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Dr. Joan Gaither’s quilts document lives and history

      Mention quilts, and people often share memories of grandmothers or great aunts working with needle and thread, joining pieces of fabric with precise stitching.
      Dr. Joan Gaither, who documents history with cloth and thread, describes herself as “a quilter who breaks all the rules.” Her quilts are covered with images, words and objects: buttons, ribbons, pieces of jewelry, shells — anything that can be sewn to fabric and symbolizes an aspect of the story she tells.
       She stitched her first quilt after the death of an aunt whose story and family history she wanted to memorialize. As she added text and photos to represent the lives and careers of seven generations of her family, the quilt grew to an impressive 10-by-12 feet. It includes the colorful and imaginative embellishments that now characterize her work and features brilliant Maryland state flag colors representing her family’s ties to Baltimore.
       That experience 18 years ago launched the Maryland Institute College of Art professor into fiber arts and three-dimensional collage. Gaither has since made over 200 quilts, telling her stories and those of black Americans. Many have themes of identity, racism and social justice. Others honor the lives of individuals who have influenced national politics, education and the arts.
       Through this month, you can see her quilts in Baltimore in the exhibit Freedom: Emancipation Quilted & Stitched at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which celebrates the contributions and legacies of people of color in Maryland.
       Each image, object, fabric and color, she explains, has symbolism. Most quilts are edged in African mud cloth. A strip of blue stands for the ocean passage. Red, white and blue fabric represents America. Pieces with railroad tracks are the Underground Railway and the flight to freedom. 
      “The strips are often held together by safety pins, some still open,” she explains, “to symbolize the pain of slavery, oppression and injustice.”
       The topics of the quilts on exhibit range from Gaither’s personal history to broad topics of national interest. Laid out in a pattern like the Maryland flag, her Sesquicentennial 1864 Slave Emancipation Quilt has blocks that represent all of the counties in the state, plus Baltimore City. Each block focuses on events and people associated with emancipation. More than 400 people across the state helped in creating this quilt, which will continue its travels throughout Maryland when the exhibit closes at month’s end.
        Collaboration is a hallmark of Gaither’s work. She brings together local communities, school children and church groups to create and construct quilts. One of her largest quilts (10 by 14 feet) depicts the entire Chesapeake Bay and celebrates the lives of its black watermen. That inspiration was, she says, “my discovery that there was very little record of the contributions of African Americans to Bay-oriented industries.” Individuals from towns all around the Bay contributed information, family photographs and objects to make the history come alive.
       No experience required is the message at Gaither’s quilt-making workshops. People come with words, photographs and mementos. She brings ink jet printers, scissors, markers, boxes of embellishments and inspires her quilters to capture memories and stories on fabric. Sewing is done with large needles and simple stitches.
        A group of young children who swarmed into her exhibit the day she and I visited were drawn to details on the quilts, calling out to one another as they noticed yet another fascinating or unusual embellishment: strings of beads, a political button, a plastic crab. She answered some questions, then encouraged the kids to talk with their families and elders: “Ask them questions about their lives,” she said, “about what they remember from when they were young.” 
        “Memory aids, instruction manuals and moral compasses” are our stories, author and journalist Aleks Krotoski says. Gaither’s quilts are just that, capturing history, documenting and honoring lives, describing their lessons about the past and their calls for justice and equality.
       Follow Gaither on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanMEGaither.
Is cursive an evolutionary dodo?
       Can you sign your name in cursive?
       For much of American history, handwriting was a hallmark of education and character, taught in classrooms as part of the triumvirate of reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic. Students who persevered through eight grades took as much pride in their penmanship as John Hancock, whose graceful cursive on the Declaration of Independence made his name a synonym for signature, as in sign your John Hancock on the dotted line.
      Into the 20th century, handwriting was so foundational a part of the public school curriculum that educators devoted themselves to perfecting a system good for one and all, just as modern educators have with Common Core. From letterforms and linkages standardized in the mid-1800s by bookseller and abolitionist Platt Rogers Spencer — and not so different from many Hancock used — the American cursive handwriting style evolved.
      Spencerian descendants — about whom we’ll have more to say — were so successful that by the mid-20th century, Americans from coast to coast could write — and read — one another’s handwriting, as well as John Hancock’s.
Yet just about then (does Sputnik ring a bell?) states began de-emphasizing handwriting to allow more classroom time for the curriculum we know today as STEM. 
       Does cursive have a future? That’s the question we ask in honor of National Handwriting Day, which falls on January 23, the birthday of the Massachusetts’ patriot John Hancock. No longer can every graduate of our public schools read Hancock’s signature — or, for that matter, the handwritten document itself.
      Can you?
 
A Pillar of Civilization
       Through the four- or five-thousand-year span of recorded history, handwriting has evolved, influenced and reflected every aspect of culture. This art of forming visible, readable characters has evolved in many styles, from cuneiform and hieroglyphics to unconnected block letters to flowing cursive.
      About the time the Egyptians were developing hieroglyphics, Sumerian merchants were codifying their transactions into cuneiform script. Ever since, handwritten documents have recorded births, marriages and deaths but also started and ended wars. They’ve bought and sold land and slaves, and guaranteed — or challenged — our voting rights.
      By about 1500 BCE, the Phoenicians had an alphabet of 22 phonetic symbols. This marvelous invention spread to Greece, Persia, India and Egypt.
      Like any new technology, handwriting brought on tidal waves of change. Socrates feared a written language would destroy memory, according to Anne Trubek, author of The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting. To a degree, he was right; the old oral tradition that gave rise to Homer is obsolete. On the other hand, as French philosopher Jacques Derrida noted, we only know what Socrates thought about anything because someone recorded his ideas.
        In the second century BCE, the Roman Empire conquered Greece, adopting its then 23-letter alphabet. The alphabet spread throughout the Roman empire. More letters were adopted over the centuries until, by the 15th century, the Roman alphabet consisted of 26 letters.
       By then, handwriting had become a specialized skill, practiced by the scribes and monks who saw their livelihood threatened when Gutenberg developed a printing press capable of assembly line-style production of books. Despite their worries, handwriting remained for many centuries the dominant medium for recording and sharing information.
         The Renaissance development of copperplate engraving brought the fanciful flourishes to script writing. This script evolved into the italics from which cursive and basic lowercase letters derive.
        In early America — as in so many cultures over the millennia — handwriting was a skill that could earn a craftsman a living. By the 1700s, master clerks were doing the actual penning of many of our historic documents. The United States Constitution was drafted by James Madison, penned by Jacob Shallus, assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania State Assembly and signed, more or less elegantly, by 56 colonial gentlemen, for whom fine handwriting was a mark of education and cultivation. 
       In 1786, George Fisher published The Instructor, or American Young Man’s Best Companion Containing Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick.
         “The capitals must bear the same Proportion one to another,” wrote Fisher. He directed that upstrokes be fine, and downward strokes fuller and blacker. “And when you are in Joining,” he instructed, “take not off the Pen in writing, especially in running or mixed hands.” His words may ring familiar to 60- and 70-somethings who learned Palmer cursive in school. 
        In the mid-18th century Platt Rogers Spencer developed a utilitarian writing system uniting aspects of several popular writing systems. During the late 1880s, the Spencerian method evolved into the Palmer system, which emphasized writing with arm movements rather than with the fingers. With variants, Palmer remained the school standard of penmanship through the 1950s.
        Meanwhile, other technologies were changing the world. As early as 1947, when TIME magazine was already bemoaning the “day of typewriters, shorthand, telephones and Dictaphones,” educators and the media were complaining that schools were neglecting penmanship instruction. In 1955, the Saturday Evening Post pronounced us a “nation of scrawlers.” By the 1980s, some public school students were receiving little or no formal handwriting training.
 
Cursive Uncommon in ­Common Core 
        Since 2010, to many teens and young graduates of Maryland’s public schools, the swirls and twirls of cursive are as unreadable as ancient Sanskrit.
       Trace it back to Maryland’s adoption that year of Common Core State Standards in reading, English/Language Arts and mathematics, known 
as the Maryland College and Career-Ready Standards. Later, pre-K standards were added. 
       State education standards have been around since the early 1990s, varying from state to state. In 2009, most states, the District of Columbia and a couple of territories voted to develop Common Core State Standards. Maryland was among the first of many states to adopt the new, voluntary standards. 
       Common Core put our nation “one step closer,” said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation that bankrolled the initiative, “to supporting effective teaching in every classroom, charting a path to college and careers for all students.” 
       Often Common Core pushed cursive aside for keyboarding and computer skills, math and sciences.
 
How Important are ­Connected Letters?
        Does the loss of our common heritage of handwriting matter? Opinions are divided.
        Juli Folk, 37, is reading handwritten Calvert County Census documents for the Center for the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland Archives while studying for her masters degree in Library Information Science at the University of Maryland ISchool. 
       Her volunteer project depends on her ability to read cursive in many hands over many decades. “I had fun learning it in elementary school,” she says.
      Yet for today’s students, she’d be happy to see it “offered as an art class. Or teachers could show students what cursive letters look like, then let them learn it on their own.”
      “What matters,” she says, “is that handwriting, whether printed or cursive, is legible.”
      The American Bar Association seems to agree. Printed signatures are just as legal as are cursive — or electronic ones,” according to University of Missouri law professor David English.
       Other benefits may make cursive fit enough to survive the keyboard era.
       Some researchers say learning cursive benefits brain development and fine motor skills in children, leading to improved writing skills and reading comprehension — skills critical across the Common Core. 
        Dr. William R. Klemm, senior professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M, says learning cursive helps train the brain to function more effectively, increasing hand-eye coordination and reading speed. Thus, he concludes that schools that drop cursive are depriving students of an important developmental tool.
        Whatever learning cursive may do for our hands, eyes and brains, losing it certainly cuts us off from our past. A generation illiterate in cursive will be unable to read historic documents, including Grandma’s letters. 
       “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly,” says actor Steve Carell. “My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. There’s something visceral about opening a letter. I see her in handwriting.”
       At the Maryland State Archives, Emily Oland Squires hears complaints from researchers, especially students, struggling to read with cursive. 
       Archives staff tries to bridge the gap by helping research teachers create lesson plans that include both primary source documents written in cursive and their transcriptions. Online transcriptions have been made of many documents pertaining to state and African American history.
        “Still, we ask teachers to let students try to work from the manuscripts before giving them transcriptions,” says Squires. “It helps them learn.”
 
Does Cursive Have a Future?
         Some states have legislated a future for cursive. In 2016, Alabama and Louisiana — not states earning top educational ratings — became the latest of 14 states that now require cursive in school.
        Maryland does not require cursive be taught. 
        “There are currently no standards for cursive,” says Walter Lee, of the office of the Curriculum Coordinator and Instruction at Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “But Maryland created a framework in which cursive does appear.” 
       Lee explains that Maryland decided to include cursive as part of the framework for interpreting the state standards for the Commonwealth of Maryland. “There are no policies governing cursive,” he says, “but there are practices. It is up to local education agencies.”
        In Anne Arundel County, he says “incorporating cursive into reading time during the school day is a school-based decision, meaning that it is up to the principal.”
      In the bigger picture, it may be, as Trubek says, that the decline in our use of handwriting in our daily lives is only the next stage in the evolution of communication. Where we’ll be next, who knows.
        While we wait to see what the next wave of change brings, we might all heed the advice of Benjamin Franklin: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” He did both.
       In honor of National Handwriting Day, pick up a pen or pencil and put it to use.
 
What is Cursive?
       Cursive derives from the Latin word currere, meaning to run. Cursive writing has a more comfortable flow than early Roman square block printing or the more rounded uncial writing of early Latin literature. In handwriting history, forerunners of cursive appear as far back as ancient Roman times. Due to its speed and efficiency, many languages since the ancients have cursive forms. 
       In America, cursive has subtypes such as ligature, in which letters within words are connected with lines. There’s also cursive italic penmanship, which combines joins and pen lifts within words. Looped cursive is the style taught in American schools since the late 1800s. If you learned cursive, it may well have been this style. 
 

 

 

Rich or poor, Owensville ­Primary Care turns no one away

Over $10,000. That’s what the average American spent for health care in 2016, and up is where that number is heading.
     “My wife’s health insurance jumped 38.9 percent,” laments a friend recently retired. “My pension is disappearing.”
     Across the age spectrum, you hear endless variationa of the same story.
Last year, 11.9 percent of Anne Arundel County residents couldn’t afford to see a doctor, according to the county’s Report Card of Community Health Indicators. Seventeen percent didn’t have a primary care physician.
     In a culture where health and wealth are inextricably linked, Owensville Primary Care is a haven. It welcomes all with these words: This Health Center serves all patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
     It is an oddly placed haven.
     If you wanted to show off southern Anne Arundel County’s pastoral ideal, you couldn’t do better than take a drive down Owensville Road, the east-west link between Rt. 2 and Galesville. Amid imposing white homes set back on yards rolling into farm fields, the modernistic stucco building might, if noticed, raise a question. 
     Its placement tells a truer story of Southern Maryland life than the scenery. It’s a story in many ways little changed since Owensville Primary Care was founded in 1974 to, in CEO Sylvia Jennings’ words, “address the needs of a very low-income, rural, minority population that did not have access to health care.”
     Over four decades, Jennings has seen need persist and — for many of those years — overseen Owensville Primary Care’s ability to deliver care regardless of race, age or income.
      “We pledge to provide quality health care to our entire, diverse community at a responsible cost,” Jennings says. “That’s our mission.”
     Since the Affordable Care Act was passed, that pledge has included helping people, patients or not, find qualified health care programs. Nowadays, people losing their subsidies are welcome for advice and alternatives.
 
A Melting Pot
     In the utilitarian waiting room, you find yourself in a microcosm of the larger Southern Anne Arundel County community, where homes — and with them wealth — run the full range from mansions to shanties. Here, your neighbors — black and white, young and old, more and less affluent — visit as they wait. You might find — as I did on this day — a kid sucking a lollipop. Two elderly women, black and white. A tattooed hipster with an ear gauge in his lobe. A workingman in an Orioles cap. Yourself.

Owensville Primary Care outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, retiring after more than 20 years.

       Owensville Primary Care has become, over the years, an American melting pot. 
     “I came in one morning to find a Jaguar in the parking lot next to a jalopy,” says Jennings, the white-topped dynamo who for two decades has been CEO of this federally qualified Community Health Center, one of 16 in Maryland and some 1,400 nationwide.
      The numbers support the impression of diversity. Of October’s 1,156 patient visits, 38 percent were paid by commercial insurance, 32 percent by Medicare and 28 percent by Medicaid, with two percent self-paid.
 
Walking Into a Nightmare
       Jennings, 82 and days from retirement, works behind the scenes, in an office stocked with tall jars of Hershey’s Kisses. Jolly, direct and demanding, she does not want a visit to her sanctum to feel like “a walk down the hall to the principal.”
      For the office she is now dismantling has been the scene of many hard decisions.
      “I walked into a nightmare,” Jennings recalls.
      In 1981, the well-intentioned, six-year-old South County Family Health had descended into bankruptcy. With $1.5 million owed, court administrators threatened to “nail doors shut and walk away,” Jennings remembers. That’s when she joined the board, deputized by her boss, Virginia Clagett, then South County’s councilwoman.
      Paying off that debt took eight years.
      A second round of troubles in the mid 1990s brought Jennings back on the board to captain “a sinking ship.” First she laughed at entreaties; finally she accepted. That was 1997. She spent the next two years cleaning up the mess.
 
The Team
      Jennings has been the force that kept Owensville Primary Care on track.
      But hers is not the face you’re likely to know if you happen to be one of its 3,400 patients, from birth to geriatrics. 
      First you meet the reception crew, who, Jennings says and experience proves, are “welcoming and treat you not as a stranger but as a friend.” 

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Back, doctors Thomas Sheesley, Jonathan Hennessee and Wayne Bierbaum. Front, nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, behavioral health director Dr. Jana Raup and physicians assistant Ann Hendon.

photo by Wayne Bierbaum

Rebecca Woolwine, Judy Bracken, Amber Snay and Billie Aisquith in back row. Keri Mahan and Brittany Galloway, seated.

      Many, like office manager Billie Aisquith, have been here as long as Jennings. Increasingly, they are “cross-trained in multiple functions,” like Vickie Payne, who is also a fire department EMT just certified as a medical assistant through Anne Arundel Community College’s online program.
       “When they expand their skills, they expand their incomes,” Jennings says.
       Next, you enter into the hands of nurses — among them nurse supervisor Vanessa Greenwell, Owensville Primary’s longest serving staffer at over 30 years — who’ll take your weight and height, blood pressure, temperature and blood oxygen readings.
       They turn you over to health care providers, who range from doctors to nurse practitioner Nancy Bryan, retired from the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, to physician assistant Ann Hendon.
       At 28 years in, chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum calls his egalitarian work at Owensville Primary “what I’ve wanted to do since I decided to go into medicine: helping people manage in difficult circumstances.”
       Doctors Jonathan Hennessee and Thomas Sheesley are National Health Service Corps Scholars, who repay their medical education by working in communities with limited access to care, in their cases for a term of five years.
      Behavioral Health Director Jana Raup or Licensed Clinical Social Worker Jen Thornton offer counseling and therapy.
 
Right People for the Job
       From the bottom up and top down, salaries are a priority with Jennings, who brings her medical experience as a nurse along with administrative experience alongside a state legislator.
      “I really focused on getting people a decent wage,” she said. “Even then, $7 an hour for nurses was ridiculous.”
        “The money wasn’t there so it was a long process,” says Sharon Widemann, Jennings’ long-time colleague and now successor as CEO.
      Nowadays, Jennings calls “our salaries very competitive,” good enough to draw expertise from outside South County. 
       “Young physicians fresh out of school are paid a very good entry-level wage that appreciates the fact that family-care physicians are difficult to recruit,” she notes. 
      For five years, Jennings and Widemann, who came on in 1994 as an accountant, “got our hands dirty with work to make sure we had the right hiring.”
        Computerization brought the next challenge. 
      “When IT hit us all with electronic records, we were able to draw the best staff among community health centers, who are doing wonders for our record keeping,” Widemann says.
 
Finding Wherewithal
      Every step took money. 
      Community health centers are backed by tax dollars. Owensville Primary Care has a $4 million budget, with federal funding of about $1.5 million, supplemented by fees for service, donations from citizens and small government grants for targeted programs.
       Federal and private funding supported the construction of the building back in 1976, enabling Owensville Primary to move out of the old Owensville primary school. The building was county property until 2002, when it was surplussed to Owensville Primary. That same year, a state grant of $200,000 and a loan from the county paid for renovation. Later grants paid for better parking. This year, the behavioral health center moved into its own remodeled space, replacing the old post office that shared space with Owensville Primary.
      Grants enabled growth in services. In 2013 federal monies brought on behavioral health case managers, certified application counselors for Affordable Care and expanded Medicare, plus two more physicians. 
      A brand-new grant supports response to the opioid addiction crisis with mental health, public awareness and Narcan training.
      From Jennings’ years with Clagett as both councilwoman and delegate, she understood the levers of government. 
     “She has kept us in the minds of politicians who help our cause,” says chief medical officer Wayne Bierbaum.
      Jennings retires with Owensville Primary Care “in the black.” But not without a touch of uncertainty. Federal funding for community health centers expired September 30, and Congress has yet to reauthorize it.
 
‘A’ For Accountabiliity
     Recovery from a troubled past has made accountability part of each day’s work.
     “We hold ourselves accountable with committees for quality care, insurance and improvement,” Widemann says. “Once a month, a group of clinical and administrative staff review incidents and look at how our patients are doing. If one provider is doing a great job, we see how to share those best practices.”
     Patients have two ways to rate their satisfactions, and a sign on the reception desk invites complaints if you’ve waited more than 20 minutes to be seen. Quality measures are posted on the front door and the website.
      Accountability is one of the hallmarks of Jennings’ tenure, according to Bierbaum who has worked beside her the whole time.
     “Our goals have been continually strengthened through her vision of what we should become, so that everyone knows that we stand for service delivered with compassion, accountability and professionalism, always trying to do better in our mission,” he says.
     On January 2, Jennings passed on title and responsibility to Widemann. She leaves with satisfaction, relief and confidence, in a transition that, she promises, “will be seamless.” Preparing Widemann to continue the mission has been Jennings’ final achievement. 
     That, and revisiting 22 years of history, paper, electronic and human. 
     Amid the sorting, preserving and trashing, there was reflecting.
     Jennings already had reached retirement age when she was persuaded to come to the rescue of Owensville Primary Care.
     “I thought I’d do it a couple years and get it straightened out,” she recalls. 
      But day after day, year after year, she returned.
      “What I do every day of my life is so satisfying that it has allowed me to work till 82,” she says.
 

Outgoing CEO Sylvia Jennings, left, and her successor, Sharon Widemann.

      Now, 20 years in, she allows herself to be “very personally pleased with myself for the job I have done here. Some people will call me smug, but you have to have some personal reward. I’m not talking about money but about feeling I have contributed something to my neighbors and friends.”
      Widemann’s mission is continuing a success she helped create.
     “We have a very fully equipped and functioning federal community health center, a strong executive staff, strong providers and a growing behavioral health component,” the new CEO says.
      Her plan is to reach into the community to bring affordable health care to people still unserved. Growing the behavioral health unit is a particular goal.
      She steps comfortably into Jennings’ big shoes.
     “We’re not a one-woman show anymore,” Widemann says. “We’re a team effort. Plus, I know where Sylvia lives.”

A look at who we are through what we do in snapshots of Chesapeake Country ­working people aged 17 to 89.

Summer officially ends with Labor Day, aptly the day America sets aside to celebrate the people who made and make the nation.
      The holiday began as part of working people’s campaign to claim the benefits of their labor. Much has changed since the determined, often life-and-death labor struggles of the late 19th century. Industries have flourished and fallen. We do different jobs, contributing to a far different give-and-take than New York City’s 1892 Labor Day paraders. 
      Again as summer ends and Labor Day approaches, Bay Weekly looks at who we are through what we do in this parade of random snapshots of Chesapeake Country working people aged 17 to 89. Here, too, we do lots of different jobs. What we all have in common is the pride we take in our work.
–Sandra Olivetti Martin
Morgan McLendon
17, Pasadena: Nordstrom Saleswoman and Annapolis High School senior
     My first job was as a bagger and cashier at the Giant in Pasadena. I was 14 at the time and really didn’t like anything about it.
     Now, I’m a salesperson in the Nordstrom TOPSHOP brand department and absolutely love it! I’ve always enjoyed fashion and find it rewarding to help others find clothing that works best for their size and shape. It never feels like actual work.
     My position with Nordstrom has been my favorite job, and I will continue to work part-time when I return to school in September. I’ll actually have two part-time jobs, since I’ll also be working in a dental office.
–interviewed by Debra Driscoll
Megan D’Apice
19, Odenton: Summer lifeguard
     This summer, I’ve been a lifeguard at the Hillsmere pool in Annapolis. Before that, I worked at the Crofton Village pool for three summers. What I like best about the job is playing with the little kids at the pool.
–interviewed by Jackie Graves
Hanah Izzi
25, Prince Frederick and Federalsburg: Ravens cheerleader and dolphin helper 
     My first real job was at a Hair ­Cuttery. I have my cosmetology license, and I still cut hair on the side. I’m also a licensed insurance producer at an Allstate company
     Plus I have two other jobs.
      I work for the Ravens part-time as a cheerleader. We have three-hour practices Tuesday and Thursday nights and appearances throughout the community we sign up for. For games, we’re there five hours beforehand and practice on the field for a few hours. We go around the stadium before the game starts and engage with the fans. Then we run out the tunnel before the players and are on the sidelines the entire time. It’s really hard work. We’re nonstop dancing almost three and a half hours. 
      I’ve danced since I was two years old, first at Julie Rogers Studio, then on the Calvert High dance team, and at Towson University I was on that dance team.
      But what I actually want to do is marine biology. I work at the National Aquarium in Baltimore with the dolphins. I volunteer Tuesday and Thursdays, when I have cheerleading practice in Baltimore. I do fish prep for dolphins and help the trainers throughout the day.
–interviewed by Sandra Olivetti Martin
Renée Bennett
27, Prince Frederick … El Paso … Fort Meade: Soon to be Six String Soldier
     I’m a musician, a singer and violinist. My first job was a gig, playing with my dad and my sister Hanah Izzi on piano.
     I’ve been freelancing in El Paso, where my husband is in the Army Band. A month ago, my husband I got hired by the Six String Soldiers, part of the United States Army Field Band at Fort Meade. So we’ll be playing and traveling together.
      I’ve been in a couple of country bands, in rock bands, but so far I really like playing classic rock with an orchestra best of all.
–interviewed by Sandra Olivetti Martin
Tony Lewis
28, Annapolis: Owner, Tony J Photography 
      If I could shoot every day, that would be a dream come true.
      My favorite part is working with people and connecting with people. I was a super shy kid; I stuttered a lot. I had a Fisher-Price camera and I remember running around the house saying, Say cheese! I realized the camera allowed me to be in places I ­wouldn’t be in or wouldn’t feel comfortable being in.
      When I was 17 I toured the country with a company that did government contracting. Every other day I went to a different part of the country and photographed employees. When I got back from that trip I thought, I’m going to be a photographer for the rest of my life. 
       People ask me what my favorite shot is. I haven’t taken it yet. The artist in me is always trying to do better. I don’t think I’ll ever have that moment … and I don’t want that moment.
–interviewed by Emily Shaughnessy
Jennifer Carr
31, Severna Park: Restoration Program Manager, South River Federation
     I’ve always been very passionate about international issues, especially international conservation. After graduating college I was waiting for a job in the environmental field to open up, and I worked for an AmeriCorps education nonprofit and for the International Refugee Committee in Baltimore. There are refugee families I picked up seven or eight years ago at the airport that I still keep in touch with today. I run clothing donations to Burmese refugee communities in Baltimore about 10 times a year.
     I started as a volunteer intern with the South River Federation. Now I manage the restoration program: everything from writing grants to coordinating with landowners to overseeing construction. Having grown up in Pennsylvania I’ve always been more drawn to the land side, but that’s a huge part of restoring the Bay: you cannot restore the Bay without addressing the stormwater coming off the land. 
–interviewed by Emily Shaughnessy
Lt. Scott Clark
34, Annapolis: USNA Conduct Officer
      My first job was at 13 or 14 as a swim instructor at our local pool in Simi Valley, California.
     After years of flight school in Pensacola, I went to San Diego, flying MH-60S Knight Hawks, then was deployed to Bahrain, Dubai, Jordan, Israel and Singapore. Now I’m back at the Naval Academy, working as a Conduct Officer, which boils down to being a disciplinarian. It’s difficult because I enjoy working with the midshipmen, and the ones I interact with on a daily basis are not there for happy reasons. It’s always a difficult conversation.
     My favorite job was as Company Officer, overseeing and advising the close to 150 midshipmen in each of 30 companies at the Academy, where I graduated in the class of 2009. I find it extremely rewarding to mentor, lead and teach the young Mids. It’s important for me to have them learn from the mistakes I made while in their position. Pay it forward, if you will.
–interviewed by Debra Driscoll
Sherry Kuiper
37, Edgewater: Public Relations Officer at Fort George G. Meade
      Working in public relations, I get to help tell the Fort Meade story every day through television, radio stations and newspapers.
     My first real job was working at McDonald’s. I worked at the McDonald’s Bill Elliott NASCAR Museum in Muncy, Pennsylvania. It was pretty cool because the car he wrecked in Talladega hanged in the restaurant. One of his other cars served as our drive-thru window
     My best job was working as a production assistant at Community Access Television in Erie, Pennsylvania. I interned there in college and was eventually hired. I got to do everything. I took care of the programming, made videos for political candidates and taught people how to shoot and edit video. It was my first job in my career. While I was sad to leave, it launched my 12-year career as a TV news producer.
–interviewed by Alka Bromiley
Marcus Hayes
38, Annapolis: Sound studio engineer and Uber driver 
     At 14, when we were living at Incirlik Air Force Base in southern Turkey, I had a clerical job with my step-mom. It made me understand what working at an office was like; it was cool. I learned how to be responsible at a young age, how waking up early to get to work was important and how to earn my own money.
      Then for almost 10 years, I was working in the optical business, and I liked that the most. I cut prescriptions and helped people choose frames, find the right look for them. I left to pursue my ambition, a career in the music industry.
      Now I do a hybrid of things. I am self-employed. My schedule is flexible, so I am an Uber driver. I help people get around. It’s not a 9-to-5 job; some people say it’s not a real job, but I treat it like one. I am also a sound studio engineer working on live performances. The genre is a mixture of soulful R&B and hip-hop, I like to call it soul hop, it’s the music I help to create.
–interviewed by Alka Bromiley
Bill Jiang
40, Gambrills, via China: Sushi chef
     Starting as a grocery clerk, I learned my art 14 years ago from a ­Japanese master who was my smoking buddy and a very demanding master. I have worked at the Fuji Lounge in Gambrills for the past five years. I like my job because it makes me feel like a surgeon: wearing gloves, holding the knife and preparing the fish very carefully. Chinese New Year is my favorite event when I prepare artistically themed creations for over 120 people, and they are so very appreciative.
–interviewed by Jane Elkin
Veronica Contreras
45, Annapolis: Owner, Vero’s Housekeeping
     I was born in Mexico and grew up in California. My first job, at the age of 13, was as a cashier at a taco stand in Canoga Park, California.
     Currently, I am the owner of Vero’s Cleaning. I started it around six years ago, as the major breadwinner in the family (I have three boys). It can be hard work sometimes, but I’m so lucky to have very nice clients who appreciate our effort. 
      My favorite job was as a cashier, no matter where. The most difficult part was standing all day. But I always enjoyed talking with the customers. It made the day go by quickly, too.
–interviewed by Debra Driscoll
Scheri Goff
47, Annapolis: Yoga teacher
      My first job was working with severely emotionally disturbed boys aged 10 to 14 in a group home setting. Most had no parents or little parental interaction. The majority were wards of the State of California, where I lived at the time. I believe that the resilient spirit of these young men taught me the meaning of compassion, love and pain. 
     It is not really accurate to call my life’s purpose a job. I love what I do as simply and fully as anyone who has found their path to show others how to live well. Through yoga, we can learn so much about ourselves and in turn share that peace with the world. 
      Best job? Being a mother, friend, wife, yoga teacher and lover of life, I feel I have been given a gift to make a difference in the world. I teach what my teachers have taught me, passing it down with personal experiences. Through positive thinking, healthy eating, proper exercise, proper breathing and plenty of rest, I believe we may all live fully and well. 
–interviewed by Alka Bromiley
Ray Alves
54, Mechanicsville: Cartographer, Calvert County Department of Planning
      I draw maps for Calvert County. Anything to do with planning and zoning. My most recent job, with lots of people working on it, was a redo of Calvert’s Critical Areas map.
     No, they aren’t as pretty as Captain John Smith’s maps. I like the old maps and style of the calligraphy. I always liked to draw, and everyplace I went, I did more and more. I used to draw maps by hand on a drafting table. Now I do them by computer.
     I’ve worked in mapping for three counties, St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel and Calvert. I like it when I can accomplish stuff and get things done for people. I like to see their faces when I’m done.
–interviewed by Sandra Olivetti Martin
Claire Cawood Parker
54, Annapolis: Maryland State Archery champion
      My first job was a counter clerk and cashier at a Burger King in Nashville, where I was born. I then attended the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins universities to become a mental health counselor. I worked in private practice in the Annapolis area, administering to children and adults. Over the years this profession turned out to be my favorite and most worthwhile occupation for the positive effect it had on the many patients I served.
      Retired, I’m now working part-time as the manager of the Archery and Firearms Department of Angler’s Sport Center as well as continuing as a Maryland State Archery champion. I’m an outdoorswoman, and I find working and interacting with like-minded people a great deal of fun.
–interviewed by Dennis Doyle
Celia Molofsky
North Beach: Owner of The Wheel  
     My first job was the Army. I enlisted right out of high school. I retired as a sergeant major. My biggest accomplishment was moving the National Guard from a traditional force to an active force after 9/11. 
     The Army was my best job. I believed in what we were doing, the philosophy of fight and defend.
     Now, I’m owner of The Wheel LLC in North Beach. We’re an art gallery with 45 artists, a trendy gift shop and a tavern with fine wines and Ship Oat spirits — plus selling sophisticated clothing for men and women.
–interviewed by Tracy Contrino
Dan Starsoneck
60, Newly arrived in Annapolis: Global fire detection manager
      When Dan meets new people and they ask about his life, he jokes that he spent 26 years in prison — prison security that is, as a technician installing security systems for Johnson Controls at such notorious penitentiaries as Rikers Island. After 40 years in the business, he was recently promoted to sales manager for the northeast North Atlantic division.
      His first and worst job was baling hay, “exhausting and nasty work,” he says.
–interviewed by Jane Elkin
Mitzi Bernard
60, Friendship: Director, Bay Community Support Services
     After high school I worked at the ABC Wildlife Preserve where Six Flags Amusement Park now sits. The land was broken up and enclosed in sections each representing a major continent. We would ride horseback to round up the animals from each continent: cows and buffalo for North America, wild boar and ostriches for another and so on. It was the coolest job because we rode horses.
     I made my career in not-for-profits, working mostly for people with disabilities as I have for over 25 years as director of Bay Community Support Services for disabled individuals. This is my best job ever because we make a real difference in people’s lives. I call this a giving-back-to-the-community kind of job. We provide residential support in agency group homes as well as privately owned homes, employment services, day community activity programs, life-skills training, transportation and more to over 250 clients with all levels of disabilities.
–interviewed by Mick Blackistone
Greg Bowen
63, Prince Frederick: Executive director, ­American Chestnut Land Trust
      Right out of college I was a farmer. I farmed for a couple of years on the family farm in Prince Frederick.
      At American Chestnut Land Trust, I get to help preserve lands and be a good steward to that land. I get to go out on the trails and work with hundreds of volunteers who love the land as well. We have a little farm, so we are raising food and donating that to those in need.
      One of the most exciting things we started this year is doing science in the watershed, trying to set baselines for all the critters — all the flora and fauna — and then monitor trends to see how they are impacted by development, climate change and by invasive species.
     This is my best job. The camaraderie, the kindness that you see every day and the commitment to the environment is just incredible. I’ve had good jobs, don’t get me wrong. I loved being a planner for Calvert County, and I got to see so many good things happen over that time. But now I get to focus on the land and land preservation. What a life!
–interviewed by Sandra Olivetti Martin
Bill Driscoll
Annapolis: Hotel manager
     My first job was with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Parks and Recreation, where I was a recreation leader. At 16, I had a pretty cushy way to spend the summer and make money. My responsibility was distributing equipment for sporting events and games for kids. 
      A 48-year-old veteran of the hospitality industry, I graduated from Penn State University in 1968 with a degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management. I’m currently area general manager for the Westin and Sheraton BWI hotels. I’m the official GM of the Westin and also oversee the GM of the Sheraton. The responsibility for everything related to the profitability of both hotels is mine. My wife always has a large cocktail ready for me when I get home.
     My best job was vice president of development in the mid ’90s. I was able to use my hotel operations background when assessing new hotels for the company to buy. It was exciting growing the group one hotel at a time.
–interviewed by Debra Driscoll
Gale Gillespie
Severna Park: President, Anne Arundel Community Concert Association
     My first job was also my favorite job. Summers during college I worked keeping the books in my grandfather’s building material business in Norfolk. The office area conjoined the sales floor; there was constant interaction between the office staff and the customers. In those days Norfolk still had a small-town feel, and my grandfather knew all the customers by name. I very much enjoyed the friendly banter over those summers.
     My job as president of the concert association also lets me interact with many people and gives me the satisfaction of making this a better place to live. This is the start of our busiest time of year. We have sent out the mailings for our patrons to get their season tickets; shortly we will be processing them. We are also planning the hosting of our out-of-town artists and confirming the logistics with our venue, Severna Park High School.
     For our planning for the 2018-2019 season, I attended a showcase in Nashville where 24 artists auditioned. Now we need to sort through those and pick the four or five we want to make part of our season.
–interviewed by Bob Melamud
Linda Bouchat-Smith
Pasadena: Aquatic and land instructor
     Thanks to Miss James, my beloved kindergarten teacher, all I ever wanted to do was teach kindergarten. While in college, I worked my first job at EJ Korvettes in Glen Burnie.
     After college I found kindergarten jobs hard to come by. I taught second grade for four years. Finally, I found my dream job at Riviera Beach Elementary in Pasadena. There I spent 36 years teaching kindergarten and loved every minute of it.
     Water aerobics has always been my exercise of choice. After my retirement from the school system, I became certified through the Arthritis Foundation to teach both aquatic and land exercise classes. The classes I teach at Severna Park Community Center, Pasadena YMCA and Anne Arundel Community College promote flexibility and range of motion for persons struggling with arthritis and chronic pain. I also teach seniors how to do chair exercises through the Department of Aging. I’ve even had the privilege of teaching aquatics to my former kindergarten teacher, Miss James.
     I like to tell folks that by starting out with kindergarteners and working my way up to seniors, I’m trying to get to heaven. 
–interviewed by Diana Dinsick
Catherine Thames
89, Fairhaven: North Beach Bayside Historical Museum aide
      Right now I’m working part-time as an assistant at the North Beach Bayside Historical Museum. It is a great little gem.
     My first job was assistant playground director in Washington, D.C., during high school. I was also a Red Cross-certified swimming instructor at different D.C. community pools.
     Best or most interesting job? Well, teaching at Tracey’s Elementary for 12 years was a good one. But probably I would have to say being an elevator operator in the Longworth House Office Building, from 1964 to 1971. I got to know all the congressmen, and I could listen to their conversations about issues, the White House and so on. I would sit in the elevator, and when they heard the bell in their offices they had 20 minutes to get to the floor of the Capital to vote. When they were voting or in session I would go to the gallery and listen. When it was over I had to get back fast and have the elevator ready to take them back to Longworth. 
–interviewed by Mick Blackistone

Of Fenders and Gibsons, GE Smith and Eric Clapton

     American music grew up on American guitars.
     Mississippi Delta blues rose from the spirituals of African Americans but found a voice on National Resonator guitars built in California. Jazz and swing evolved from Big Bands on Gibson Archtops made in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The lonesome hillbilly folk we know as bluegrass was played on Martin guitars from Nazareth, Pennsylvania. When blues and jazz had a baby, they called it rock and roll and played it on Leo Fender’s Telecaster.
     In modern times, guitars that were once simply tools are hard-to-find classics. I’ve made it my business to find the coolest pieces I can for customers both in the States and abroad. 
 
Buying in Crisfield
     Back in the early 1990s, I got a phone call about a couple of old guitars down in Crisfield. About the guitars, all I knew was that one was a Fender and the other a Gibson. But I did know that the old fellow who had owned them had bought both in the ’50s.
     With an address and the old man’s name, I gassed up my van, headed across the Bay Bridge and down Route 50 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
     Usually, my blood pressure drops as I cross over the Bay as the pastoral landscape and salty air are a potion to my soul. This day was different. I was on pins and needles with anticipation.
     No one was home, so I went into Crisfield to poke around. At a small shack with a hand-painted sign offering crabs and beer, I wolfed down an immense crab cake and washed it back with a sudsy Natty Boh. Then I asked around for the old fellow.
     It didn’t take long to learn he worked up the street as a mechanic. Luck was with me, for I found him, and we headed back to his house.
     When the old fellow pulled out a brown Fender case and a black Gibson case, it was hard to maintain my poker face. First, I opened the tight latches of the Gibson case to reveal a beautiful 1956 Gibson Les Paul Custom.
      1956 was a year of experimentation for Gibson. The pickups they used were a combination of the tried-and-true P-90 single coil and the Alnico magnet version of the same design. This guitar was in original condition, having never been altered in any way. And it had that smell that only an old Gibson has. It had a lovely patina, and, though it had the typical crazing lines in the finish, it was in splendid shape.
     The Fender had the so-called Thermometer case, named for the bulbous shape at the top and its curvaceous lines, covered in a brown fabric. A spider jumped out as I pulled the Broadcaster from its case. This guitar carried the signs of use.
      Fender, like many companies back then, named its instruments after popular themes. The Broadcaster was named for the radio and television icons of the day. That name got Fender in a pickle because the Fred Gretsch Company had trademarked Broadcaster for its line of drums. For a few months in 1951, the model was simply a Fender. Later that same year, it was re-named the Telecaster, a name in continuous use ever since.
     We agreed on a fair price.
 
Selling in New York
      Back at my shop, I restrung both guitars and called G.E. Smith, then music director and guitarist on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
      He agreed without hesitation to buy the Broadcaster and said that I could see the show if I brought it up on Saturday.
      On Saturday afternoon, I boarded the train for New York City’s Penn Station.
      Arriving at Radio City Music Hall carrying a guitar case and wearing my Wayfarer sunglasses, I was mistaken for the evening’s musical guest, Eric Clapton (I was much slimmer in 1992). Clapton is one of my musical heroes.
      Hearing Eric Clapton and the SNL band play was magical. He played through G.E.’s old Fender Tweed Twin amplifier, and the tone was inspirational.
      At the cast party in the wee hours of the next morning, I timidly went up to Clapton as he sat in a booth with friends and that evening’s show host, Debra Winger. I mumbled something about him being an inspiration and yada yada, and he asked what was in the book I was holding. It was a photo album of all the guitars I had for sale.
      Eric Clapton slid over and told me to sit down so he could see for himself. Like the couple of guitar nerds that we are, we spoke for some time about guitars — plus fishing and shooting pool.
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Rick Hogue, the owner of Garrett Park Guitars in Annapolis, loves music, guitars, travel and good food too. He considers himself luck in finding a job wherein he can combine these passions. Check out his songs at reverbnation.com/rickhogue

Competitors in the Highland Games put brawn in their brag

You can wear a kilt, dance a jig or play a bagpipe to show the Celt in you. Or you can throw a tree, caber in Celtic parlance. You simply pick it up by the small end and run with it, then flip it end over end.
    You’ll see all those gradations and more this Saturday at the 39th Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Games.
    “There is too much to see in one day because with all the 23 event stations there is always something going on,” says organizer Mary Beth Dent. “Our goal is to entice folks to come again so they can see more.”
    Over athletic expressions of Celtic spirit, near-octogenarian Malcolm Doying rules. Doying’s enduring love for Celtic Highland Games has made him a fixture of Celtic communities near and far.
    “At almost 80 he is still training younger people coming up, encouraging them and helping perpetuate the traditions of the Highland Games and passing it down to the next generation,” Dent says.
    Tossing and throwing are key skills in the traditional heptathalon of feats of strength called Highland Games. The things you toss are weighty, and you must toss them all.
    “A caber weighs between 80 and 140 pounds,” Doying says.
    Stones used in Throwing the Stone, an early form of shot put, weigh only 16 to 22 pounds. The stone increases to 42 to 56 pounds with an overhead pole for brawny athletes Throwing the Weight — using only one hand.
    Tossing the Sheaf places the stone within a twine-stuffed bag weighing 16 pounds.
    “Competitors are Tossing the Sheaf close to 30 feet over the pole,” Doying says.
    Tossing the Hammer, Doying’s favorite sport, demands swinging a 16- to 22-pound hammer three times overhead before throwing.
    Throwing all these mighty weights, Doying traveled up and down the East Coast and all the way to Scotland.
    “The biggest and best competition was in Scotland,” said Doying. “The World’s Master’s Championship Competition for 40 and older was like the Olympics with a parade of guys from all over the world.”
    To fit into her husband’s competitive schedule, wife Patricia Shema adopted his passion. Shema started competing in her 50s, promoting a women’s class in the games. Between them, the couple has earned five world championships.
    “It’s so much fun,” Doying says.
    Want to step up?
    Start by watching the events to see how they’re done.
    “If you’re a reasonable athlete you can do it,” Doying says — next year with training.
    Forty-five athletes compete in three flights in the first games of the Mid-Atlantic season, said to be the best on the East Coast. One man is flying in from Germany. Fifteen athletes are women.


The 39th Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Games, Saturday, April 29, 10am-6pm. $20 admission includes heavyweight athletic events to testify to Celtic martial prowess and pride; music, dancing and instruction; living history to illuminate the culture, storytellers and genealogy seminars to strengthen cultural links — plus food and drink — all at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard: www.cssm.org.

Leo James knows better than most what’s swimming down there

In gauging the chances of a successful fishing season, I have learned to distrust the forecasting of state and conservation officials as fraught with politics and self-interest. Worse, my own guesses have proven wrong so often that I’ve learned to stop making them. There has been, however, one source I rely on year after year.
    I’ve come to think of this fellow with his thick mane of white hair as the Oracle of Mill Creek.
    Leo James has again and again captured the essence of the unfolding seasons more accurately than I thought possible. Living on the same Mill Creek waterfront property that his family has held over the last 100 years or so, this mostly retired waterman still rises at 3am this time of year to set nets for fresh bait. He fishes, tends to his marina and shares his knowledge of the Chesapeake with anyone who doesn’t irritate him. Luckily, I sometimes fit that qualification.
    “More rockfish than I’ve seen on the Bay in a lot of years,” was his first take this year. “The fish were so thick out there in February and March that they ran all of the alewife up into the creeks. Then more rock showed up this month, lots of big ones, too.”
    His prediction: “We’re going to have a good many fish for the trophy season this year, even better than last. And the regular season should be just as good.”
    Being on the waters of the Bay almost every day over the last 70 years has given James a prescience that eclipses the attempts of many highly educated scientists. The strenuous life he’s led has also left its mark on him. To say he’s fit is an understatement.
    The daily schedule as he moves about on the water and in his marina would put most of his age group (myself included) in the hospital.
    “But I can’t work into the night then be back on the water by 3am any more,” he confessed recently. “Guess my years are catching up with me.”
    In our conversation, he also reminisced to back in the day when 50- and 60-pound rockfish chasing fleeing alewife would slam into his bait nets.
    “They’d rock the whole boat. You almost couldn’t stand up some days. A rock tail two feet across would come up out of the water so it took your breath away. I remember one fish so big that it just tore through the whole net, never even slowed down. On one or two days, we had to quit setting. The fish just ran us right off the water.”
    Hyperbole? I’m not so sure. I’ve read and heard similar stories and caught glimpses of too many really big fish moving through Bay waters to discount any of the Oracle’s recollections.
    Part of the beauty and mystery of the Chesapeake is that you never really know what’s beneath. Of course, Leo James has a pretty good idea.

Scout lures wood ducks to Franklin Point State Park

Wood ducks are swamp-loving birds, so Shady Side, with its historical nickname The Great Swamp, ought to be the kind of place they’d like. All the more so Franklin Point State Park, 477 acres of wood and waterfront on the Shady Side Peninsula, where humans are welcome but not common.
    Wood ducks are welcome, too. To add curb appeal to the park, Boy Scout Reggie Scerbo, 18, of West River, has built and installed seven nesting boxes that satisfy the requirements of the picky and distinctive species.
    The medium-size dabblers have heads shaped like helmets and thick, upright tails. The males stand out like brilliantly colored harlequins. Less visible are the clawed toes that enable them to climb trees to nest in cavities. Lacking trees, they settle for nesting boxes built to just the right specifications.
    “The entrance hole had to face the water, regardless of compass direction,” Scerbo explained. “The height from the ground had to be about six feet, with an oval hole with a diameter of three by four inches. It is also important to put bedding inside the boxes, since wood ducks rely on the rotten wood that would be in a dead or dying tree. A predator guard is also important to keep out snakes, raccoons and other predators.”  
    Reproductive survival is low as the newly hatched ducklings are driven by instinct to flop out of the nest and follow their mother to the water. Nearly 90 percent of wood ducklings die within the first two weeks, mostly due to predation, according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. The vulnerable species was hunted nearly to extinction a century ago.
    Now humans are helping the species recover.
    Scerbo’s box is one of about 1,800 on Maryland public lands, from which some 8,000 chicks were anticipated in 2016.
    The Maryland Wood Duck Initiative recruits volunteers like Scerbo, offering training, site review and box location help as well as providing materials — cypress for the boxes and street sign poles for the supports.
    “Reggie figured out how to make it happen,” said West/Rhode Riverkeeper Jeff Holland. “He worked with experts from the Maryland Wood Duck Initiative to get technical support, cleared the location with the Maryland Park Service and got the help of the Scouts of Troop 249 of Edgewater in assembling and putting in the right place.”
    The ducks helped Scerbo earn the rank of Eagle Scout.
    “We expect a wonderful impact on resurgence of this species in our habitat,” Holland said.

Back then we had gardens; now we have Whole Foods

     Biggest problem in today’s society? I think electronics. Children watch too much TV. They have too many toys. They should be going outside, learning how to communicate, exercising.
    I grew up in Boston. We would play outside. Football, baseball, hiking. When you’re little, you don’t need video games. I just don’t think you need that. We had cartoons; watched them every once in a while. Not every day; just every once in a while.
    It’s too easy for children today. So when they’re older, they want everything. They expect everything. I think kids get greedy because they are given everything that they want from an early age. Back in the day, we’d fish, we’d get jobs cutting grass or working at the market. You have to work. You can’t expect your mother and father to take care of you. You agree, right?
    Kids have access to all of this information: the Internet, the iPhones, the iPads. You know what’s the best thing in the world? Libraries.
    Oh, and the music was so good back then! Dean Martin, Sinatra. You could understand everything! You can’t even hear a word with these rappers today. On Friday nights, there was a basketball game at the high school. We’d lie on our stomachs and look in through the window because we weren’t old enough to get in. And then there’d always be a big party afterward. That’s where I learned to dance, watching them.
    Back then we had gardens; now we have Whole Foods. We just used to call it nature! One time, my dad told his dad, “Pa, we’ve got green beans in cans now.” Pa said, “This will be the ruination of our country.” He was right. You know how much sodium is in canned foods? He was 89 and he knew that. They were so smart in everything they did, yet they didn’t have any college education.
    It’s such a fast pace in this life. We used to have such simple things to make us happy. We used to sit on the porch and wait for the ice cream truck once a week, you know the ones that play the music? Now that was fun.

Marshall Coffman’s martial ministry

     “You learn through both winning and losing,” says 70-year-old Marshall Coffman, who leads a double life.
    As the Reverend Dr. Coffman, he is associate pastor of the Christian Fellowship of Calvert County in Owings. As Sensei Coffman, he is head instructor of Budokan Judo Club at Northeast Community Center. Combining roles, he leads the Judo for Jesus ministry.
    This summer, Sensei Coffman earned the lofty rank of fifth-degree black belt.
    Gaining a first-degree black belt is a high honor coveted by many but achieved by only the most devoted. Rising to the fifth degree — a labor of 23-plus years for Coffman — demands not only technical ability but also sacrifice and devotion. Fewer than seven percent of Judo practitioners wear the red-and-black belt unique to this rank.
    As a 21-year-old U.S. Air Force communications technician, Coffman took advantage of his posting 30 miles from Tokyo to study judo with the renowned fifth-degree black belt Takehide Matsunaga. He learned while studying the ancient arts to teach others.
    From Japan to the Philippines to Colorado Springs to Andrews Airbase, he gained skill as he taught.
    In the Phillipines, he met his wife, Teresita Abellana Gadiana. They have two children, Felipe and Annette. The whole family has studied judo.
    By the time Coffman reached the Washington metropolitan area, he was a respected martial arts teacher.
     At 35, Coffman “felt the call” of a second, more demanding vocation: he devoted 12 years of night school to studying for the ministry. Studying while working at AT&T left no spare time.
    “Judo, I believed, was behind me,” he says. “God will sometimes ask you to give up something.”
    Coffman’s health also seemed lost. He suffered a heart attack, the crippling effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, cancer and triple bypass surgery.
    As he recovered, he realized that poor physical health can damage a person’s spiritual health. In February 2004, he launched the Judo for Jesus Ministry at the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware.
    That summer, the Judo for Jesus Ministry Team traveled nearly 3,000 miles, making gospel presentations in 21 churches with 375 new students professing their faith. The Judo for Jesus Ministry has since seen over 1,000 professions in faith.
    “Sometimes,” Coffman says, God gives what you gave back to you to use for His glory.”