To top it off, 83-year-old hat collector is also a disc jockey


May 03, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HIS NAME is George Cossentino, but some call him the Mad Hatter. To others, he's known as Maestro. But most of the people who know him just call him George.

Cossentino, 83, lives at Harmony Hall Retirement Community in the village of Hickory Ridge. Over the past four years, he has collected more than 40 hats, most of them gifts from other residents and visitors to Harmony Hall.

Nearly every day, you'll find him wearing one of those hats in the music corner at Harmony Hall. Cossentino is the unofficial disc jockey for the over-60 crowd living there.

He has never heard of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock or N'Sync, current chart-topping groups. But for hours each day, he plays old favorites for the residents who gather in the lobby to hear popular music from their day. Music by artists such as Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee and Johnny Mercer plays softly from Cossentino's boombox.

A native of Baltimore, Cossentino worked for the city's water department for 40 years. "And I never missed a day of work," he said.

Cossentino served in the Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1945. His wife, Viola, died 12 years ago. The couple had no children.

The hats started accumulating shortly after Cossentino moved to Harmony Hall.

"There was a Korean girl working here. She was a little bit of a thing, giddy and always giggling. Everybody called her `Spiz.' She was a wonderful person," he said.

"One day they were getting ready for something in the day room and Spiz was holding a Mexican straw hat. I asked her what was going on. She took that straw hat and slapped it on my head. First thing you know, I'm not asking people to give me these hats, but they're bringing them to me, and that's how it all started."

This year, Cossentino's hat collection was displayed at Harmony Hall, and residents voted for their favorite. His collection includes a beanie with a propeller, a hat with an inflatable airplane, a furry brown anteater hat, a top hat with piano keys printed on it. The winner of the contest was a hat with a fuzzy pink flamingo jutting from the top.

Kittamaqundi cleanup

Last month, members of the Columbia Waterfowl and Habitat Advisory Committee organized a cleanup of Lake Kittamaqundi and Lake Elkhorn.

Volunteers removed more than 20 bags of trash from the lakes and shores.

"We had a pretty good turnout," said Walter Burlingham, a resident of Wilde Lake and chairman of the committee.

Burlingham said the committee was formed about 10 years ago after a swan was injured on a weekend.

"Nobody knew who to call or what to do about it," he said.

In addition to lake cleanups, the group educates the community about environmental awareness.

Bottles, cans, plastic foam and plastic were removed from the lakes, but group members also collected tires and children's toys.

"It's kind of like a treasure hunt," Burlingham said. "You never know what you're going to turn up."

One unexpected find was a water snake. Burlingham used a pocket knife to free the snake trapped in netting on the shores of Kittamaqundi.

"We were very pleased that we were able to get the volunteers out to help," he said. "The trash is ugly, and nobody likes to see it. It's our experience that if you leave the trash laying around, it tends to multiply. And some of the materials are hazardous to the animals."

Volunteers who helped with the Kittamaqundi cleanup were: Jamie Godfrey, Susan Atlas, Marty Chesteu, Maribelle Dizon, Philip Roberts, Kirk Christopher, Jay Bright, Scott and Laurel Stanek, Lillemore Zuberi and Fred Weaver.

Burlingham credits committee member Sue Neri for coming up with the idea and organizing volunteers.

"We'll continue to organize cleanup efforts around the lakes," he said.

For more information about the Columbia Waterfowl and Habitat Advisory Committee, call 410-730-8351.

Bird walk

The Town Center Community Association will sponsor a nature walk with naturalist Cindy Hamel at Lake Elkhorn on Sunday.

"In a couple of hours, people can identify three to five bird calls," she said.

Hamel is educational outreach coordinator at the Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. She also owns the Travelin' Naturalist, a business that offers orienteering programs and canoe and backpacking trips.

She said participants in Sunday's bird walk might see swans, ducks, a great blue heron and a night heron at the lake. But she added, "Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate. You have to take what she gives you."

The cost is a $1 per person. Advance registration is required.

Information: 410-730-4744.

Carnival of animals

The Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus and Chamber Singers, the Peabody Children's Chorus and the Carnival Chamber Orchestra will perform in a concert, "A Choral Carnival of Animals," at 7: 30 p.m. Saturday in the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.

Composer and Columbia resident Tom Benjamin will present a free preconcert lecture at 6: 30 p.m.

Performers in the concert include these singers from west Columbia: Dominic Beecher, Dianne Frankel, Stephen Fulton, Carol Galbraith, Tracy Geesaman, Frances Irvin, Robert Kramer, Barbara Kraus, Tom Lorsung, Bob Marcus, Betsy Middleton, Jinny Racine, Lynn Stott and Maxine Turner-Richardson.

Tickets are $15 and $17 at the door. Two free tickets per adult are available for children 18 and younger.

Information: 410-465-5744.

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