School party has message

Namesake's birthdate serves as time to reflect

September 20, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Wearing knee-high stockings, black buckled shoes and three layers of colonial clothing as thick as furniture upholstery, Bill Ullrich gave a little history lesson to an auditorium full of captivated elementary school pupils.

The costumed impersonator of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his fellow presenters also had a more subtle lesson, this one aimed at Carroll County school administrators who weren't even in the room: Don't forget the history and memories of Charles Carroll Elementary as you consider whether to close or renovate the 71-year-old school.

"We don't want to lose this school," Ullrich's wife, Susan, said yesterday in an interview after the assembly to celebrate the 263rd birthdate of their school's namesake. "You can't quantify the history and community support and importance of something like this school. That's what's so hard - it just comes down to dollars."

School officials this year lowered the rating of the school's condition from fair to poor, rocketing Charles Carroll up a list of construction priorities, starting a formal site assessment and sparking a flood of concern from community members who cherish the history, tradition and charm of their tiny school, amid hilly farmlands about 10 miles north of Westminster.

So to draw a little more attention to that history - and perhaps to tug at the heartstrings of school board members and others who will decide the fate of Carroll County's oldest school - Principal Lisa Busher decided two weeks ago to throw a party for Charles Carroll.

So began a parade of grown-up Charles Carroll graduates, many of whom have children who learn math and reading and art in the same classrooms - and in some cases, from the same teachers - where they once sat.

Born Sept. 19, 1737, Charles Carroll was depicted by Ullrich as a wealthy gentleman who relished his education and exhibited many of the character traits taught in Carroll County's character education program.

At age 10, the Annapolis native sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, where he studied in St. Omer and Paris for 16 years.

After returning to the colonies, the American Revolutionary leader served as a legislator in the Continental Congress, was one of four Marylanders to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and served as one of the first senators from Maryland to the U.S. Senate.

Carroll was the last living signer of the Declaration of Independence until he died at age 95.

Ullrich, who tapped into the electronic archives of Maryland's government Web sites and the collections of the Carroll County Historical Society to research his character, told his audience about Carroll's numerous achievements.

"He got real involved in the government. Does everyone know what the government is?" he asked the rows of elementary school pupils seated pretzel-style on the floor of the school's auditorium. "The government is what makes our laws, keeps our country organized and all that stuff."

Ullrich mentioned friendships between Carroll and other luminaries, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

After the presentations - including one teary-eyed testimonial of '83 graduate Jessica Dustin, who found a lifelong best friend at Carroll - the kids sang "Happy Birthday" to the school's namesake and returned to classrooms for cupcakes. But not without one more reminder from the principal.

"It didn't take me long to realize how special this school is," Busher said, who has been at Charles Carroll for two years, "and I hope you all realize it, too."

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