After the vote, Councilman David Foster said the town should routinely publicize openings on commissions to allow more residents to apply for the positions. He said he would have been interested in being appointed to the Planning Commission over the last few years if he had known of the vacancies. He suggested letting residents who are interested in such positions put their names on a list to be notified when openings occur.

Cerino also gave a report on a bond bill to raise $500,000 for renovations on the Chestertown Marina. He said Kees de Mooy, the town zoning administrator, will testify before the state Senate in support of the bill. Cerino also gave an update on work at the marina, noting that if the bond bill is ratified, it will allow the town to make significant progress toward completing the project.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, during her ward report, requested a review of the town’s policy regarding participation of non-profit organizations in the farmers market. She said churches should be allowed to set up booths at the market on the same basis as other nonprofits.

Cerino said the suggestion was “a slippery slope” because of the principle of separation of church and state. He said a church conducting a bake sale to raise money for a project was probably OK, but distribution of religious materials was problematic. He said the question should be put on the regular agenda if the council wanted to discuss it.

Stetson said he opposed allowing churches to distribute religious materials in the park. He said if you allowed one to do so, you would need to allow all of them, and there is limited space in the park. “What if the Ku Klux Klan wanted to set up a booth?” he asked.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the policy for issuing farmers market permits was worked out several years ago. He said the non-profit section of the park is pretty heavily used, judging by the wear on the grass in that area.

At the Utilities Commission meeting, Utilities Manager Bob Sipes updated the council on a project to generate a map of the town’s water supply system. He said the project would probably cost between $50,000 and $120,000 if it was done properly. Grants might be available to pay for most, if not all of it. He said the project had been moved to the back burner last year when other priorities came up. He said he would reprioritize the mapping project.

The meeting which began promptly at 7:30 p.m. adjourned at 9: 30.

Rotary Award to “Save Our Hospital”

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Dr. Jerry O’Connor receives the first annual Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award from Rotary president Andy Meehan     Photo by Jane Jewell

The Chestertown Rotary Club, at its luncheon meeting Feb. 27, at the Fish Whistle, gave the first annual Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award to “Save Our Hospital,” a group of citizens and medical professionals who have been working to ensure that Chestertown continues to have a full-service hospital with beds for in-patient care.

The afternoon started with an excellent buffet luncheon provided by the Fish Whistle with pulled pork, roast beef, chicken breasts, and Jeff Carroll’s famous mac-n-cheese. along with salads and a choice of pastries for dessert.  The meeting proper began with the pledge of allegiance and a recitation of Rotary’s Four-Way Test, guidelines that members use before taking action:  1) Is it the Truth? 2) Is it Fair to all concerned? 3) Will it build Good Will and Better Friendships? 4) Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?

Following the lunch, Rotary president Andy Meehan got the ball rolling with general introductions while Brian Moore, the general manager of WCTR radio, gave the history of Dr. Paul Titsworth. Meehan then presented the award. Present on behalf of the “Save Our Hospital” group were Drs. Gerald O’Connor and Wayne Benjamin, who were among the first to alert the community that the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which acquired the Chestertown hospital in 2007, was planning to close the facility and move its services to Easton. O’Connor said it was an honor to receive the award. He mentioned Marge Elsberg, Kay Macintosh, Zane and Nancy Carter, Glen Wilson and Dr. Benjamin as other key figures in the fight to save the hospital. He gave a brief summary of how local physicians became aware of UMMS’s plans and began to work to oppose a hospital closing. A community meeting at the Chestertown firehouse in January 2016 drew an overflow crowd, estimated at more than 500. Despite the favorable response by the Maryland General Assembly, “Our job is not over,” O’Connor said. He also thanked state senator Steve Hershey and delegate Jay Jacobs for their support in the Maryland General Assembly.

Benjamin agreed that the fight must continue, noting that UMMS appears to have adopted a strategy of “bleeding to death” the local hospital by instituting small cuts most residents won’t notice until it’s too late. He urged attendees to read the affiliation agreement between the local hospital and UMMS and see the promises made at the time of the acquisition. “We need to follow through” to ensure that the promises are kept, he said.

Dr. Karen Couch, superintendent of Kent County Schools.       Photo by Jane Jewell

Karen Couch, Kent County superintendent of education, introduced Mizeur, the keynote speaker. Mizeur is a clinical herbalist, trained as a nutritionist, who operates her own herb farm in Kent County.  She had a long list of experience in healthcare policy before becoming co-chair of the Rural Healthcare Workgroup. Couch said Mizeur is continuing to work to assure that the workgroup’s recommendations are incorporated into legislation. Mizeur served as co-chair of the Rural Healthcare Workgroup established by the Maryland General Assembly in response to residents’ concerns over reports that the Chestertown hospital may close or have its services drastically reduced. The workgroup delivered its report last fall and is waiting for the General Assembly to act on its recommendations.

Mizeur’s talk gave an update on the workgroup’s report, how it is being received in the General Assembly, and future prospects for the continued presence of the hospital in Chestertown. She praised the doctors who raised the alarm about the possibility that the hospital would close. “Doctors want to take care of people, not deal with politics or business,” she said. The low population density of rural areas like the Eastern Shore creates a challenge for getting medical personnel to move to rural areas. It can be an issue of “selling the town,” selling Chestertown to prospective employees.  She said the workgroup focused on the principle that their job was to look for the best way to deliver care to rural areas — not the costs or the business aspects of the problem. Their report tried to identify ways to attract physicians to the Shore. It can be an issue of “selling the town,” selling Chestertown to interested medical personnel. A major issue is how to mitigate the problems of distance, which affect not only getting patients to immediate care but the ability of their families to visit and support them. If the nearest medical facility is an hour away when someone has a stroke or heart attack, it may not matter how good the care is at that facility if the person can’t get there in time. Transportation is a key to any solution, Mizeur said. A study conducted in parallel with the workgroups by the University of Maryland School of Public Health arrived at essentially the same conclusions, especially the need to keep inpatient care in Kent County and similar areas of the state. Currently, UMMS is legally required to keep the hospital open with in-patient beds until 2022.  But, Mizeure pointed out, that doesn’t mean that the hospital facilities and services can’t be left to “wither on the vine” during that time.  She stressed that we must unite and keep UMMS accountable or we will wake up in three years and discover that we have no hospital.  However, the final answer is in the hands of the General Assembly, she said.

Heather Mizeur, co-chair of Maryland’s Work Group on Rural Health Care Delivery, at Rotary luncheon. Leslie Sea and Brian Moore of WCTR radio in the background.    Photo by Jane Jewell

The biggest challenge to finding a solution is the private ownership of the Shore Regional Health facilities, of which the Chestertown hospital is part. Neither the community nor the state has sufficient leverage to control UMMS decisions, which are still driven by a desire to pull services out of Chestertown and move them to Easton, Mizeur said. She said workgroup members and the “Save Our Hospital” group is continuing to advocate for the Maryland Department of Health to monitor services at the local hospital and ensure they are not being eroded. “We’re doing our best to hold UMMS accountable,” she said. “We think we have a strong case,” Mizeur said.  State senators Steve Hershey and Mike Middleton remain committed to helping save the hospital, but the process continues. “It’s a moving target,” she said.

The Rotarian’s service award is named for Dr. Paul Titsworth, who was president of Washington College from 1923 to 1933 and the founding president of the Chestertown Rotary Club in 1926, The “Save Our Hospital” group is the first recipient of what is to be an annual award.  Sound equipment was provided by Leslie Sea and Brian Moore of WCTR radio, Chestertown.  Rotary International is a widely-respected service organization whose purpose is “to bring together business and professional leaders to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.”  There are over 35,000 local clubs worldwide.  Anyone interested in joining or finding out more about the organization can contact current Rotary president Andy Meehan at AMeehan12@gmail.com. Visit the International Rotary website here or the Chestertown Rotary FaceBook page here.

Paul Heckels, past president of Chestertown Rotary, and David White hold a picture of Dr. Paul Titsworth, past president of Washington College and founder and first president of the Chestertown Rotary Club.    Photo by Jane Jewell

Dr. Jerry O’Connor, Deborah Mizeur, Andy Meehan    Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

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Attendees at Rotary luncheon at Fish Whistle.      Photo by Jane Jewell

Rotary insignia over the years – Chestertown chapter      Photo by Jane Jewell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rotary’s Four-Way Test  Photo by Jane Jewell

Rotary president Andy Meehan, Kent County Library director Jackie Adams, Rev. Frank St. Amour of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.     Photo by Jane Jewell

An Evening with the Arts

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Director of Kent County Arts Council, John Schratwieser, with student artist at the Saturday evening gala.

The Kent County Arts community turned out in force for a gala auction to support the installation of a mural at Kent County High School. Held Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Sultana Center in Chestertown, the affair raised $7500 for the project – as well as giving attendees a good look at the amazing width and depth of artistic talent on tap in Kent County schools.

Sponsored by the John Ben Snow Memorial Trust, Arts in Motion, the Kent County Arts Council, and the Carla Massoni Gallery, the affair drew roughly 100 attendees. Art by students and community members – including Tom McHugh, coordinator of Arts in Motion – was available for bidders in the silent auction. Another half-dozen items were reserved for a live auction later in the evening. In addition to the visual arts, live music was provided by Kent County Middle School and Kent County High School students, by Karen and Leon Frison, and by Sombarkin. And for the taste buds, a sumptuous buffet including fresh oysters, a variety of veggies and sweets was available, along with an open bar.

Model of the ship Sultana surrounded by delicious nibbles

John Schratwieser, director of the Kent County Arts Council, acted as master of ceremonies. He thanked the sponsors, and recognized Tom McHugh, who took on the role of Arts Coordinator for Kent County in 2016. “Every county in Maryland has one, but ours is the best,” Schratwieser said. The position includes fundraising for supplies, student trips, and supporting the arts faculty of the public school system.

Stephanie Spencer of the Kent County High School arts faculty described the community mosaic mural the gala was raising funds for. The school has received some funding from the state of Maryland, And mural artist Sue Stockman of St. Michaels has signed on to help design the mural, which will include images created by students to reflect “the beauty of the community.” Spencer also recognized Noele Morris, a visual arts teacher at KCHS who is a candidate for Kent County Teacher of the Year.

Chester River Collaborative Map Print by Kent County High School students brought the highest bid in the live auction.

The gala also recognized several Kent County Arts “Graduates of Distinction.” Honorees were Anne Massoni, currently professor of photography at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; Robbi Behr, who with her husband Matthew Swanson is the creative force behind a series of illustrated books; Kyle Hackett, an award-winning painter who lectures on art at American University in Washington; and the members of the a capella trio barkin: Karen Somerville, Lester Barrett Jr, and Jerome McKinney, who performed two numbers for the audience.

Art works by elementary school students were also on display.  One especially clever work of “recycled art” was Trash Guy: A Coastal Cleanup Sculpture created by Henry Martinez, Teo O’Brien, Aryan Sharma, and Tayvion Wilson.  The accomanying sign for Trash Guy read “Our sculpture was made from material we found at the Coastal Cleanup. We came up with an idea and glued it together. It’s a man on a skateboard.  We painted the wood to look like a skateboard with a lightning strike and used cans as the wheels.”

“Over and Under” the Chesapeake Bay  

Trash Guy 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following a duet, “Through the Storm,” with Leon Frison on flugelhorn and his wife Karen on vocal, Chris Cerino took over for the live auction, giving a lively performance that brought smiles – and enthusiastic bids – from the attendees.

Six items were auctioned off, five of them by student artists representing each of the schools in the county. A large collage by four Kent County High School students drawing on images inspired by a visit to the Sultana Center was the top draw, selling to school board president Trish McGee. The artists were all present, walking the piece around for the audience to admire and to give prospective bidders a close up look. The next highest bid, at $650, was for a fishing charter for a party of 10 on the Chesapeake Bay with captain Greg Jetton on his beautiful boat Blind Faith.

Art Graduate of Distinction, Karen Somverville, with Tom McHugh, director of Arts in Motion

Art Graduate of Distinction Kyle Hackett (center) KCHS class of 2007 with his  former KCHS art teacher, Stephanie Spencer (left) and his mother, Diana Hackett (right)

 

All told, the live auction garnered $2,390 for the cause. That along with ticket sales, donations, and the silent auction brought the total to around $7,500 for the schools arts program.  A program–that as this evening proved–is inspiring wonderful young artists in Kent County.

We let the art speak for itself in the photo gallery below.  The mural project will be completed this spring.  Look for pictures of it in the Spy soon!

Photo Gallery:  Art work and music by students in Kent County Public Schools. Photography by Jane Jewell and Peter Heck. 

“Over and Under” – a collaborative work by 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students, depicts various life-forms that live both above and below the water in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Weaving Wonder” by 5th grade students at HH Garnet Elementary School using eight different watercolor techniques on individual strips which were then woven together.

Kent County Music teachers Keith Wharton and Charles Thai. Their students performed at the Saturday evening gala.

KCHS Concert Band members

 

 

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Honoring Frederick Douglass at Washington College

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Author and historian David Blight; President Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and 3X Great Grandson of Frederick Douglass; Kenneth Morris with two Douglass cousins, Dale Green and Tarence Bailey and his wife Michelle Bailey

Washington College celebrated the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s birth on a Talbot County plantation by awarding the famous abolitionist an honorary Doctor of Laws degree Friday, Feb. 23. The ceremonies were held in in the college’s Decker Theater.

Frederick Douglass at about age 70

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), was born into slavery in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.   While still a young child, Douglass taught himself to read and write. He escaped at age 20 and went on to become one of the most eloquent and effective opponents of slavery. He became a licensed preacher in 1839 at age 21, traveled the world, telling his story and speaking about the evils of slavery. After a group of supporters raised money and paid Douglass’s old master for his freedom in 1847, it was safe for Douglass to return to the United States as a legal freedman.  He founded and was publisher/writer for the North Star and several other abolitionist publications.  During the Civil War, he was one of Lincoln’s advisors.  He was an early advocate of full citizenship for women. Throughout his life, Douglass remained a strong voice for the rights of African Americans and human rights in general. Douglass’s autobiography, first published in 1845 and twice revised and expanded in later years – is considered one of the monuments of anti-slavery literature.  It was a best-seller when first published and is widely-read today.

Speakers at the convocation included Yale professor of American History David Blight and Kenneth Morris, a direct descendant of Frederick Douglass. Blight is a well-known historian with over ten published books on American history. He is also director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. He has just completed a full-scale biography of Douglass, which is scheduled for publication by Simon and Schuster this fall in October.

Blight, who was granted the Washington College Award for Excellence, was the first speaker. He noted that Donald Trump, in comments a few weeks ago, seemed to believe that Douglass was still alive. Blight then held up a t-shirt reading “Vote Douglass 2020,” suggesting to great laughter and applause from the audience that Douglass might run 2020 as a member of the Radical Abolition Party.

David Blight, professor of American history at Yale University, director of Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale

Blight gave an overview of Douglass’s career, noting that Douglass was one of the most acute critics of the cruelties and contradictions of slavery and racism. His writings and speeches were full of allusions to Shakespeare and the Bible, “a lyrical prophet.” He gave thousands of speeches, traveling to all corners of the world. Blight concluded by urging the Washington College students in the audience, in Douglass’s words, to “go and act in the world,” and use their “voice, pen and vote” to bring about the goals that Douglass fought for and that still remain to be achieved.

Kenneth Morris, 3x great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, receives Washington College Award for Excellence from college president Kurt Landgraf.

Morris, who is both the great-great-great grandson of Douglass and the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington, also received the Washington College Award for Excellence.  He is descended from Douglas on his father’s side and from Washington on his mother’s side. Morris’ s  grandmother was the granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. His grandparents met on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington.   Morris is  continuing his ancestor’s legacy of anti-slavery activity in the modern world. He is co-founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, which works to educate people about all forms of slavery in the modern world and inspire them to action. Morris said that slavery and the selling of human beings into bondage–nowadays called human trafficking, the buying and selling of human beings– is widespread throughout our modern global economy, including within the United States.  Morris has spent the last ten years building the organization, pushing for legislation, bringing speakers, curriculum, and workshops to many schools and other organizations.  You can visit their website at http://www.fdfi.org.

College President Kurt Landgraf, introducing Morris, noted that Morris spent part of the day with local middle school students, distributing a new edition of Douglass’s autobiography.  The organization hopes to distribute a million free copies to students, libraries, and other groups by the end of 2018. Landgraf then presented the posthumous degree to Douglass, which Morris accepted on behalf of the family to a thunderous response from the large audience.

Morris, in remarks accepting the award, recognized two other family members in the audience, Dale Green and Tarence Bailey, both descendants of Frederick Douglass’s brother. Morris said that his great grandmother, who lived to age 103, had met Douglass, so he had touched hands that had touched the great abolitionist! He told of Douglass’s early days on the Eastern Shore, where he lived till age 7. Douglass saw his mother, a slave on another plantation, only four times because of the stringent conditions of slavery; she had to walk 12 miles after her day’s labor was done if she wanted to visit him. Sent to Baltimore to be a house servant, he came to the attention of his master’s wife, who began to show him the alphabet, only to be reprimanded by her husband, who told her it was illegal to educate a slave. That inspired Douglass to seek out an education on his own, learning to read by trading bread for lessons – “He’d rather feed his mind than his stomach,” Morris said. At the same time, Douglass learned to recognize hypocrisy and to think critically. Bringing Douglass’s writings into classrooms everywhere, Morris said, will help young students arrive at the same recognitions — to “get woke,” in the current vernacular. “The spirit of Frederick Douglass lives with us,” he said, adding Douglass’s own words, “Without struggle, there is no progress.”

Sombarkin trio sang two traditional spirituals from the slavery era, including the Underground Railroad “guide” song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd” – Lester Barrett, Jr., Karen Somerville, Jerome McKinney

In addition to the honors to Douglass, the ceremonies were enlivened by performances by WACapella, the student acapella group, and by the trio Sombarkin (Lester Barrett Jr., Jerome McKinney and Karen Somerville), who performed the two spirituals, “Trimmed and Burning” and “Follow the Drinking Gourd,”

Also at the convocation, Washington College awarded the President’s Medal to Emmanuel Episcopal Church and Sabine Harvey for their contributions to community life and to the college. Staff members Judie Berry Barroll, Harriet Pritchard Olsen and Ashley R. Turlington received the Joseph L. Hold Distinguished Service Award for their outstanding contributions to the mission of the college. Ed Norberg was granted the Alumni Service Award. Faculty and staff members were recognized for reaching milestones of service with the college. And 34 students were invited to join the college’s chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. A fuller report of these honors will appear in an upcoming Chestertown Spy article.

 

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Council Votes to Sell Excess Property

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino (left) listens to Town Manager Bill Ingersoll describe an offer to buy excess property from the town

The Chestertown Council, at its Feb. 20 meeting, authorized Town Manager Bill Ingersoll to move ahead with the possible sale of four town-owned lots near the intersection of Calvert and Lynchburg Streets.

Ingersoll said the town originally acquired the properties, which were the site of the original Garnet School, from the Board of Education in 1973. He said in a memo to council members that the lots were “added to an ’80’s planned rebuilding project called Calvert Homes, which was awarded to Interfaith Housing Corporation from Denton.” Interfaith built several townhouses along Calvert Street, and had plans to build more. But sales did not meet their expectations, and the company sold the remaining land, back to the town in 1993.

The town subdivided the property into six building lots, with the intention of selling them as low- or moderate-income home sites. One, on College Avenue across the street from Bethel AME Church, was sold in 2005 and a home was built on it using Federal Home Administration funds for affordable housing, Ingersoll said. The lots were priced at $15,000 for low-income individual buyers seeking home sites and $25,000 for developers intending to build homes for the low- to moderate-income market. However, despite efforts to market the property, no buyers came forward.

In December, Ingersoll said, the pastor of the nearby Faith Life Church made an offer of $40,000 for four of the remaining lots, and put down a $10,000 good faith deposit. The church planned to use the lots as a parking area to alleviate congestion in the neighborhood when there are services or other events at the church. In the longer term, the church is thinking of expanding its building and could use the property for that purpose. Ingersoll said he had reviewed the contract and asked for a couple of terms the town could not guarantee to be modified, which the other parties agreed to. He told the council it was their decision whether to accept the offer, reject it, or enter into further discussions with the buyer.

Ingersoll pointed out that the state assessment was higher than the town’s asking price, but the lots had been on the town’s hands for 25 years with only one selling. The council had declared the properties excess a number of years earlier.

Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he would be willing to approve the sale if he could be sure the buyer was not planning to resell the property at a profit.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper said the town would benefit if that were to happen, because the property would be on the tax rolls.

Ingersoll said the property would be on the tax rolls until the buyer completed a church building, if that ever takes place.

Councilman David Foster asked if the property has water and sewer allocations. Ingersoll said there are water and sewer connections for all four lots, but the buyer would be using only one if he builds a church extension on it.

Mayor Chris Cerino said the town would be able to make good use of the $40,000 to pay for ongoing work at the marina or to pave streets.

Tolliver moved to move ahead with the sale, and the council voted unanimously to do so.

In other business, Dr. Wayne Benjamin and Muriel Cole of Homeports gave a report on the organization’s 10-year anniversary. Homeports, which has the goal of allowing senior citizens to remain in their own homes with the help of volunteers to provide services such as rides to shopping or medical appointments or to perform small home repairs and other projects. They said Homeports currently serves 90 members, with a core of about 60 volunteers. They said the group hopes to add more members.

Also, the council heard a presentation from Jeff Carroll, owner of the Fish Whistle, on a fishing tournament he is planning for October 6 and 7. He requested permits to use part of the marina property, which is adjacent to the restaurant, for the participants to weigh in. He said the tournament would bring visitors to town, benefiting local businesses.

Cerino said the exact site would depend on progress on the renovations, but in general he said the town would be willing to work with him. The council voted to support the project.

Cerino nominated Owen Bailey to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission. The council will vote on the nomination at the next meeting.