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Love stories from Chesapeake Country

When Susan Met Anthony …
Susan and Anthony Nolan
 
Playing Cupid gave me opportunity to talk with him outside work
 
       Newly single in her late 30s, my friend Lisa lamented the absence of single men. “How does anyone find someone?”
      Then it happened. She had met someone, and he was kind, funny, smart and handsome.
      “How did you meet?” I wondered, after all her disappointment.
      “Penitentiary pen-pal program,” she answered.
      Stunned into silence, I did not want to know more.
      But the question stayed with me. 
      IF I were looking for love, where would I find it?
      My mother suggested church. “Single men do not go to church,” I told her — “unless they live with their mothers.”
       Another relative had a bold idea. “You go downtown to that Senate Office Building and introduce yourself to Lindsey Graham. He’s single and he’s a South Carolinian.” I rolled my eyes, remembering Gerald O’Hara telling Scarlett, “It matters not who you marry, daughter. Just as long as he is a southerner and thinks like you.”
        My friend Melissa pulled dating websites up on her computer. “See? See? Hundreds of thousands of available men looking for someone. You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be compatible with at least one of them.”
       I was asking, but I wasn’t looking. I enjoyed being single.
      Yet friends and co-workers kept trying to set me up. Happily married colleague Ed whispered, “Our new assistant division chief is single.” 
       “I am never, ever dating anyone I meet at work. That’s just so inappropriate,” I told him.
      “You have so many other appropriate ways to meet men?”
       I changed the subject. I was getting good at that.
       Cathy, my supervisor, also told me about our new division chief. She came back from a meeting singing his praises. “Anthony’s a good listener. Don’t you find that an unusual and appealing quality in a man?”
      Finally, to prove I would “never, ever date anyone I meet at work,” I plotted to find him another woman.
      Mary seemed a likely candidate. Like Anthony, she was in her 40s, never married, Roman Catholic, with a large extended family including many adored nieces and nephews. They both enjoyed travel and the outdoors. I could introduce them at the art gallery she managed. 
      He agreed. Mary agreed and offered the bonus of inviting a single guy for me to meet. “There’s less pressure in a larger group,” she said.
      It went off beautifully. Everybody liked everybody. But there wasn’t any chemistry.
      I continued my efforts to find a match for our assistant division chief. Playing Cupid gave me opportunity to talk with him outside work. Our friendship grew.    But no matter whom I introduced, Anthony was uninterested.
       Eventually, he explained why.
      One evening after a workshop together, I found the following message on my answering machine:
      “I want you to know I am an intelligent person. I’m well-educated. I’m well-read. I’m well-traveled. Yet when I am in your presence, I am speechless. Why is that?”
       I swooned, realizing I would never find a suitable match for this man because he was smitten with me. It could have been a scene from a Jane Austen novel — had Emma Woodhouse an answering machine.
      Our courtship was brief. We married a few months later. We’ve shared 11 action-packed years in which we have treated the traditional wedding vows of for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health like a to-do list, checking off each item a dozen times over. Our failures and successes have brought us closer together and more in love.
       Friends and family still rib me about how I swore I would “never, ever date someone I meet at work,” and I laugh at how close-minded I once was. Now, I say yes to love wherever you find it — be it at church, a bar, the Senate or an online dating app. 
       As for Lisa and the guy she found via the penitentiary pen-pal program, she was right. He is kind, funny, smart handsome and — fortunately — reformed.    They, too, will be celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary this year.
 

When Elisavietta Met Clyde …
Elisavietta Ritchie and Clyde Farnsworth
 
The wooing of a brilliant loner 
     Dissident Russian artists was my topic toward an M.A. at American University, so when Norton Dodge, professor of Russian economics and collector of Russian dissidents’ paintings, held a conference at his Cremona estate, where several émigré artists and their canvases would be present, I was delighted. 
      Guests included New York Times journalist Clyde Farnsworth, recently back from Paris. Guessing that Clyde had surely met the existentialist novelist Albert Camus, I settled next to him. Conversation revealed that Camus’ The Exile and the Kingdom reflected Clyde’s situation as a brilliant loner.
      He scribbled his phone number on a matchbook. A month later I called: On my own after 24 years of a mostly good marriage, I didn’t suffer for lack of diversion. Nor did Clyde. 
       I could bring an escort to dinner at my father’s friend Dr. George Mishtowt’s. An evening of brilliant conversation and Russian songs, and Clyde was a baritone. He also practiced his violin daily …
       Our respective children asked, “Why don’t you two get married?”
       My answer: “He hasn’t asked me.”
       Summer 1992, on the cusp of his transfer to Canada (I assumed another romance over), I drove him to a knee operation. Afterward I settled him in our guest bed while I slept on the couch, at midnight back to the ER, then home again to his bed of pain. 
       Suddenly at 2am he asked, “Why don’t we mosey down to the Prince Frederick courthouse tomorrow and pick up a license?”
       I phoned Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, my doctor daughter, then a captain at a military hospital in South Korea. Her answer zoomed across the Pacific: “Do so quickly before the anesthesia wears off!”
       Around the world and all these years later, we still have a cottage at Broomes Island and are settling in at Asbury Solomons.

When Amanda Met John …
Amanda Bowen and John Barnett
 
Which of the brothers would it be?
       It was a time in my life where I was in this phase of do I go to college? Do I stick with the job I have? 
      A friend talks me into going with him to hunter safety classes at Meyers Station Nature Park in Odenton.
      In class he leans over and says sorry that I don’t see any guys you would like here. I was a little confused because I didn’t know I was there to pick up a guy. Little did I know I would.
      Night two, in the middle of discussing safety precautions in hunting turkey, I scan the room. In the back are two younger guys, arms folded, sitting low in their chairs. 
      Day three, we are out practicing loading our firearms and shooting at targets. That was my chance to approach the men, who I figured were brothers. Instead, the taller brother introduces himself to me. I’m not going to lie; as we talked, my eyes are elsewhere. Especially because as we talked, he is steadily texting an ex, who, he says, won’t leave him be.
       Ummmmm thanks for the honesty ... moving on from Jeremiah.
       That evening, we’re invited to their house for a bonfire. The shorter brother, John Barnett, is off sitting by himself. I pull up a chair — and the rest is history. 
       Nine years and two beautiful babies later, at 27 we live in Galesville and are still having bonfires and enjoying the few chances we get to hunt together.

 
When Blair Met Jay …
Blair Dawson and Jay Weaver
 
The sandwich that stole my heart
 
       We have been together ever since he posted a picture of a sandwich on Facebook three years ago. 
       In 2014, I lost my parents and decided I was going to live for me for once. I had gastric sleeve surgery, lost a lot of weight, started to go to the gym and enjoy myself. Well, he posted the picture of that sandwich, and I just had to comment on it. We met three days later, and we’ve been together ever since.
      The sandwich is called a Wedgy, and it’s from a little place in Knox, Pennsylvania. We’ve gone and had it three times. It’s one of my favorite things. 
      I am 35, and Jay is 51 and we have been together three years and are now engaged. 
 

When Diana Met Gary …
Diana and Gary Dinsick
 
Sure that our romance was over, I wrote him a formal goodbye
 
      We met at a college dance at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student Union. Our reasons for being there were as divergent as our personalities. He was an outgoing and focused sophomore preparing for an Army career. I was a starry-eyed 17-year-old, uncertain what I wanted in life but knowing I wanted to share it with someone. 
      At first glance upon meeting him, I saw only brownness. Jeans, sweater, shoes, eyes, hair — everything was brown. Framing his sun-bronzed face were the worst eyeglasses I’d ever seen. Later on, once we knew each other better, he told me he’d hated the pantsuit I was wearing that night.
      From the beginning, ours was a push-pull relationship. I was the student, the introvert; he thrived on running with the guys. Three years later, after his graduation, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army and left for a three-year assignment in Germany. Sure that our romance was over, I even wrote him a formal goodbye.
      It was a lonely time, my senior year without him. I got down. Even my sociology professor remarked on the change in me. When I confided my situation, my prof informed me that my soldier would find someone else.
       I know, I whispered back.
       His reply: “Why don’t you find a man and spend your life making him happy?”
       Still, my erstwhile beau kept writing. Nine months later, I married him in beautiful Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Forty-three years, three children and a long Army career later, we’re still together. He’s still my Valentine.
 

When Amy Met Michael …
Amy Stielper and Michael Malone
 
We met when I took his job
 
       During the early 1990s, Michael Malone clerked for a judge in Leonardtown. At the end of the one-year position, the judge hired me, and Michael spent the next few weeks training me. 
       The odds were against us, as he was returning home to Anne Arundel County to practice law, and we both were seeing other people.
      But after two weeks together, poring over law books and dissecting trials, Michael asked me out.
      “No, I’m going shopping with my mother,” I answered — but followed up that lame but true excuse with “I’m free the next night.”
      We married a year later. Now I joke that Michael learned early that his chocolate is mine, his bedcovers are mine and his job was mine.
      The irony? I now work for Michael in his law practice. He is also a delegate representing central Anne Arundel County.
 
 
 
 
 

 
When Esperison Met Gladys …
Marty and Gladys Martinez
 
He had pawned his watch so he could pay for a cab that night
 
       My grandparents, Esperison “Marty” Martinez and Gladys Bradley, met a few weeks before Valentine’s Day on a bitter January night in 1952. At 18 years old, he was a newly capped seaman duce sailor, stationed at Quonset Point Naval Air Station. She was a much more mature 20-year-old, living in a little house with her parents and two younger sisters and working a steady job for an insurance company. 
      Their meeting should have been highly unlikely given that his base was some 20 miles away, he was without a car, and he had very little cash. But that Saturday night brought them together at a Polish community dance hall, a popular spot for locals to dance the polka. 
       She was there with six other girls, sitting at a table having drinks, when he and his friend showed up. He got up the nerve to approach and ask one of the girls for a dance. She said no. Never the type to be easily defeated, he moved on to the next girl, my grandmother. She was also a hard sell; she looked him up and down and said, Well, okay.
      On the dance floor they swayed to Eddie Fisher’s Anytime, and ended up talking late into the night.
       When it was time to leave, he offered to take her home. Earlier he had pawned his watch for the evening’s cash so he had enough to pay for a cab. It must have impressed my grandmother, for they arranged for a second date, which evolved into many more slow dances and a dinner to meet her folks, all before a church wedding on October 11 of that same year.
       Some said their marriage would never last due to the mere nine months of dating, but two kids, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and 65 years of marriage later, the Annapolitans have given up on the time clock and now do “Whatever it is that may move us to contentment.”
–Ariel Martinez-Brumbaugh
 

When Ariel Met Pat …
Ariel Martinez-Brumbaugh and Patrick Beall
 
At my recommendation, we got friendlier
 
      We were friends of friends first, then just friends and then friends who sometimes kissed under a starry sky when we got caught up in the moment.   Then, one June day in 2006, we made plans to go kayaking with friends, but only Pat and I showed up. We paddled across Herring Bay and then back into a marsh. Sensing that tension in the air that only comes with new romance, we opted for a bit of adventure and tied our boats to a tree in favor of marsh  mucking. We picked around submerged logs and sank up to our knees. We emerged on the shore muddy and laughing. I remember stretching out on a bed of marsh grasses and talking until the sun began to set. 
        A few weeks later, at my recommendation, we went on our first date. In the following years, we endured international separations, moved in and out of apartments together, traveled with friends and have since settled into a world of “I have to work late tonight” and “Whose turn is it to take out the trash?”
       Eleven years after that June day, at my recommendation, Pat proposed.
 

 
When Brad Met Linda …
Brad Wells and Linda Eversfield Wells
 
We shared a room before we fell in love
 
        We met in the Tampa airport in June of 2005. We were both going to a mutual friend’s wedding and the younger sibling Jane convinced us to all share the same room to save money for partying. Everything was PG, and we had a great time. 
       Leaving Tampa was pretty awkward because we both knew the situation was a long shot. The only thing I could think to do was mock her dimples by poking my inflated cheeks and twisting my fingers into them, saying “Bye, Dimples.” Game on point! 
        She claims that she fell for me because I’m a dork.
We remained friends for three years while talking long-distance every day.
Eventually I decided she was never leaving Maryland so decided to pull up my roots from Kentucky and replant on the Bay. Those roots have now grown into a six-year marriage and two beautiful children. 
 

 
When Michelle Met Leisha …
Michelle Farley and Leisha Suggs
 
Coffee with a hint
 
       When I moved to College Park in the fall of 2006 to start graduate school, I quickly fell into a habit of getting coffee at the student union coffee shop on my way to class. One of the baristas always remembered my drink, and we started chatting for a few minutes when it wasn’t too busy. 
      In early November, after I had been gone for a week for a conference, the barista handed me a folded piece of receipt tape with my drink. She had written her social media contact in the giant black crayon they used to mark the cups.
      The first time we hung out, I was swamped with coursework, and she offered to come with me to photograph my assigned site for a paper. That led to more hanging out.
      We’ve now been together for over 11 years, married for almost five. We married the day the law changed in Minnesota, where we moved after I graduated in 2008.
      Leisha was born and raised in Saint Mary’s County, where most of her Suggs family still lives. She taught me the importance of Old Bay seasoning, stuffed ham, and how to properly pick a blue crab. She now works as a therapist to homeless youth and receives a lot of compliments on her Maryland Terrapins lanyard.
 

 
When Jessica Met Steve …
Jessica and Steve Grzybowski 
 
At senior week, I fell for the ­person who drove me absolutely crazy in high school 
 
        Our story starts in first grade at Lothian Elementary, where we went to school together and had numerous classes with one another. Those classes continued through middle and high school. Though we went to the same school, we never really noticed each other. I was a spirited cheerleader, and Steve was an old country boy who couldn’t have cared less about school.
       Our senior year, our good mutual friend’s mom worked in the office, and I was her assistant for one of my classes. Her son and Steve came in to bother me every day, but there was no romance between us. I used to tell her I felt sorry for whatever girl married either one of them.
       After graduation I headed to Ocean City for a week with my girls, while Steve headed to Florida with a buddy. They arrived just before a hurricane, so turned around and drove to Ocean City. As we had mutual friends, Steve ended up at our condo for parties and sorts.
      Back home, I asked a mutual friend for his number because we had had a pretty good time at the beach. After two weeks of him blowing me off, we have been together ever since. We tied the knot on May 16, 2009, at the young ages of 21 and 20. 
      We have three beautiful children and will be married for nine years on our anniversary and together 12 years total in July. We both are South County-born and raised and now raising our own family in South County as well.
Never thought I would go to senior week and find a husband let alone one I’d known all my life.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

When Julia Met Robbo …

Julia and Robert Howes
 
I loved his truck
 
        I knew Robbo through our dads, who both were into classic cars. I had seen him a few times here and there, thought he was cute, but never really considered him like that. In 2012, my mom and I were at 7-Eleven in Deale when he pulled in. He was driving his lifted 1984 Chevy Scottsdale, and I loved the truck. I said hi to him, and we had small talk. I asked him about the two girls in his truck (who turned out to be his cousin and her friend), and he said if I went out with him, he would leave them there. I gave him my number but didn’t go with him.
      Less than a month later we were dating. He was 18, and I was 15. Everyone said we were too young, but we got married anyway and have been married for 121⁄2 years now. We have a beautiful seven-year-old daughter, bought the house he grew up in and his parents built, both work in South County and own a commercial crabbing business.
 
 

 
When Pam Met Billy …
Pamela and Bill Krug
 
A glimpse into the future
       We grew up seven houses apart and have been best friends since fourth grade. We became official when we were 19 years old. 
      When we were little, I was on a bike ride with my dad, and little Billy Krug came peddling up the street and said to my dad, “You know what, Mr. Gunnell? I love your daughter, and I’m going to marry her one day,” and then pedaled off. I was nine or 10 and remember being so embarrassed. 
      We are now 37 and have been married for 13 years but have been together forever. We have three children, ages 14, 11 and 8.
 

 
When Paula Met Ernest …
Paula Taylor Tillich and Ernest Willoughby
 
And vice versa
 
       “Professor Willoughby would swipe the breakfast sweet roll I’d put on the far side of my desk in the corridor of the building where he had his office,” Paula recalls. “I was a graduate student in biology at Syracuse University where he was a biology professor.” 
      Ernest’s retelling of that time at St. Mary’s College is a little different. “She ate a sweet roll every morning for breakfast and began leaving a fresh one on the edge of her desk, knowing I would pass every morning on my way to my office.”
       This mute communication continued until one day …
       Forty-five years later they are retired, having raised three children, living at Asbury Solomons.
 

 
When Jessica Met Michael …
Jessica and Michael Hickman
 
He rolled down the window and hollered … then Love Story
 
       We met at the stoplight in Edgewater on Solomons Island Road by Lee Airport.
       I was 17, and he was 22. I was in my truck, and he was in his. 
       I was sitting at the red light with my hair down and window down, looking all fabulous in my big truck and jamming out. He was turning in by Ledo’s to go to the gas station. 
        As he pulled up to the pump, I decided to show off and rolled down my other window as I pulled in after him. He ran up and asked for my number. Thank God I gave him the right one.
      That was September 2009. We’ve been married for over four years now and have two kiddos and a house in South County. 
 
 

 
When Heather Met Bobby …
Heather and Bobby Lamb
 
Some said we’d never last, and some may not have wanted us to
 
       I was good friends with his sister, and he would be at the house when I would hang out there. 
       One night the three of us were supposed to go to the movies, but she backed out. I wasn’t sure about it but we decided to still go. Glad we did. 
       Things moved kind of fast. He eventually moved in with me, and not long after I became pregnant with our son. There were some that said we’d never last, and some that may not have wanted us to. Now he is 47, I am 46, and we celebrated 21 years of marriage in November. We live in Galesville with our son Justin, 21, and daughter Emily, 19.
 
 
 
 

 
When Tricia Met James …
Tricia and James Huffman
 
Workplace romance works out
      My husband was one of our contractors at work. We’d had friendly conversation and joked around, but he was super shy. One day he insulted me by saying all I do is sit there and look pretty. It went from there.
I am 30, James is 35. We have been married four years and have four kids.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
When Leigh Met Nick …
Leigh Glenn and Nick Beschen
 
A decade of gentle nudges
 
       We met in January of 2008 through his older brother, a cheeky fellow, to whom I free-cycled a couple of gardening books and women’s overalls for his wife. 
       Older brother and younger drove together to a niece’s wedding in Florida in May 2008 and got to talking women. Nick had not been in a relationship for a while and his brother told him he knew “this woman” but wasn’t sure how to connect us. “You can just give me her number,” Nick said.
       We spoke by phone. I loved his voice (Bay Weekly readers who have frequented community theaters may know that voice, too, as Nick has been in many productions over the years). 
      Our first date, he drove to Tysons, and we walked to Clyde’s. The second date, a week later, I drove to Annapolis. We were fortunate that, despite a storm, the power came back on in time to prepare and enjoy scallops, rice and broccoli before heading to Rams Head to hear Last Train Home. After the concert, we talked. All. Night. (Not since college had I stayed up all night talking with anyone.)
      It’s nearly a decade later, and I love him more than ever.
 
 

 
 
When Tracy Met Chris …
Tracy and Chris Roy
 
We found each other on CB radio — twice
 
      We didn’t have internet back in the day. I stole my dad’s CB radio because it fascinated me (and to be in touch with a boyfriend). In my travels and meeting new people on the radio, I hit it off as friends with one guy who was then engaged.
       After his marriage didn’t work out, he came looking for me just as my CB radio fad was coming to a close. We met back up and started hanging out together, and one thing led to another.
      Thirty-two years later we are still friends, married for 25 years this ­September.
 
 
 

 
When Kim Met BJ …
Kim and BJ Welch
 
A match made in a music-lovers chat room
 
      We met in 2004 in a chat room on AOL. He was a musician looking for local support for his band. I was a newly graduated 18-year-old ready to leave my home in Baltimore.  
      We officially started dating on July 2, 2004, and quickly got pregnant (whoops!). We married October 22, 2005, and now have five children. Four boys: Corey, Josh, Billy and Austin. Then our miracle girl Dixie who was born April 2016, at just 27 weeks, weighing one pound. Almost 14 years later, this young marriage is still going strong.

SaveSave

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.”

Chesapeake Curiosities: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is the northernmost of its kind

A habitat unique in Maryland flourishes just south of Prince Frederick. Battle Creek Cypress Swamp is one of the nation’s northernmost naturally occurring stands of bald cypress trees.
    “It’s actually a bit of a mystery why the swamp is here, as we don’t see similar stands of trees in other low-lying swampy areas of the county,” says Shannon Steele, Calvert County naturalist.
    In 1957, the Nature Conservancy purchased 100 acres of land to protect the unusual ecosystem. Today, a boardwalk brings you into the habitat, crossing about 10 acres of the swamp. The park encompasses most of the remaining cypress stand, but some trees remain on nearby private property.
    Delaware has another stand of cypress trees on the Eastern Shore in Trap Pond State Park.
    Some of ­Battle Creek’s cypress are ex­tremely old. “The oldest tree we know of is around 500 years old,” Steele says. This tree can’t be seen from the main boardwalk, but you can visit it on an annual guided hike (calvertparks.org).
    Bald cypress trees are interesting in that they are deciduous conifers, meaning that they have needles like an evergreen but drop those needles in the fall just as oaks and maples lose their leaves. Cypress also grow knees, root system knobs that grow up out of the soil rather than staying underground.
    “The function of these growths is something of a mystery,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation, “although some believe it is a way to help the roots get oxygen.”
    Cypress provide valuable habitat to many creatures, especially the prothonotary warbler, a small yellow bird that likes to nest in the trees’ knees.
    As for the name, Battle Creek is the small stream that flows through the park, named in honor of the town of Battle, England, the ancestral home of the original owners of the land.


Has a sight stymied you? Does an oddity bewilder? Your curiosity may be featured in an upcoming column. Send your questions to chesapeakecuriosities@gmail.com.
 

Neighbors joining neighbors to celebrate our independence

Is there anything more fun, more moving and more important than a hometown Fourth of July parade? Whether joining the parade or watching it, we celebrate our independence as a nation and as a people.
    Across the land, communities large and small decorate themselves, their dogs and conveyances from baby buggies to trikes and bikes to convertibles, tractors, fire engines and floats. In a partnership of faith and delight, we join as one entity united by shared purpose.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Annapolis Parade

From Amos Garrett Blvd., down West St., around Church Circle and down Main St. Parade at 6:30pm, fireworks at 9:15pm (Main St. and Spa Creek Bridge closed 6-10pm), Downtown Annapolis: www.annapolis.gov.

The state capital bursts with patriotic pride every Independence Day with a parade, music by the USNA Concert Band at Susan Campbell Park and spectacular fireworks over the harbor.
    Marching in the parade is a special honor, says Glenn Carr, a parent volunteer of a Special Olympics athlete who has marched for the last four years.
    “We’d been loving the Annapolis parade for a number of years,” said Carr, “and I started thinking Why can’t we be a part of the parade? We see a lot of other civic groups here and Special Olympics is a great cause that people love to support.”
    Anne Arundel Special Olympics athletes wear their uniforms and medals and march with a banner and wave flags.
    “This year we have a decorated van as part of our procession,” says Carr. “It’s a lot of fun, and we love to expose our athletes to the public.”
    The sight of these smiling marchers draws a lot of cheering and love from the crowds, he adds. “One of our athletes, a young lady who works at a grocery store, saw some customers at the parade that recognized her, and she was absolutely thrilled. I always tell them to ‘bring your flags and spread your happiness’. It’s a great day for our country.”
    Park at city garages and take the Circulator trolley ($1) to the top of Main Street. The trolleys run 8am-midnight. Shuttle service ($1) is also available from Gate 5 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to Lawyers Mall 5pm-midnight.
    The closer you get to downtown the harder it will be to park and the more difficulty you will have getting out of town after the celebration.
    Watching by boat? Because of the anticipated crowds, boaters are urged to select their preferred viewing area anchorage early and are warned to avoid the 1,000-foot safety zone around the fireworks barge.


Cape St. Claire Parade

Parade begins at 10am from the Cape St. Claire firehouse, travels one mile to River Bay Rd., then to the beach; fun continues at the main beach 11am-2pm: 410-757-1223; www.cscia.org/d/July4th-celebration.

The Cape St. Claire community joins together to celebrate Independence Day with a parade down to the main beach area. The atmosphere is family-friendly with lots of youth sports groups passing out goodies along the route. Rhiannon Dunn, coach of the Cape Rugby Football Club, says the kids in her co-ed touch rugby team plan to throw candy and trinkets from their float.
    “This is our third parade,” she says. “I love the Cape. I’ve lived here about 16 years, and I love the parade. It’s a chance for the whole community to come together and enjoy our neighbors. We are like a small town. Even being so close to D.C. and Baltimore, we still have that small town feel.”
    Dunn reports that for the players, it’s a can’t-miss-event. “It’s like one of their favorite things to do even being in the midst of our playing season.”
    Her favorite thing? “There are a couple of really interesting floats. For being a tiny community parade, the amount of effort and enthusiasm that goes into it is interesting. We are working on a float, but I am not sure how floaty it will be since just last week I realized that July Fourth was coming up. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.”
    Prizes are awarded for the Most Patriotic and Most Creative entries. Games and activities at the beach after the parade include tug of war, a sandcastle building contest, a water balloon toss, spoon and egg races and watermelon eating contest. Grillmasters compete to win the title of best Backyard Ribs in the Cape — guest judges sample entries and choose a winner.


Galesville Parade

From Anchors Way, between Galesville Park and Hardesty Funeral Home down Galesville Rd., turning right onto East Benning Rd., winding until it passes the community center, then out on West Benning and across to the Anchors Way starting point. Main St. closes at 12:45pm; parade at 1pm: 410-867-2648; www.galesvilleheritagesociety.org/July4th.shtml.

The historic waterfront community of Galesville began its Fourth of July parade tradition late, in 1994, with just fireworks, sponsored by the Galesville Heritage Society. A parade was added the next year. Each year the festivities grew a little more, until the fireworks brought in so many people that it overwhelmed the community’s resources. So the fireworks ended, but the parade lives on.