Mid-Shore Food: A Nano Winery Takes Form in Kent County


Enrique Pallares, the president of Casa Carmen, is quick to use the word “nano” rather than “micro” in talking about the family’s new winery less than a mile as the crow flies from Chestertown. And for this student of philosophy, who is just finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation at Catholic University, he likes to be precise in the language he uses.

And a “nano winery” seems like the correct term as you look over Carmen’s one acre of grapes now growing next to Kent County’s old Almshouse and Enrique and his wife’s newly restored farmhouse. Enrique intentionally wants to keep his business (which he shares with his brother and sister as well as father as consultant) as small as possible to keep alive a tradition of family community wineries where the focus is entirely local.

With a family history in Ecuador, and a father’s love of Spanish wine, Enrique, and brother Felipe, both international professional polo players before settling on the Mid-Shore, have just begun as the winery plans to move away from the often repeated mistake of competing with California wines. They envision a new approach that takes into account the Eastern Shore’s remarkable soil to offer unique local blends that also carry on the tradition of a community winery.

The Spy spent some time with Enrique last week to understand more fully the business plan.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about Casa Carmen please go here

John O’Brien on Leadership and Self-Awareness in the Trump Era


Given the seemingly endless use of President Donald Trump’s Twitter account to attack political opponents and publically humiliate his own cabinet members, it is unfortunate that the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution does not include a clause that allows the country to formally intervene and send their CEO to a leadership training program before any talk about giving them the heave-ho.

But if the US did have those powers, it is quite likely the our Donald would have been sent to an executive leadership retreat which was run by John O’Brien.

For much of his professional life, Johnny O’Brien has had a very small niche segment in the leadership training industry. O’Brien developed specialized programs for the very elite corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies. It also didn’t hurt that John had “walked the walk” himself for several years as the CEO of the Hershey School and its $14 billion endowment.

Given the national and local conversation we are now having on what leadership means, we thought it would be a good idea to have a check in with Johnny about the state of our union and its leaders.

This video is approximately five minutes in length.




Our Jazz Man: Dr. Mel Rapelyea on the Chestertown Jazz Festival


It seems amazing that a jazz festival that was created in 1996 would still be humming along with the same volunteer director 22 years later. That certainly says a lot about how much Kent County and Chestertown loves the musical form, but it also says volumes about Dr. Mel Rapelyea’s devotion in keeping jazz alive for the countless aficionados in the community but has introduced the genre to hundreds of Kent County students over the years.

Started in 1996 as a project of the Kent County Arts Council (now on their own), Mel and his team of volunteers have built a program that blends the musical  talent of renowned international artists like Cyrus Chestnut and Sean Jones, with the extraordinary local talent such as Karen Somerville and Phil Dutton and the Alligators.

The Spy sat down with Mel at the Spy HQ in Chestertown last week to talk about the festival coming up starting September 5 and his unique vision of how this unique hybrid has now grown to six days of concerts.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Chestertown Jazz Festival – 2018 please go here


Doubling Down: WC’s Board Chair Larry Culp on the Future of Washington College and Chestertown


It isn’t all that shocking that Larry Culp, Washington College’s chair of the school’s Board of Visitors and Governors, would talk enthusiastically about the long-term future of the liberal arts college or the town where it has resided for 238 years.  Governing board leaders, particularly those who are graduates of those institutions like Larry at WC (class of 1985)  are instinctively optimistic about the institutions they lead as well as the municipalities where they are located. It is almost a part of the job description for such positions.

But what is not in the job description, particularly in the case of Washington College and Chestertown, is how much Culp has not only “talked the talk” but made substantial investments in both the school and the town to show his confidence in both; a “doubling down” on the two places he loves the most as well as a conviction that they can not only successfully recover from Great Recession but be in a real position to thrive in the years ahead.

Culp has the background to support those aspirations through a career that eventually led him to become president of Danaher Corporation at the age of 38, ranked 144 on the Fortune 500 and be listed on the Harvard Business Review’s top 50 best-performing CEOs list. Now a visiting lecturer at Harvard Business School (HBS), a board member of General Electric, T. Rowe Price, and Wake Forest University, Culp continues to maintain his interest in leadership and the ultimate question of what makes good companies and good schools.

And all of these experiences, including the use of HBS’s famed “case method” (Culp is an alum of HBS) and Danaher’s acquisitions of dozens of companies during his twenty-year tenure, has led Culp to a unique understanding and appreciation of what he calls “high performing” institutions, whether they be high tech corporations or small liberal arts colleges.

It is this familiarity with what makes a company/school successful that has turned Culp into a significant philanthropist for Washington College and Chestertown.  Larry and his family have made numerous million-dollar contributions to WC since joining the College’s board, with such diverse donations as the school’s scholarship endowment, the establishment a chair in WC’s psychology department, or more recently, the funding of the school’s “Food Lab” in downtown Chestertown.

These investments, however, have not stopped at the property lines of the College. In recent years, the Culp family has quietly made significant commitments to the Sultana Education Foundation and other nonprofit organizations in Kent County.

This faith in Chestertown has also included the purchase of the building occupied by the now-closed Lemon Leaf restaurant and JR’s Tavern on High Street as well as the beloved Stam’s pharmacy and ice cream fountain a few blocks down the street.

In all three cases, Culp is now making ambitious plans to reactivate those venues over the next two years with “best in class” dining, an unpretentious neighborhood bar, as well as, to relief of hundreds of sweltering Chestertownians during the summer months, a unique homemade ice cream establishment with such an unusual twist which is so hush-hush the owner would not describe the master plan on camera.

In Larry’s first interview with the Spy, which also served to inaugurate the Chestertown Spy’s new “Head’s Quarters” and studio on South Queen Street, he talks candidly about the serious challenges that face both Washington College and Chestertown still face, but also of the extraordinary opportunities that exist that could very well make WC a “top 50” liberal arts college but also move Chestertown into being one of the best known East Coast destinations over the next decade.

This video is approximately fifteen minutes in length.

Profiles in Philanthropy: The Legacy of Benjamin Kohl


It doesn’t take an exceptional eye for the average Chestertownian to see the impact of the late Ben Kohl on Kent County. From the Kohl Gallery at Washington College, the Kohl Lobby at the Garfield Center for the Arts, financing the achieve collection at Miller Library or the contributing to the building of the Betterton Community Center, Ben and his wife, Judy, have played a critical philanthropic role in the life of the Mid-Shore since 2006.

But who was Benjamin Gibbs Kohl? A successful industrialist? A hedge fund manager from New York City? A scion of a family fortune? How about a devoted scholar of Renaissance history.

It turns out that Ben Kohl devoted most of his adult life to scholarship and teaching. With a thirty-five year tenure as a history professor at Vassar College, Kohl became one of the world’s leading experts on fourteenth-century Padua and Venice. In fact, his most significant work was Padua under the Carrera, 1318-1405, which stands today as an extraordinary example of relentless archival research.

While undoubtedly impressive, a career in the academy does not typically produce a philanthropist. And therefore it was moving to hear in a recent Spy interview with Judy Kohl, and Ben’s son, Ben Jr., that the Kohls took almost all the proceeds from the sale of the family farm in Middletown, Delaware, commonly known at Hedgelawn, to give back to his chosen field by funding the electronic achieving of a vast and rare collection of 14th and 15th century historical documents for future scholars, but gave half of the farm’s net return to invest in the arts and culture of Kent County.

Ben Kohl sadly passed away at the relatively young age of 71, but his legacy remains a remarkable testimony to the power of philanthropy that continues to this day with the remaining Kohl family members through the Hedgelawn Foundation.

The Spy spent some time with Judy and Ben Jr. at the family office in Lynch a few weeks ago to take about one of Kent County’s most generous benefactors and his extraordinary legacy in our community and the world’s appreciation of medieval and Renaissance history.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about the Hedgelawn Foundation please go here.



A Lineman for the Country: Delmarva’s Bradley Hughes on Working on Puerto Rico’s Power Lines


While Bradley Hughes calls Easton home, and his job is with Delmarva Power’s regional office in Centreville, it’s entirely accurate, with a few apologies to Glenn Campbell, to call him a power linesman for the country rather than a county.

With almost no notice, Bradley and his fellow linesmen can be assigned to any part of the United States for weeks at a time after a significant storm to help repair power lines. And for Hughes, that has meant long-term projects in Florida, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, and most recently, Puerto Rico.

Hughes calls this just part of his job, but very few make a career of working at very high heights, under hostile weather conditions, and for very long hours. It takes a unique calling and skill set to not only tolerate the work but enjoy it.

In fact, when talking to the Spy after he arrived back for three weeks in Puerto Rico about the horrific power shortages that island is facing, he referred to that challenge as the equivalent of being the Super Bowl of sorts for professional linesmen. It’s on these occasions for someone like Bradley to use all his skills, physical strength, and problem-solving skills to extreme levels while also returning power to 12,000 families during that time.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Delmarva Power’s efforts to help Puerto Rico please go here.

Mid-Shore History: Frederick Douglass and Wye House with Richard Tilghman


It is impossible to go through the bicentennial year of Frederick Douglass and not talk about Wye House. And that is particularly the case with those who live on the Mid-Shore where one of America’s greatest heroes was born and raised.

While Douglass is only on record of having lived at Wye from approximately age six to nine, it is remarkable how much recollection he had of the place when he began writing his memories some decades later in 1845.

In fact, his memory of Wye was so indelibly fixed that he could recall in precise detail the physical location of almost every part of the estate including its smokehouse, kitchens, stables and slave quarters that archaeologists were returning to Wye more than hundred years later they were shocked to discover how accurate Douglass had been.

Wye is also the place that Douglass returned to at the very end of his life to reconcile those memories and formally forgive the the man who had beaten him while being a slave, the notorious slave driver Edward Covey in St. Michaels in 1891.  On that trip, he also decided to return to Wye House to meet with the descendant of Edward Lloyd, the original owner of the Wye plantation.

The Spy travelled to Wye House a few months ago to talk with the current owner, Richard Tilghman, who is also a direct descendant of the Lloyd family, to talk about the remarkable relationship of his family’s property with Douglass.

This video is approximately six minutes in length. For more information about the the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial on the Mid-Shore please go here

Mid-Shore History: Chestertown’s Black Entrepreneurs


Thanks to a small grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, volunteers Airlee Johnson and Lani Seikaly had the resources to move forward with an ambitious project to document, record, and display an extraordinary era of Chestertown’s black entrepreneurs during the 1960s and 1970s.

The exhibition, now being shown at Sumner Hall, the project tells the stories of twenty-four African-Americans who were either business owners, a member of their family, employees, or customers of the fifteen businesses that formed a very vibrant commercial sector of Chestertown.

The Spy sat down with Airlee and Lani to talk about these unique entrepreneurs and through the unique blend of Airlee’s memories and Lani’s video documentation (now on Youtube) resulted in a compelling story of independence, creativity, and self-sufficiency.

This video is approximately minutes in length. The Exhibit will run until mid-August. For more information please go here. To watch the project’s video profiles please go here



Maryland 3.0: Checking in with KRM’s Bryan Matthews


Just a few years ago, the Dixon Valve & Coupling Company made a corporate decision that would have a significant impact on Kent County’s economy and yet very little was said about at the time. The company, faced with growing pains and stiff competition for their range of piping and fitting products, had to make a difficult choice to either expand their business locally in Chestertown or take advantage of lower production costs, larger workforce populations, and reduced taxes by moving operations to another state or perhaps even another country.

This kind of significant call is not an uncommon one for American manufacturing companies. And in most cases, these businesses very quickly conclude that their bottom line profits will improve dramatically by migrating to a more business-friendly location. But in the case of Dixon, which would impact close to 375 employees in Kent County, their final decision went against that popular trend. Dixon quickly made up their mind that they would stay put in Chestertown.

While most communities in America would have held parades or honored local politicians for saving a town’s anchor manufacturing business, the Dixon decision, like so much of the rest of the family-owned business culture, was a low-key affair. Once they concluded that Kent County would remain their home for the foreseeable future, Dixon leadership assigned the task of building facilities for that future growth to the company’s subsidiary, KRM Development, and thus began a complicated multi-year plan to move warehouse, production and administrative functions to new locations.

A good part of that job is now in the work portfolio of Bryan Matthews, who retired as Washington College’ athletic director and facilities manager after thirty years of service to his alma mater to join the KRM team two years ago. In his Spy interview, Matthews talks in detail about the intricate planning required for this kind of major undertaking as well as some of the vision behind Dixon’s plans for their North Chestertown campus.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about KRM Development please go here.