Standout souvenirs in an ending journey


September 27, 1992|By Dolly Merritt

It has been six years since my first column appeared on June 15, 1986. With The Howard County Sun entering a new phase of publication, I will no longer be writing the "People" column. I will, however, be taking on a new challenge, profiling seniors and writing feature articles for the paper.

Looking with nostalgia through past articles, I can see how things have changed.

My husband and I are no longer sharing our home with "two kids and two cats" as was described in my first column. My son and daughter have flown the nest, one feline has departed with wings of a heavenly nature, and we have a 10-month old grandson, about whom I have gut-wrenchingly restrained myself from writing grandmotherly prose.

What has remained the same these six years, however, has been the perpetual "high" I've experienced after each interview. With a file of a few hundred articles about Howard County people, I will try to highlight some of the individuals who made my job far from boring.

I was attending a holiday party in December 1988 when I met James Adkins, a Mount Hebron High School art teacher, who became the subject of one article. His charcoal drawings of nude women had created some controversy in a college in Pennsylvania, where they had been displayed. And his work was also banned from the annual county teachers' art exhibit.

Today, Mr. Adkins is sketching happily ever after in his studio at the Rockland Art Center in Ellicott City. His recent exhibit at the Mahler Gallery in Washington received good reviews. He is currently teaching art classes at Howard Community College and Villa Julie College in Baltimore County.

Three years ago, I was observing the fall foliage in one of the few open spaces left on old Montgomery Road when I nearly slammed on my brakes. A sign reading, "Future Site -- Route 103 Pig Farm," was posted at the end of a pasture, 17 feet away from one of three new homes next to the property.

Harry W. Miliner, owner of the pasture, aimed to create a big stink. His meadow had turned into muck from water running off an incline on which the homes were built. Mr. Miliner's goal was achieved when the pigs arrived and the sludge hit the media fan. I wrote about it in the Oct. 29, 1989 issue. Other stories followed.

All ended happily when Mr. Miliner sold four of his five pigs and the developer diverted the water to a street gutter and planted trees to screen the houses from the pasture. A neighborhood celebration at the Miliner residence culminated with -- you guessed it -- a pig roast.

Remember William Chevalier, a mentally disabled man who had spent 60 years in the Rosewood Center, an institution in Baltimore County? As part of an effort to integrate the mentally disabled into the community, he moved into an Ellicott City house, which he shared with three other individuals and house counselors.

Two years later I wrote a second story -- about his seven-day cruise to Bermuda. Since then, Mr. Chevalier, now 71, is still very much a part of the community. He has learned to read signs, a result of a literacy class he took at the Howard County Central Library. He also volunteers with Meals on Wheels twice a month, takes a woodworking class and attends church services every Sunday.

In addition to meeting hundreds of interesting people, some interviews required quirky demands on my time. For instance, there was the frigid February morning last year when I spent too many hours -- without long underwear -- at Lake Kittamaqundi watching two bird watchers count every bird they could find for the seventh-annual winter bird count of the Howard County Bird Club.

Another "chilling" time was when I ascended to new heights in a 17-foot-long, 6 1/2 -ton lift to get a feel for what it was like to decorate The Mall in Columbia from 45 feet above.

And I recall with embarrassment the day I knocked down most of the driving cones that were set up for a driver safety course I was writing about. I even hawked cyclist Mark Charleston -- who bikes to work from Beltsville to The Mall in Columbia every day -- in the fast lane along Route 29. When I spotted him, I drove my car next to his recumbent bike and asked for an interview.

More often than being tickled, however, I've been touched by you. Through the years, I've gained inspiration from people like Richard and Barbara Fenske, who left their comfortable Columbia home in 1987 to teach people in Central America about health care and modern farming methods.

I've learned the importance of community involvement through people like Barbara Sieg and Chari Stoesser, both of Ellicott City. Mrs. Sieg rejuvenated an old, abandoned cemetery and is founder of Friends of the Whipps Cemetery -- an organization devoted to the Whipps Cemetery's restoration.

Mrs. Stoesser's dream for a memorial garden to victims of drunken driving and violent crime materialized when Serenity Garden in Rockburn Park was dedicated last spring.

I've also learned about determination from people like Joseph Singleton, a Columbia resident who earned his first-degree black belt from a wheelchair in 1990, and Victoria Gelman, a Laurel resident with cerebral palsy who looked forward to continuing her college education so she could eventually teach special education. Her disability impaired her sight and balance, but never kept her from becoming involved in doing what she loves most -- working with children who are mentally disabled and physically handicapped.

As I sit at my computer, which has already inched too many pages along, I realize all good things must come to an end. Thank you for your ideas and your readership. Thanks for PTC teaching me some important lessons. Most of all, thanks for the memories.

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