Dressing Barbie by Nancy Mugele

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Some of my fondest childhood memories include Barbie. I know that is not something you might expect to hear from a self-proclaimed feminist, but it is true. Barbie celebrated 60 years on March 9 and I recently read Dressing Barbie by Carol Spencer. The author designed thousands of outfits for Barbie over her 35 year career at Mattel. In a perfect coincidence, last week when I flew to Florida to meet with Kent School alumni over spring break, I read an article on the 86-year-old Spencer in People magazine (my favorite airplane reading material, but that is another story).

The iconic (and sometimes controversial) Barbie doll was invented by Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel with her husband Elliott, whose daughter was named Barbara. Barbie was introduced as a teenage fashion model in 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City. Barbie originally came as a blonde or brunette, and I had the brunette version as a young girl. I loved my Barbie doll collection, but, most importantly, I loved her clothes. Barbie always dressed in the most current and exciting fashions of the day, and because it took two years for a design to become available in stores, Carol Spencer always had to be forward-thinking. Girls would certainly know if Barbie’s clothes were dated and out of fashion.

I was most definitely inspired by the fashions Barbie was sold with, but I had a secret weapon. My Nana. She was a seamstress by trade who specialized in creating custom bridal dresses in the 1960s and 1970s. She had a huge basement workshop in her home in Boston which served as her sewing room, complete with a large cutting table that my grandfather made for her of knotty pine. She had several sewing machines that were operated by foot pedals, and spools and spools of vibrantly colored thread hanging neatly in rows. I loved her sewing room and spent long hours watching her meticulous work. I witnessed many bridal party fittings, and was so proud of my grandmother’s handiwork. She was a designer and a perfectionist.

When Nana began to outfit my Barbies I knew I was the luckiest girl around. She made dresses, coats, skirts and slacks for my Barbie in the latest fabrics and fashions. Sometimes she made me and my Barbie matching outfits! My friends may have had more Barbie accessories – like the car, boat and dreamhouse, but I had the most clothes by far! When I saw the title of Carol Spencer’s book, Dressing Barbie, I immediately thought of my Nana in her sewing room. She dressed Barbie for many years as well.

Barbie does get a bad rap sometimes, especially as it relates to body image, with her height and her busty, small-waisted build – not to mention her feet, pre-formed to fit into high heels. Spencer realized the times had changed by the 90s and she wrote: I don’t think she was so out of proportion – people don’t understand doll scale. And, she’s a doll!

Spencer helped create many different career Barbies over the years and is proud of her work. She wrote: During the women’s movement all of us designers belonged to the National Organization for Women, but we didn’t flaunt it. It was this quiet goal to start promoting women. I wanted more choices for Barbie. I wanted more choices for myself.

Today, an estimated 100 Barbies are sold per minute. My favorite, and Mattel’s best-selling Barbie, was the Totally Hair Barbie sold in the 1990s. She wore a Pucci-esque mini dress designed by Spencer. Hair drama and high fashion in one doll.

Happy 60th Birthday, Barbie. Thank you, Carol Spencer, for your vision and fashion sense. And thank you, Nana, for making my Barbies the best-dressed dolls anywhere!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, a member of the Board of Chesapeake Charities, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Cars on High Back for Third Year, Plans September Car Show

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Checking out the classic cars at Cars on High — car photos by Jane Jewell, 2017

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, the council approved a third year of Cars on High, a monthly gathering of vintage car enthusiasts. For the event, the 300-block of High Street is closed off from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month from April to October, weather permitting. Collectible cars are parked on both sides of the street and around Fountain Park for the public to enjoy. Cars on High is sponsored by Main Street Chestertown.

John Slocum, the organizer of the event, told the council that the turnout for Cars on High has increased over the first couple of years, with 20 to 25 each month during the first year and 30 to 40 a month during the second year. Owners bring their cars from as far away as Washington, DC, and Wilmington, Delaware, he said.

John Slocum of Cars on High at the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18

Slocum also announced that he would like to present a car show, tentatively the afternoon of Sept. 14. He said he would ideally like to close off the 200- and 300-blocks of High Street, depending on response. He said the idea of the show came about partly because the Cars on High events are drawing about 50 percent new exhibitors each month, so there are far more interested car owners than the monthly turnout suggests.

He said he would like to offer five to eight judged categories, and invited council members to participate as judges, along with downtown business owners and other “local folks.” He said, “I think it would be good for downtown and good for business, as well.”He said the entry fees, minus the cost of trophies for the winning cars, would be donated to the Chestertown Garden Club and Main Street Chestertown. He added, “There are some spectacular cars here in town and in the surrounding area, which we’ve all been shocked when they show up – because where are they the rest of the time?” He mentioned one resident who has 25 Ferraris – “He brings two of them out every month.”

As part of the proposed show, Slocum asked the council to allow the show to park five or six cars on the Fountain Park grass. These would be invited cars of special interest, he said. There was some discussion of how the park grass would be affected by having cars parked on it. Slocum said many famous car shows have the cars displayed on golf courses. He said the condition of the park is such that a few cars parked there for an afternoon wouldn’t make much difference. He said he’d be willing to plant grass if the areas could be roped off long enough for it to grow.

Ingersoll said that with the farmers’ market running year round, it’s nearly impossible to find a time when nobody is using a given area of the park. He said he thought the idea of the car show was “a great idea if done properly.” Slocum said he would email the council a diagram of where the cars would park. The council unanimously approved the permit for Cars on High, and tentatively approved the car show, pending Slocum’s providing more detailed plans.

Cars on High for 2019 begins on April 18.

Ted Capel and his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Kimberly, with his ’34 Plymouth hot rod.

Cerino to Ask Commissioners for Tax Differential

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Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 18, Mayor Chris Cerino reported that he will represent the town at the Kent County Commissioners budget hearings April 23. He will be advocating for a tax differential or tax rebate for the town, on grounds that town residents’ property taxes are paying for services the county does not provide within town limits, such as police protection, road repairs, and trash disposal. “We’re essentially paying to underwrite services for everyone else,” he said. Cerino said that Kent is one of only three counties in the state that does not provide such a differential for its towns.

The town has regularly requested a tax differential since the county discontinued offering one in 2014, due to reduced revenues during the Great Recession. In 2012, five towns received tax rebates amounting to some $193,000 overall. Partially as a response to the discontinuation of the rebate, Chestertown raised its own tax rate from $0.37 to $0.42 per $100 assessed value. It was the first increase in town taxes since 1991.

Cerino said he had written to the commissioners about a month ago to request a slot in the budget hearings, and received a formal invitation to present the request at the hearing.  He said he will be requesting that the commissioners lower the rate for town residents by $0.05, or alternatively granting a rebate of $250,000. He said the commissioners asked him to bring documentation of the cost of services the town is providing, and he asked Ingersoll and Clerk Jen Mulligan to supply him with copies of the town’s annual audit. Ingersoll said he had the material available “at my fingertips.”

“I’ve pleaded the case on this every year since I’ve been elected,” Cerino said. “Supposedly, we were very close to having a tax differential last year, and then it kind of got swallowed up in the school funding debate and it didn’t happen.” He invited council members to help him make the case.

Also at the meeting, Wanda Gorman, manager of the Chestertown artisans’ market, reported on the upcoming market season, which begins March 30. She said the annual meeting of vendors on March 16 drew 27 attendees, including some spouses and children of vendors. The market currently has 24 vendors, 18 of whom were at the meeting. “We had a breakfast meeting – that really attracts a lot,” she said.

Wanda Gorman, artisans’ market manager

Gorman asked the council to designate the two High Street parking spaces closest to the Cross Street intersection for no parking during the market. She said the vendors need them to unload and reload their wares, but often out-of-town shoppers park in the spaces and leave their vehicles there after the market is over at noon, when the vendors need the spaces to reload. She said vendors are usually finished removing their wares between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

Councilman Marty Stetson said, “It would only take a couple of tickets to convince them.” Police Chief Adrian Baker suggested using orange “no parking” signs the town already has. He said his department could put a couple of them in the spaces and see if it does the job.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said he thought the orange signs would be a good solution to the parking problem. He said he liked the fact that the signs are removable once the market is finished.

Gorman also announced that she is planning to retire to Florida and that her daughter Sarah Sezawich will co-chair the market during her absence over the summer. She said Sezawich has been helping her before, and the vendors are familiar with her. “I think she’ll do a great job,” she said. “She handles paperwork fantastically.”

“We’re going to miss you when you go,” said Ingersoll.

Councilwoman Linda Kuiper reported that the State Highway Administration has approved lowering the speed limit on Quaker Neck Road between Wilmer Park and the Radcliffe Creek bridge from 40 to 25 miles per hour. Washington College, which owns several properties along that stretch of the road, including the new boathouse and an environmental science center currently under construction, and several residents of the Chester River Landing development had requested the reduction on account of pedestrian safety along the road. Pedestrian traffic is expected to increase when the college’s new science center opens. The signs advising of “reduced speed ahead” will be moved to the town limits, just beyond Chester River Landing.

The Chestertown Council : (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tollliver and Marty Stetson, Town Clerk Jen Mulligan, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

Kuiper also announced that farmers’ market manager Sabine Harvey has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Maryland Farmers Market Association to set up a program to allow vendors at the market to take payments for SNAP and WIC programs, along with a new program called Senior Farmers Market. Individual vendors would have to sign up for the program. “This will help to increase food-insecure households’ ability to afford quality nutritious foods; to generate additional revenue for local agricultural producers; and to make farmers markets accessible to residents of all income levels,” she said. She said the paperwork was still being processed, but she wanted to give the council a heads-up on the program. The council approved a motion authorizing Cerino to sign the MOU for the town.

Also, Kuiper read from a letter to the mayor in which she asked to be excluded from the process of hiring a new marina manager because her son is applying for the position. In order to avoid a conflict of interest, she said she would not take part in interviews or any verbal, written or electronic discussions of the hiring process unless her son withdraws his application.

Ingersoll reported that a group of Washington College students is planning a Rail Trail cleanup on Sunday, April 7, from noon to 3 p.m. Students have performed similar cleanups the last few years. The cleanup would focus on the area from Royal Farms to the split in the trail near Lynchburg Street. He said the town would provide bags and gloves for the project.

At the end of the meeting, Washington College President Kurt Landgraf gave an update on the report that the college plans to sell six surplus properties. He said the college has reached an agreement with prospective buyers for three of the properties. He did not specify which properties were involved, pending the final settlement. The six properties to be sold include the large tract at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Morgnec Road, a house at 301 Washington Ave., and four properties on Prospect Street.

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Chestertown Rotary Award to Sumner Hall

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John Murray, president of the Chestertown Rotary Club (L) gives the club’s Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award to Sumner Hall; President Larry Wilson accepts

At its regular luncheon meeting Tuesday, March 12, the Chestertown Rotary Club awarded Sumner Hall G.A.R. Post 25 the Dr. Paul Titsworth Service Award for 2019. The award is named for the former Washington College president who was one of the founding members of the Rotary Club in Chestertown.

The ceremonies were held in Sumner Hall, one of the last two remaining posts of the Grand Army of the Republic founded for and by black veterans of the Civil War. The Chestertown chapter of the G.A.R. was founded in 1882.  The hall, built in 1908, was named for Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner (1811-1874), a prominent opponent of slavery. It was an important social center for the local African American community for 60 years.

Sumner Hall

After the death of the last local black Civil War veterans in 1928, the building continued to serve as a gathering place, at one point hosting musical acts such as the Chick Webb band with a young Ella Fitzgerald on vocals, and the “all-girl” band, the Sweethearts of Rhythm.

The building fell into disrepair in the 1970s and deteriorated until the 1990s. It was scheduled for demolition until a group of preservationists entered into a campaign to restore it. The building was reopened in 2014 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Vic Sensenig, Washington College Chief of Staff

At the award ceremony, Rotary president John Murray introduced Vic Sensenig, Washington College chief of staff, who gave a brief summary of Titsworth’s career at the college and as a Rotary founder in 1926. Titsworth came to Washington College in 1923 and served as president for 10 years. He is credited with transforming the college from a small local school to a recognized regional institution, increasing enrollment and raising academic standards. Sensenig quoted from an address Titsworth gave at graduation in 1931, in which he exhorted the students to dedicate themselves to community service, which he characterized as “a fine art.”

Rotarian Garret Falcone then gave a history of the service award, which is in its second year. The initial award was given in 2018 to the Save Our Hospital committee. Falcone then read from the nomination for Sumner Hall’s award, noting that it has become a “showcase for African American history and arts.” He cited Sumner Hall’s partnership with local institutions including the college and the public schools, the Kent County Library and the Historical Society to educate the public on the important contributions of African Americans to the community.

The award was then presented to Sumner Hall president Larry Wilson and 2nd vice president Barbara Foster. Wilson thanked everyone who attended the ceremony and invited them to return for other events and exhibits. He gave a brief history of the G.A.R. post, citing several of the founders and detailing its history of community service after the death of the Civil War veterans. He ended by quoting Sumner Hall’s mission, to preserve the building as “a place of remembrance,” to promote understanding of the African American experience, to honor the contributions of African American veterans, “to promote the pursuit of liberty for all, and to advocate for social justice.”

Titsworth, founding member and first president of Chestertown Rotarian CLub and President of Washington College from 1923-1933.

Foster described Sumner Hall as “a very special place,” with which she has been involved as a board member for five years. She recognized the courage of the founders for their effort to ensure that they and other veterans received the benefits they had been promised for their service. She also called attention to the hard work of restoring the building, returning it to the condition it was in during its heyday – recalling one older community member who looked at the restored building and said it was just the way he remembered it being when he had his wedding party there years ago.

She also recognized several of those who made special contributions, including Carolyn Brooks and Nina Johnson for helping forge a relationship with the Smithsonian Institution, Airlee Johnson for bringing the Legacy Day celebration to Sumner Hall, board treasurer Yvette Hynson, board members Dale Alexander, Larry Samuels, Ben Kohl of the Hedgelawn Foundation and Cheryl Hoopes, who is in charge of Sumner Hall’s participation in the Tea Party Festival this year.

In response to an audience question about upcoming events, Foster mentioned the appearance of saxophonist Jason Blythe and his band in the April 13 installation of the African American Roots concert series. She said the organization’s newsletter and email list are available to anyone and she invited Rotary members to sign up. She also gave a brief account of the other surviving African American G.A.R. post, in South Carolina.  The South Carolina G.A.R. building, though restored after fire damage, has no museum or artifacts and is only open by appointment or for rental events such as weddings and private parties.  Following the Civil War, there were hundreds of Grand Army of the Republic chapters across the country, some of which were integrated, others which were segregated by race.  The G.A.R. was equivalent in its place and importance in its day as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have been in more recent times.

At the end of the meeting, Rotarian Beverley Birkmire encouraged attendees to talk to members about the Rotary Club’s activities and meetings, every Tuesday at noon.

Sumner Hall board member Carolyn Brooks shows the Rotary Service Award

Larry Wilson, President of Sumner Hall and US Navy veteran

Council Approves Update to Critical Areas Ordinance

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The Chestertown Council at its March 4 meeting: (L-R) Councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson, Mayor Chris Cerino, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper, and Councilman David Foster.

The Chestertown council, at its meeting March 4, unanimously adopted an ordinance updating the 2007-08 Critical Areas section of the town’s zoning ordinance. Regular revision of the ordinance is a requirement of the state’s Critical Areas Commission. The new ordinance becomes effective March 25; a complete copy is available at the town office.

Town Manager Bill Ingersoll explained that the ordinance is designed to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. He said the update has no effect on the vast majority of property owners. The 2019 map, he said, differs from earlier versions primarily in having greater accuracy and detail for things like wetlands delineation, thanks to computer-aided mapping. No property has its designation changed by the new map, he said.  According to Maryland.gov “A Critical Area includes all land within 1, 000 feet of tidal waters and wetlands in Maryland – as well as the waters of Maryland s Chesapeake Bay and coastal bay area.”

Ingersoll also gave some history on the Critical Areas ordinance, noting that most of the town is considered an “intensely developed area,” within an official Critical Area because most of the town lies within 1,000 feet of the Chester River or Radcliffe Creek. He said that several parts of town were developed after the initial ordinance, including the property that is now occupied by Heron Point and Stepney farm. Both were specifically approved for “intense development” under the county’s growth allocation in 1987. “A lot of the town was built before 1900, so those things don’t change,” he said.

The town is not likely to see much additional waterfront development unless it annexes new territory, said Ingersoll. He cited the Chestertown Armory as “probably the last example.” For most property owners, the only time they would need to consider the Critical Area rules would be for trimming or removing trees within the buffer zone – primarily dead or diseased trees, or those considered dangerous. He said the property owners should contact him for the forms necessary.

Councilman Marty Stetson asked whether any additional waterfront property could be annexed by the town. Ingersoll said it was theoretically possible that areas along the river to the north could be annexed, but that the town has no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future. Stetson said property owners south of town near the country club might request annexation. Ingersoll said the town made overtures in that direction in the past, but the property owners were not interested.

The council voted to submit letters of support for three projects applying for grants from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the deadline for which was midnight of the day of the meeting. One, by Sultana Education Foundation, would convert an 8.5-acre tract of the Stepney property to a wetlands preserve for educational purposes; Cerino recused himself from that vote, as he is employed by Sultana. The letter will be signed by the other four council members.

In addition, the council sent letters of support for the Chesapeake Heartland Project, a collaboration between the Starr Center at Washington College and the National Museum of African American History to create a digital archive of African-American history and culture in Kent County. Part of the project would be a specially equipped truck to go to rural areas to record the memories of residents who lack transportation. In addition to the MHAA, a letter of support went to the Mellon Foundation. Councilman David Foster recused himself because his wife is on the board of Sumner Hall, one of the supporting organizations.

The council also sent a letter of support for an application by the Historical Society of Kent County for approximately $23,000 as a capital grant for repairs to its headquarters in the Bordley Center. Barbara Jorgenson, a board member of the society, told the council that the back of the building is starting to come apart due to deteriorating basement supports. Quoting from the letter of support, Cerino called the Bordley Center “crucial to Chestertown’s continuing success.”

Also at the meeting, Queen Street resident Mary Celeste Alexander complained about the condition of the road surface on the 100 block, between High Street and Maple Avenue. She said the street is getting worse on a daily basis. She said she’s been asking for repairs for five years, with no results. “Could we have a date, please?” she asked. She added that residents have taken to calling one large area that regularly floods “Ingersoll’s Pond.”

Foster said the block is one of the first priorities for repair work when the town has funds available. Mayor Chris Cerino said the block is in the budget for paving this spring.

Alexander said the problem is not as much paving as that previous repairs have raised the street level to the point that the curbs are too low to keep water off the sidewalk. She said the curb at her house is about 1.5 inches above the road surface. “I know it’s going to be expensive, and I know you’re going to hear a lot of complaints” about being unable to park on the street during repairs, she said. But residents are willing to put up with the inconvenience if it results in repairs, she said.

Ingersoll said the town would replace the curbs when the work is done. He said the town attempted last year to get federal grants for general street repairs, but the funding went to larger projects on the western shore. “I guarantee that your block will be the first block done,” he said. “You deserve it, you really do.” He said the town could begin work as soon as the asphalt plant opens for the season.

Funding from the Maryland Highway User Fund, which had been taken away by the General Assembly for several years, is being returned to local municipalities, Ingersoll said. He said it could make significant street repairs possible. That the town’s recent tax increase could also help generate funding for the work, he added.

In a bid opening for upgrades at Louisa Carpenter Park in the Washington Park subdivision, David A. Bramble was the low bidder at $136,700 and was awarded the bid. Unity Landscape submitted the only other bid on the project, at $166,538. Ingersoll said the town was very happy with the bids, and that the grant funding for the project would be sufficient to cover the work.

At the end of the meeting, Laura Johnson, Washington College’s Vice President of Finance, announced that the college is planning to sell several properties that have become surplus. Among the properties is the large vacant lot at the junction of Washington Ave. and the Morgnec Road bypass, popularly known as the Lamotte property. The property is zoned “Professional office,” and covers some 13 acres. The college purchased it for $1.5 million in 2006, from Kent County government.

Also for sale are a large dwelling at 301 Washington Ave., which the college also acquired in 2006, for $530,000, and several residential properties on Prospect Street, near the campus just off College Avenue. She said the college “is not liquidating,” but that it has identified the properties being sold as not contributory to its strategic plan.

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Learning to Lead by Nancy Mugele

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“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.” — Brené Brown, Dare to Lead

I am a huge Brené Brown fan. From the moment I first heard her speak two years ago at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference, I have been hooked. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation Brené Brown Endowed Chair of the Graduate College of Social Work, is the author of five #1 New York Times Best Sellers, and I have internalized all five. She has studied courage, vulnerability, and empathy for two decades and she shares it with an easy comfort.

At NAIS, she described earning her worst evaluations from students after a hurricane devastated Houston and she felt the university reopened too soon. Brown “was her worst self,” as she put it, because of “how I was showing up.” It was a powerful reminder that, as leaders and educators, we cannot bring our own personal issues into our work. This takes courage. And courage’s foundation is vulnerability. “We’re not wired for vulnerability but it is the birthplace of love, belonging, and joy,” Brown said. She closed with gratitude for the educators in the room. “Ten years from now in an interview, they will bring you up,” she said. “They’ll say they didn’t believe in themselves, and you changed that.”

In September 2017 I devoured Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I wrote about it to parents of Kent School students and also in this column. “True belonging,” she wrote, “ is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

I love the book and quoted it a lot last academic year, as I constantly told students that I BELIEVEd in them and that they should BELIEVE in themselves. (My word for last academic year was BELIEVE, but that is another story.) Kelsy must have missed the column because she gave me the book as a Christmas gift two months ago. I was deeply touched. She selected the thoughtful gift because she knows I admire Brown and that I would really appreciate the topic. She does not know that now I have two copies – one at home and one in my office. Seems to be a pattern with books that inspire me!

When Brown’s latest, Dare to Lead, was published this past October, I did not immediately purchase it. I thought it might have a business bent because of its description: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work. But, lately, I have been thinking a lot about leadership, developing emerging leaders in the Kent School employee group and developing leadership in students. Why are some people compelled to lead? Are leaders born? Or, are they taught?

During DEARS (Drop Everything And Read Silently) at Kent School I have just finished Dare to Lead, based on Brown’s twenty years of research, and the past three years specifically conducted with leaders, change makers and culture shifters. The book is a must-read for business leaders, and educators.

In her book she claims that true leaders are people who hold themselves accountable for recognising the potential in people and ideas, and developing that potential. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is exactly what teachers do each and every day. Teachers dare to lead their classrooms and their students with empathy, courage and love. Teachers create a safe classroom culture where each student is heard, valued and respected. Teachers teach students how to lead with kindness and offer many opportunities for students to grow and shine.

Next week I will have the privilege to connect with several Kent School alumni in NYC and in Florida. All are entrepreneurs and leaders in business. I am looking forward to asking them what Kent School means to them and how the School prepared them for life.

I firmly believe that if we educate the minds, and also the hearts, of our students we will prepare them to be daring leaders who will possess the courage and empathy needed to lead lives of purpose in the global community beyond Kent School. I have watched several of our Student Government Association representatives learning to lead this year, and I am in awe.

Leadership can, and should, be learned.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, a member of the Board of Chesapeake Charities, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

BookPlate Presents Local Author Peter Heck

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Peter Heck’s “Mark Twain mysteries” — photo courtesy of The BookPlate

Friday, March 8, the BookPlate presents local author Peter J. Heck reading from and discussing his Mark Twain mysteries. The event begins at 6 p.m., and admission is free. The BookPlate, owned and managed by Tom Martin, is located at 112 S. Cross St. between Play It Again Sam’s Coffee Shop and Janes Church. This is one of a long-running series of presentations by poets, novelists, and non-fiction authors at the store.

The series of six mysteries, featuring one of America’s best-loved writers as a detective, is set in the 1890s, and follows Twain as he travels around the United States and to England and Italy, solving murders. Peter says that Twain’s world-traveling career made him an attractive protagonist for a series of books because it allowed him to set the stories in so many different places. Also, he says, Twain’s biting wit and ability to see through pretensions of all kinds made him irresistible to write about.

A Chestertown native, Peter grew up as a voracious reader who benefited from a complete set of Twain’s writings that had belonged to his grandfather, Theodore Jewell. Other youthful influences were Edgar Allen Poe, A. Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” mysteries, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ popular novels. After graduating from Chestertown High School, he studied English at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Indiana University. He taught for several years at Temple University in Philadelphia. Beginning in the mid-1980s, he edited newsletters promoting mysteries and science fiction for the Waldenbooks company. He also worked as an editor at Ace Books and freelanced at Baen and Del Rey books, where his writers included Spider Robinson, Robert Sawyer and Harry Turtledove. Peter has been a regular book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and Asimov’s Science Fiction for many years.

Peter Heck

Peter began writing the Twain mysteries in 1995, eventually publishing six books, the titles of which are plays on the titles of Twain’s own books. In order of publication, they are Death on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in Criminal Court, The Prince and the Prosecutor, The Guilty Abroad, The Mysterious Strangler, and Tom’s Lawyer. Twain’s adventures are narrated by Wentworth Cabot, Twain’s fictional secretary and the “Watson” of the series. There are minor roles for various historical characters, among them Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill, and jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden.

Peter also co-wrote four books in a science fiction series, “Phule’s Company,” with the late Robert Asprin. Peter returned to Chestertown in the late ‘90s, where he continued writing his novels. He also worked for 10 years as a reporter and photographer for the Kent County News. Beginning in 2017, he and his wife Jane Jewell have been co-editors of the Chestertown Spy. In addition to his career as a writer, Peter is also an accomplished guitarist — formerly with the local quartet, Col. Leonard’s Irregulars — and a founding member of the Chestertown Chess Club.

Copies of Peter’s books will be available for purchase during the event, and the author will be pleased to sign copies. We hope to see you Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. at the BookPlate.

Discussion of Council Vote on Pride Event Continues

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Jonathan Chace (at podium) addresses the Chestertown council — (L-R) Town Manager Bill Ingersoll, Councilwoman Linda Kuiper and Councilman David Foster

At the Chestertown Council meeting, March 4, the main topic of interest was the continuing discussion of the council’s vote on a permit for an LGBTQ Pride event. The vote, at the Feb. 19 meeting, granted the permit by a 3-2 vote, with councilmen Ellsworth Tolliver and Marty Stetson in dissent. The two opposing votes resulted in considerable adverse comment and controversy following the meeting.

Tolliver, in his regular ward report, said he had reached out to members of the LGBTQ community, including some of the organizers of the festival, after the meeting. “We have sat down, discussed our differences, and made some headway as to how we move forward together, understanding that we all have different opinions about how things should be,” he said.

During the public comment section of the meeting, Kingstown resident Jonathan Chace spoke on the controversy. Chace began by thanking Tolliver for his willingness to open dialogue with the festival organizers. “I think that’s important to the town, and I think we need more of it,” he said. He then turned to the council as a whole. He asked them to imagine that they had permit requests from several different groups to hold events in Fountain Park. The groups supported causes including clean rivers, farming, Make America Great, Black Lives Matter, and reproductive rights. “Which one of these do you like?” he asked. “Which ones will you approve? Which ones will you disapprove?”

Jonathan Chace

He then stepped back – “I’ll take you off the hook. You don’t have to decide,” he said. “That’s because the town council, I believe, should not be in the business of approving or disapproving any event based on its content or subject.” Instead, Chace said, the council’s responsibility is “to review each permit in the same way that thousands of towns and cities across America review their permits.” That would mean asking questions about safe and orderly movement of traffic; use of emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulances; whether the event is likely to cause property damage, injuries or disorder; and availability of sanitary facilities, garbage cans, stages, and barricades. “If you on the town council think these questions, not the subject of the event, have been resolved, then you can vote to approve the permit. If not, disapprove it, that’s it.”
Chace concluded that if the council conducts its approval process along those lines, the town “can take great pride in celebrating its First Amendment to the Constitution, the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly.”
No-one else on the council or in the audience addressed the issues raised by the Feb. 19 vote. However, before the meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll sent an email message to council members, which he copied to the Spy, outlining the basis in the town’s charter for approving events. The relevant passages are found in the Streets and Sidewalks ordinance, which he attached along with the form for the permit and the Parades ordinance, which he noted does not apply to the Pride event, which is not planning a parade. The full ordinance can be reached from the town’s website

The most pertinent sections are 145-13 A, 145-14, and 145-17. Section 145-13 states “It shall be unlawful for any individual, association, corporation, or organization to use the streets, sidewalks, public rights-of-way, or town-owned property for any event or activity without first obtaining a permit from the town as provided in this article;” Section 145-14 states what information applicants must provide to receive a permit. Section 145-17 says “Whenever the town finds that an activity requested under §145-14 is not in the public interest or represents a threat to public safety or is not an historically accepted event or activity, it shall deny the permit application.” Ingersoll noted that “historically accepted event” simply means one that has been conducted regularly over the years and is therefore considered traditional.

Ingersoll added, “You may recall that your own precedent for a permit to come before the Council on a mandatory basis, a month before an event, is the closing of any street. This last one (the Pride Day) came before you because of the requests being made for the stage, for banner, etc. That is also a precedent that we have.

“I sign many perfunctory permits that don’t require the use of Town streets or do not ask for Town help with stages, police, or street department preparation or cleanup.”

In short, as Ingersoll said in an interview before the meeting, the criterion for a council vote is the use of town resources such as the stage, which requires the town crew to set it up, or police presence, both of which require the town to pay for staff hours, often at the overtime rate. Also relevant is the need to avoid scheduling two events for the same time and place. The Pride event is to take place in Fountain Park directly after Farmer’s Market on Saturday, May 4.

At the meeting, the council also approved an update to the Critical Areas portion of the zoning ordinance and heard complaints from a Queen Street resident about the condition of the street. The council was also advised that Washington College is planning to sell some surplus property, including a house on Washington Avenue and the large vacant lot at the corner of Route 213 and the bypass. Look for additional town council reports in future editions of the Chestertown Spy.

Letter to Editor: Unfinished Business in Rock Hall

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On March 4 — and for the second time this year — Rock Hall Mayor Brian Jones refused to permit questions and comments from citizens during a Town Council meeting (violating both Charter and Code).

Here are some of the questions he suppressed:

  • Mr. Mayor: Given that the Town of Rock Hall is close to running a budget deficit — maybe already is — what items of non-essential spending do you plan to recommend to the Council to cut?
  • Mr. Mayor: The recent financial audit has 15 negative findings. Which three do you plan to address first? Also, because your own questionable actions are the subject of several of the findings, do you plan to recuse yourself from discussing and deciding on policies to address them?
  • Mr. Mayor: A utilities rate increase of 15% imposes a hardship for many in Rock Hall. Why didn’t you consider recommendations for modest increases in utility rates made by two Council members during previous budget discussions over the past four years?
  • Mr. Mayor: In January, you reported that you and Councilwoman Rosalie Kuechler were working with the Maryland Municipal League to identify several new sources of revenue for the Town. In the past two months, what new sources of revenue have you identified?
  • Mr. Mayor: When will the Town Manager produce for the Council a comprehensive list of major infrastructure maintenance and repair projects that need to be done, along with cost estimates?
  • Mr. Mayor: Given that the Town should provide a vehicle for the Town Manager to use on official business, and given that other Town employees should also have access to a Town vehicle as needed, why don’t you turn in that surplus police vehicle that’s parked in your driveway for your personal use so that the Town Manager and other employees can drive it? Or, why not sell it?

As we approach a municipal election in eight weeks, the Town of Rock Hall is in crisis—financial, administrative, legal, and ethical—yet Mayor Jones blithely ignores the chaos, and breaks the law to do so.

Of course, isn’t it futile to expect the very persons who caused the problems to solve the problems?

Yours truly,

Grenville B. Whitman

Rock Hall

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