Senior Nation: The Dixon House 99ers by Amy Blades Steward

When you meet Ellen Walbridge and Helen Crow, residents of Dixon House in Easton, you won’t suspect that they are both 99 years old. Both women are vibrant and enjoy recalling their full and rich lives. This is the case for several residents at The Dixon House in Easton.

According to Linda Elben, Executive Director, “We are seeing more and more residents coming to us later in their lives, in their 90s, still very active and living quality lives. Most just need to simplify their living and have less responsibilities.”

She adds, “These two women are remarkable. They join a number of our residents who are centenarians or who approaching 100 years of age. It is a testament to them living active lives surrounded by family and friends.”

Ellen Walbridge, a resident of Dixon House, will turn 100 in February 2019.

Ellen Walbridge, born in West Virginia, had ties to the Eastern Shore. At age 15, she followed her brother, who came to work at Fike Orchard in Skipton. While living here, she met Alvin Walbridge at a church social and the rest is history. Over the years, she supported her husband who started Walbridge Builders. Family is very important to her. She and her husband had five children, one boy and four girls. She now has 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Walbridge moved to The Dixon House in 2017 after living independently. When asked about the reason for longevity, she states that her brother lived until age 96 and she never drank or smoked. She was active in 4-H, loved to garden (she tends the flowers at The Dixon House), and enjoyed knitting, crocheting, and sewing. She also loves to bake, helping with the baking activities at The Dixon House, and lemon meringue pie is her specialty. She comments, “I don’t feel real young, but I don’t feel 99.” She will turn 100 in February 2019.

Helen Crow, a resident of Dixon House, will turn 100 in April 20.

Born in rural Ohio, Helen Crow was always physically active. Her father, a builder, was also a physically active person. Helen recalls doing handstands and headstands when she was young. Today, she doesn’t miss an exercise class at The Dixon House. She and her husband, Elmer, nicknamed “Amo” married after Amo served in the Army’s 17th Airborne Division as a paratrooper during World War II. The two had three children, and today she has three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Amo had a career as a master craftsman, training many young men who entered the flooring trade, while Helen did office work for a law firm, then a refinery.

Both Helen and Amo participated in an activities group for art in Cincinnati, where Helen enjoyed oils and watercolors and Amo enjoyed stained glass, caning, and pottery. The two also enjoyed music, attending Cincinnati Symphony concerts for 40 years. The couple retired to Florida and then to Easton, where their son, Roger and daughter-in-law Heather live. The two then came to live at The Dixon House in 2014. Crow comments, “Easton is a nice town. We were amazed at the quality of friends we have made at Dixon House.” She adds, “I have had a good life.”

The mission of The Dixon House is to provide high quality and affordable residential care to seniors in an enriching home-like environment. For further information, contact Linda Elben, Executive Director at 410-822-6661 or visit dixonhouse.org.

Spy Food: Brightwell’s Brendan Keegan Moves to Mason’s

The changes at Mason’s will get even better now Brendan Keegan has recently joined as Executive Chef. Keegan was most recently Co-Owner and Executive Chef at Brasserie Brightwell in Easton and was also Co-Owner and Executive Chef at 208 Talbot. Prior to coming to the Eastern Shore, he worked in some of the best restaurants on the East Coast, including Prune Restaurant in New York, NY and Kinkead’s American Brasserie in Washington, DC. He was trained at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD.

Brendan Keegan

Owner Chance Negri comments, “Brendan’s innovative and progressive cooking style coupled with honoring Eastern Shore food traditions will align with the vision for Mason’s of serving Modern American Cuisine.”

Mason’s Redux is so expanding its food offerings this summer with foods you know and love, reimagined with bold and distinctive flavors.

Chance comments, “People made suggestions and we listened. The response has been overwhelmingly positive to the changes we have made.”

Its expanded lunch menu now includes favorites like the Rachel Sandwich made with all-natural roasted turkey, Boursin cheese and homemade collard slaw, which rounds out its zesty flavor. Crab bisque with a pinch of old bay and touch of sherry, a salmon burger, braised roast beef cheese melt, Niçoise and Chef Salads are just a few of the other highly popular new offerings on Mason’s lunch menu. Mason’s Lamb Burger with homemade Tzatziki Sauce remains one of the restaurants best sellers. Sandwiches are now served with the popular Terra Chips and the dessert menu has added homemade ice cream from Nice Farms Creamery in Federalsburg for the summer season. Bob Miller and his family say, “We make ice cream the old-fashioned way, on their farm, ‘from cow to cup’ – rich and creamy, no preservatives, just pure delicious flavor.”

For dinner, Mason’s is offering a steak feature with different cuts of beef changing weekly, such as hangar steak, rib eye, tenderloin, and New York strip. Look for savory sauces such as watercress mayonnaise, horseradish, port and mushroom, roasted red pepper, or salsa verde to accompany the steak.

Sunday brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and includes omelets/eggs served with sautéed fingerling potatoes, Strata, Mason’s legendary Cinnamon French Toast and Buttermilk Silver Dollar Pancakes with Grade A cardamom maple syrup. Savory additions to the brunch menu include Shaved Country Ham, salads and sandwiches, as well as the Lamb Burger. Libations include house made Blood Mary’s, White Peach Bellini’s, and Mimosas.

The bar menu has also been expanded to include mezze platters and small plates made for sharing, including lamb meatballs w/eggplant sauce, grilled shrimp w/chermoula sauce and a cheese course, as well as larger fare if patrons want a late lunch or light dinner. The wine list is diverse, and the bar is now offering Lyons Distillery Rum, a local favorite.

Pictured left to right are Chance Negri, Owner of Mason’s Redux 2017, with Zach Ray, Mason’s Manager, in front of the restaurant’s new signage.

Seasonal offerings, sourcing foods from local farmers and purveyors when possible, makes Mason’s dining experience even more memorable. Local tomatoes, corn, and berries will highlight the summer offerings.

Mason’s hosts private and corporate events and rehearsal dinners in its private rooms upstairs or in the garden.

Chance adds, “The old Mason’s was well-respected and well-known in the community with a loyal following. We have brought our own creative culinary twist to Mason’s and the response has been very positive.”

He adds, “I want to surprise people in a culinary way and provide a memorable dining experience, not just have the same old thing. I like to say, come to expect the unexpected and it’s good . . . very good!”

 

Mason’s is open for lunch from 11:30 to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The bar menu is offered between 3 and 6:30 p.m. daily. Dinner is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

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Senior Nation: Talbot Senior Summit Draws Record Crowd

Talbot Community Connections (TCC) and the Talbot County Department of Social Services recently held their third annual Talbot Senior Summit. This day-long program for seniors, children of seniors, caregivers, professionals and concerned citizens provided presentations and discussions on the issues that seniors face today.  Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford and Mental Health Advocate Lynn Sanchez provided the remarks to open the day.

Pictured is Mental Health Advocate and keynote speaker Lynn Sanchez

In Sanchez’s keynote remarks, “Wine Isn’t the Only Thing That Improves with Age,” she said, “It’s the age of our spirit that matters as we age.” Sanchez went on to present three things she attributed to finding happiness and contentment with aging. She said we need something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to every day. By incorporating humor, Sanchez encouraged participants to keep wondering and to trust the journey.

Pictured are Summit attendees participating in the workshop, “Rising Strength: Self Defense,” conducted by Rachel Layer and Matt and Kathy Herron.

Over 200 participants listened to speakers on such topics as “Manage and Reduce Stress: Organize, Downsize, De-Clutter;” “How to Protect Yourself Against Insurance Fraud;” “Transitions: How Will  We Flourish in Midlife and Beyond;” “Rising Strength: Self Defense;” “Helping Seniors Navigate Our High-Tech World;” “Senior Fitness: Finding the Athlete Within;” “Yoga: Aging Positively;” and “The Importance of ‘Social Capital’ for Seniors.” A special Virtual Dementia Tour conducted by Christina Wingate-Spence from Bright Star was especially popular.

Pictured are staff of Avon Dixon Insurance Agency, one of the near 50 vendors at this year’s Talbot Senior Summit.

Participants were able to visit informational tables of almost 50 vendors with services and resources for seniors.  A healthy lunch was provided by Sprout.

Platinum sponsors for this year’s Senior Summit were the Star Democrat, Talbot County Department of Social Services, and Talbot County Government. Gold sponsors were the Talbot County Health Department, the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Maryland.

Photos by Calvin Jackson Photography

Pastor Missy Rekitzke Leaves Legacy at St. Mark’s by Amy Blades Steward

Pastor Missy Rekitzke of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church has left a legacy at every church she has served since joining the ministry 10 years ago. She was the first female lead pastor at each of the five churches for which she has served. Prior to serving as pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Easton for the past five years, she served at Hope United Methodist Church in Dover, DE, and then for the Three Point Sudlersville Charge in Queen Anne’s County, MD, which included Calvary-Asbury United Methodist Church, Marvin Memorial United Methodist Church, and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. In July, Pastor Rekitzke will carry on this legacy as she joins her new appointment at Salem United Methodist Church in Selbyville, DE, as its first female lead pastor.

Pastor Missy Rekitzke

“I have learned so much with this range of churches – from their styles of leadership to the different ways churches do ministry,” Pastor Rekitzke comments. She adds, “As a pastor, you need to adapt your gifts to those needs.”

When she talks about her time at St. Mark’s, she points to several things which have stood out to her. She states, “There is strong leadership in the church with people who take ministry and the roles they serve seriously. It has also been a very welcoming congregation.”

Pastor Rekitzke, who originally was born in Chicago, relocated to Delaware when her husband Phil got a promotion with Preston Trucking Company. She got interested in ministry by serving in youth ministry and worship at Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Seaford, DE where they lived. She then completed her Master’s in Divinity degree at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC in 2010.

She credits Pastor Gary Moore, who was District Superintendent at the time, with her decision to take the position at St. Mark’s. She comments, “He knew me well enough to know I would be a good fit. The church has loved our whole family, including our daughter Claire who moved to Easton with us.”

The Rekitzkes have two children, daughter Claire, and son Philip and his wife Erin, and two grandchildren who will be moving to Idaho in the next month. Pastor Rekitzke’s daughter Claire went on The World Race, an 11-country, 11-month mission trip to share the love of Jesus and serve others around the world. Members of St. Mark’s took an interest in her trip, supporting her and praying for her safety and return.

She credits St. Mark’s strategic planning commitment for creating a clear vision for the church and developing its pillars of ministry which have helped guide the church’s actions during her tenure. She states, “It gave us good direction, including our slogan, ‘Big Steeple, Friendly People.’ As a big church, it can look intimidating, but we are anything but that. We are continuing to be a beacon in this community.”

She points to St. Mark’s active Missions Committee, which connects with so many nonprofit agencies in the community, as working to help its mission partners meet the community’s needs. She adds, “A church can’t be everything to everyone. St. Mark’s has come to be a place of knowing its identity but wanting to grow its ministries. People need to be clothed, fed, and comforted. We work together to bring healing and wholeness to people. The church as always opened its doors to such groups as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, alongside groups like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4H.”

Another active committee during her time at St. Mark’s has been the Outreach and Connection Committee, which recently purchased a bus for the church to transport shut in members and expand its ministries. Her husband, Phil, was instrumental in this effort. She adds, “I could never do as much as I do without his support. He finds his niche in a church where we won’t overlap and then he works really hard. He gets to know people in the church and connects people to various ministries– that is his gift.”

Pastor Rekitzke reflects on her time at St. Mark’s, pointing to the church’s support of the Department of Social Services “Open Table” program; growing its Confirmation classes and Vacation Bible Camp; expanding the congregation’s involvement in the Emmaus Community; creating new community outreach events around the holidays; and hiring new Christian Education and Worship and Music Directors. She states, “We have a good team which is ready for the church’s next steps.”

On July 1, Reverend Ed Kuhling from Grace United Methodist Church in Millsboro, DE will replace Pastor Rekitzke at St. Mark’s.

She concludes, “St. Mark’s will hold a very special place in my heart for the rest of my life. I want to thank the community for loving me for who I am and for allowing me to love them.”

 

2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival Brings Some Surprises

This year’s 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival promises to deliver on its promise of an extremely varied program, appealing to the tastes of a wide range of audiences. One of this year’s special offerings will be a crossover concert, paring classical violin with bluegrass music. Marcy Rosen, who is the Festival’s Artistic Director with J. Lawrie Bloom, comments, “Playing bluegrass music on a Stradivarius should be something to see! It is our first time to do this crossover type music at the Festival. We thought it would be fun and a little different.”

Tessa Lark, a violinist from Kentucky who will be playing at this year’s Festival, also plays bluegrass music for fun. She has been playing for years with her family in a family band. Her father, Bob Frederick, who plays the banjo, is coming this year to with her in the Festival’s “Stradgrass!” concert – classical music with a bluegrass twist. Lark’s partner Michael Thurber, a bass player in the house band for Steven Colbert and a musician very adept at contemporary music, will also perform in the concert.

is Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

Rosen adds, “I invite partners and family members to come so that they can spend time together at the Festival. What is satisfying is that no one ever says they don’t want to come. It’s our wonderful time together as artists. We love making music and we love hanging out. I go away exhausted but happy I have been here. It’s the only time so many of us are in the same place at the same time.”

Highlights of the first week of this year’s Festival include two concerts on June 5 and June 7 which feature woodwinds. The June 5 concert combines woodwinds and strings in unusual combinations. The June 7 concert focuses on a woodwind quintet, which features a French horn, flute, bassoon, oboe and clarinet. The concert of Friday, June 8 will feature world-renowned flutist Tara Helen O’Connor in the first half and accomplished pianist Robert McDonald with strings in the second half. On Saturday, June 9, the Schubert Octet in F Major will feature both strings and winds.

Artistic Director J. Lawrie Bloom states, “When selecting the music and musicians who will play at the Festival, we are often faced with the decision of whether the music is selected first or the musicians are selected first. It’s a little of both. The availability of the musicians can dictate the music. The first thing we do usually is to determine musician availability. That is also what makes the Festival work – the combination of players.”

Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

Both Rosen and Bloom also ask the musicians what they would like to do, giving artists free range for input into the pieces they have selected. Bloom adds, “In inviting flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and bassoonist Adrian Morejon, we realized we had woodwind quintets which would be an incredible resource to the repertoire for this year’s Festival. From individual concerts, we have been able to develop themes for each year’s Festival.”

Bloom states, “Over the years, we consistently have presented music we feel is worthy of presenting. We prepare for it and we present it well. Musicians have the music way ahead of time to practice as these are extremely busy and accomplished artists.”

In recent years, musicians have educated audiences more on the pieces they are playing before they play. Bloom adds, “It has been gratifying that people have been receptive to this approach.”
Highlights of week two of this year’s Festival include Soprano Kendra Colton, who will perform at the Handel and Bach concert. She most recently recorded with Festival oboist Peggy Pearson. On June 13, the Mozart Sandwich concert will feature pianist Diane Walsh. Rosen comments, “The substance of this program is so flavorful with Strauss and Mahler sandwiched with Mozart. It will be an exciting concert.”

On June 15, The Merz Trio, winner of the recent 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition, will return to Easton to perform in a Celebration of Youth concert at the Avalon Theatre, which will also feature the music of Franz Schubert.

Rosen concludes, “You don’t want to miss one concert of this year’s Festival as each program will give you a different experience – there is something for everyone this year!”

Sponsors of this year’s Festival include the Talbot County Arts Council and the Maryland State Arts Council. Additional generous financial support from corporate, public and private benefactors enables Chesapeake Music to offer affordable tickets for Festival concerts and recitals; open rehearsals are free to the general public. For additional information, visit www.ChesapeakeMusic.org or call 410 819-0380. Experience the Extraordinary at Chesapeake Music’s 2018 Chamber Music Festival.

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#1: Pictured is Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.
#2: Pictured is J. Lawrie Bloom, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

BOX SCHEDULE
Festival 33
June 5-17, 2018
Schedule
WEEK 1
Tuesday, June 5, 5:30 p.m.
Opening Concert/Reception: Christ Church, Easton
“Festival Opening Extravaganza!”
Featuring live concert commentary by Jonathan Palevsky of WBJC
Artists: Catherine Cho, Marcy Rosen, Robert McDonald

Wednesday, June 6, 10 a.m.
Open Rehearsal: Academy Art Museum, Easton

Thursday, June 7, 5:30 a.m.
Concert and Reception: Tred Avon Yacht Club, Oxford
“Winds in the Spotlight”
Artists: Peggy Pearson, J. Lawrie Bloom, Adrian Morejan, Catherine Cho, Marcy Rosen, Wei Ping Chou, Steven Tenenbom, Daniel Phillips, and Tara Helen O’Connor

Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum, Easton
“The Artistry of Tara Helen O’Connor & Her Friends”
Artists: Tara Helen O’Connor, Daniel Phillips, Steven Tenenbom, Marcy Rosen, and Robert McDonald

Saturday, June 9, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Oxford Community Center, Oxford
“Strings and Winds Unite”
Artists: Tara Helen O’Connor, Daniel Phillips, Steven Tenenbom, Marcy Rosen, Peggy Pearson, Catherine Cho, Wei Ping Chou, Jeffrey Weisner, J. Lawrie Bloom, and Adrian Morejon

WEEK 2
Tuesday, June 12, 10 a.m.
Open Rehearsal: Academy Art Museum, Easton

Wednesday, June 13, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Trinity Cathedral, Easton
“A Mozart Sandwich”
Artists: Peggy Pearson, Diane Walsh, Kendra Colton, Catherine Cho, Tessa Lark, Catherine Cho, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, and Michael Thurber

Thursday, June 14, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum, Easton
“Handel and Bach”
Artists: Kendra Colton, Soprano; Peggy Pearson, Catherine Cho, Tessa Lark, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, Michael Thurber, Merideth Buxton, and Diane Walsh

Friday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Avalon Theatre, Easton
“A Youthful Celebration”
Artists: Diane Walsh, Tessa Lark, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, and Michael Thurber

Saturday, June 16, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum
“Stradgrass!”
Artists: Tessa Lark, Michael Thurber, and Bob Frederick

Sunday, June 17, 4 p.m.
Angels Concert: Prager Family Auditorium, Easton
Reception: Talbot Historical Society Garden, Easton
Artists: Daniel Phillips, Tessa Lark, Catherine Cho, J. Lawrie Bloom, Catherine Cho

The Heart of It (Part Two) by Amelia Blades Steward

Sometimes it takes a while to process things. Such was the case after witnessing the meeting of Casey Artzer and his heart donor family, Elizabeth, Rodney, English and Chloe Tong in June of this year. The Artzers arrived on a beautiful Eastern Shore day full of sunshine and hope. I had arrived early to record their meeting, trying to stay in the background of this poignant and touching reunion. This vantage point allowed me another perspective, that of the Tong’s Corgi, Maggie, and it is from Maggie’s point of view that I can share part of this story.

Pictured back row, left to right, are Chloe, Rodney and English Tong. Pictured middle row, left to right, are Kathy and Casey Artzer and Elizabeth Tong. Pictured in front row is Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community.

I had met Maggie in puppy class with my Corgi, Schooder. Like most Corgis, Maggie liked to be center stage, greeting people enthusiastically when arriving, jumping with delight and eager to be petted. I guess my focus was still on her a bit when the Casey and his mother Kathy arrived at the Tongs house in June. I wondered how her welcome would interfere with the embraces that the families would share.

As Casey came down the Tong’s sidewalk, seeing Rodney for the first time, the two embraced and held onto each other. My eyes drifted down to Maggie and I realized that she was not jumping up to be greeted, but instead, she was sitting mindfully at Rodney’s feet, looking up at Casey as if to say, “I know you are special and a part of my family too.” We walked inside where Elizabeth Tong was waiting in the foyer of their home. Again, I was struck by Maggie’s attention and behavior, sitting dutifully at Elizabeth’s feet and looking up at Casey in wonder.

Twenty-four years ago, Rodney and Elizabeth Tong, and their daughters English and Chloe, of Royal Oak lost their son and brother, Hunter Tong, age two and one half, to an unexpected death. Hunter’s parents chose to donate Hunter’s organs and his heart went to a one-year old child, Casey Artzer in Topeka, KS. This June, Casey came to meet the Tong family. He had already met English Tong seven years ago, but decided to reach out to the whole family after reading English’s blog post about the visit.

Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community, who met the Tongs after the donation and who has become a family friend, comments, “Today, we have a 25-year old who is alive because of Hunter’s donation. It’s unusual to have a meeting like this happen so many years after the donation. I have facilitated meetings as soon as three months after the death of a donor. The meetings usually take place after a year and usually before five.”

Rodney Tong recalls the week, “We gave Casey a real Eastern Shore experience, taking him sailing for the first time at the Chesapeake Maritime Museum and he loved it. He also rowed with Chloe’s rowing club, the Eastern Shore Community Rowers.”

The Artzers stayed next door at the house belonging to a friend of the Tongs. The house, located on the water, had a pool and provided the perfect respite for their week-long visit. The Tongs hosted a build-your-own Taco Night and also made crabs and rockfish plentiful during the Artzers’ stay.Rodney adds, “Casey reveled in the Eastern Shore fare.”

Elizabeth Tong recalls the fun the two families had making dinner the first night. She states, “We are very grateful the family was willing to come across the country to meet us. It was light and easy and we all got along well. The week was about doing fun things with this new family we were getting to know. It was easy and comfortable.”

Pictured is Casey Artzer playing ukulele at the Tong’s musical jam session.

Casey, a history buff, enjoyed a trip with his mother to Washington, DC to take in the monuments and the White House. The Tongs organized a picnic and jam session with local musicians, so Casey could play music. Elizabeth adds, “I think the jam session was his favorite event of the week! He is a talented musician.”

Casey Artzer reflects on his visit with the Tongs, stating ” Oh wow! I can’t wait to go back! I had such a great time hanging out with Rodney, Elizabeth, English and Chloe. Their food was amazing, I loved sailing and getting the chance to row with the Chloe’s row team. I was sore for a while after going with English to Cross Fit! And I can’t thank them enough for the jam session. I feel a deep connection to them all, especially Rodney.”

The Tongs noticed how much Casey and Rodney had in common. Rodney notes, “Casey and I had a lot of similarities. I made a real connection with him. He has a wonderful general knowledge and is a very curious person like I am. He ran errands with me and helped me finish a crossword puzzle. He loves to travel like me and for the rest of his life wants to do as many things as he can.”

English Tong, who originally made the connection with the Artzer family and who was only four years old when Hunter died, states, “It made my brother’s life more real. When it’s been so long, it’s easy to feel far removed from him, but having his heart near me again gave me back his existence.”

“The whole thing was unreal, but amazing,” adds Chloe Tong. “I felt a weird instinct of comfort with Casey. It was so amazing to see how he was enjoying life to the fullest. I felt connected almost right away in a way I never have before.”

Elizabeth Tong, Kathy Artzer, and Rodney Tong.

For Casey’s mother, Kathy Artzer, who says she and the Tongs have always been connected by Hunter’s heart, notes that the two families are now connected by true friendship. She adds, “It’s hard to put in words what this trip meant to me and Casey. I have always kept them in a special place in my heart, but spending time with the whole family was surreal and extraordinary. Rodney, Elizabeth and the girls are all lovely, kind, hilarious and unique, in their own right!”

She reflects, “Giving my family the gift of life 24 years ago was so selfless, during the worst tragedy. It was also wonderful to get the sense of love in the Eastern Shore community, in which the Tongs are a huge part of.”

Elizabeth Tong was a founding member of the Donor Family and Community Advisory Council for the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). She continues to be a volunteer WRTC Donate Life Ambassador, speaking at Continuing Education Courses at Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC, sharing with the professionals who work with transplant families that it’s ok to be emotional. She comments, “It’s important for these professionals to hear from a donor mom just how meaningful it is to be able to donate a loved one’s organs. It becomes a gift not only for the recipient, but also for the donor.”

Elizabeth adds, “Meeting Casey and his mother was a very meaningful experience – sort of like collateral beauty. We are no longer strangers. To actually meet Casey was a gift. Now our families are joined. There is a piece of Hunter that is still living and it’s doing good.”
Rodney concludes, “Casey is keeping Hunter alive and Hunter is keeping Casey alive.”

The heart is a beautiful thing.

For information about making the decision to be an organ donor, visit Washington Regional Transplant Community’s website at www.beadonor.org. To see a video about the Tong’s story and their reunion with Casey, visit here.

Inside the Sandwich: Muscular Dystrophy Carnivals and Annual Giving By Amelia Blades Steward

During the 1960s and 70s, it wouldn’t be summer if we didn’t hold a Muscular Dystrophy Carnival in my neighborhood near the high school in Easton. A group of about 10 kids from my neighborhood looked forward to these backyard carnivals, to benefit “Jerry’s kids.” The Muscular Dystrophy Carnival kits came in the mail and included tickets, posters and an idea pamphlet to help us raise the funds to help find a cure for the disease. It was an important and noble cause. We had watched for hours the Jerry Lewis Telethons on the television and wanted to do our part to help the kids we saw in the images on the screen. We didn’t have many children in wheelchairs in our school, so it seemed particularly important to reach out to those who were unfortunate enough to be in that situation.

We used each other’s backyards to host the carnivals and rotated from house to house each year, based on the parents who agreed to having their card tables placed in the grass outside and their clotheslines strung with sheets, providing backdrops to the games we played. The O’Briant family’s yard was the most popular one in which to hold the carnivals. We each had aluminum wash tubs to contribute for bobbing for apples or for the floating duck game, where you picked a duck and got a prize based on the number on the bottom of the duck. There were magic shows, fortune-telling booths, and Kool-Aid stands. Everything required a ticket and the tickets cost about five cents each.

We assembled our props and got the carnival set up, borrowing from each other’s households. An alley connected our backyards, so it was easy to get things from one place to another. There was Kool-Aid to be stirred, cookies to be baked, and we had to get out the word so people would come to our carnival. The nearby

Elks Club pool provided the perfect place to share our news. Word spread among the kids when the carnival would take place. Of course, we counted on our mothers coming – they helped fill out our numbers and usually donated extra money.

The carnival started around 11 a.m. and went until 1 p.m., when the pool opened. We didn’t like to miss our pool time. We took our carnival jobs seriously, whether running a game, performing, or selling drinks or food. We knew the more we smiled and encouraged our patrons, the more money we would make. As the day wore on, however, so did we. The sun shone high overhead and the humidity rose. Some of the excitement waned and my friends and I grew weary.

Once we had drunk the Kool-Aid and eaten the cookies, we were ready to pack up the games, return the tables, chairs and props and head to the pool. Before we did, however, it was exciting to see how much money we had raised. If we made over ten dollars, we were excited! We weren’t old enough to have checkbooks, so one of our parents would deposit the money and write a check to be mailed to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. We waited anxiously for the return “thank you” letter in the mail from Jerry. It confirmed our hard work had paid off and showed we did something meaningful with our summer. These backyard carnivals instilled in us a compassion for helping others, something that still rings true today as the annual appeal letters arrive in the mail. While I no longer get that personal letter from Jerry, I still find satisfaction in anticipating the “thank you” after my annual donations are made – a confirmation that we can still make a difference, no matter how small the gift.

 

Easton Business Alliance and For All Seasons Kick Off “No Matter What…You Matter”

On October 6, 2017, from 5 to 8 p.m., For All Seasons will kick off its NO MATTER WHAT . . . YOU MATTER Campaign at the Bartlett Pear at 28 South Harrison Street in Easton. The event will include refreshments and live music provided by the Choptank River Big Band. The event kicks off Mental Health Awareness Week (October 7 – 14, 2017) and the launch of For All Seasons new suicide prevention campaign, NO MATTER WHAT…YOU MATTER. The event is part of the Easton Business Alliance’s First Friday stroll through the local galleries and shops.

The Suicide Prevention Campaign was inspired by the soundtrack of the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” This past spring, Amy Haines and Richard Marks’ Dock Street Foundation invited 40 representatives from several Talbot County service agencies and educational institutions to board a bus bound for NYC to see Ben Platt and the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen.” Both Haines and Marks had seen the play and felt it would be helpful if shared with our local providers of care. They noted, “We were moved and inspired by the relevance and impact of the show particularly as it incorporated social media’s influence on our society and youth. We appreciate For All Season’s leadership and coordination with all agencies in our community assisting our citizens facing mental and emotional challenges.”

For All Seasons Executive Director Beth Anne Langrell shares that returning from the show she knew that Richard and Amy’s gift could last much more than just one day. She thought it offered an opportunity to reach students and those in the community in the same way that the show reached everyone on the trip that day. It was then that For All Seasons decided to begin a new campaign and start a conversation about suicide prevention.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) every 13 minutes someone dies by suicide. For every suicide, 25 suicide attempts are made. In addition, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition.

For All Seasons hopes that by discussing the signs and symptoms associated with suicide that it can raise awareness about the issue in our community. Because family and friends are often the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide, they can be critical to helping an individual find treatment with a provider who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.

For All Seasons wants people to know that If they think a friend or family member is considering suicide, they should reach out and start a conversation. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life. The following are three steps to help people begin the conversation:

Ask directly – “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” – Let them know you care.
Stay and Listen – Let them share their thoughts and feelings.
Get help – Connect them with a friend, family member or crisis hotline at 1-888-407-8018.

Langrell adds, “The launch of our campaign, No Matter What . . . You Matter will create an ongoing dialogue with agencies and educators who attended the musical, as well as others who are interested in joining the conversation about this growing issue in our community. The campaign will include dialogue circles, educational outreach and community events. We want people to know that no matter what, they matter.

The Easton Business Alliance is participating by donating a portion of their sales on specific dates during Mental Health Awareness Week toward For All Seasons Suicide Prevention Campaign. The following Easton businesses are donating on the dates listed:

Bon Mojo – Friday, October 13, Chef and Shower – Saturday, October 14, Colonial Jewelers of Easton – Friday, October 13, Easton Bowl – Friday, October 13, Harrison’s Wines and Liquors – Wednesday, October 11, Kiln Born Creations – Sunday, October 8, Krave – Friday, October 13, La De Da – Friday, October 13, Levity – Thursday, October 12, Lizzie Dee – Wednesday, October 11, Marc | Randall – Friday, October 13, Nestled Baby & Child – Friday, October 13, Out of the Fire- Thursday, October 12, Rise Up Coffee – Tuesday, October 10, Trade Whim – Friday, October 13, and Vintage Books and Fine Arts – Friday, October 13.

Additional sponsors include Acme, Ashley Insurance, Bartlett Pear Inn, Choptank River Big Band, Doc’s Downtown Grille, Easton Business , Easton Pizzeria, Hair of the Dog, Laser Letters, QATV, Talbot Mentors, Tidewater Inn, Ed & Beth Anne Langrell, Diane Flagler, Mary Wittemann & David Urbani, and Westphal Jewelers.

For All Seasons provides Trauma Certified Individual, Family and Group Therapy; Crisis and Advocacy Services for Adult, Child & Adolescent Victims of Sexual Assault, Rape & Trauma; Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; Substance Use Disorder Services (in collaboration with Corsica River Substance Use Disorder Services).

For All Seasons offers individual and group therapy, general, child and adolescent therapy, marriage and couples counseling, grief counseling, school-based mental health therapy, urgent care services, Rape Crisis Response, Rape Crisis Counseling and Support, 24-Hour English and Spanish Hotlines, and education and outreach programming. For further information about For All Seasons, call 410-822-1018. For the 24-Hour Crisis Hotline, call Toll-Free: 800-310-7273.

BAAM Results: Building Graduates Minds with Knowledge and Dreams

Thirteen years ago, a conversation took place between William T. Hunter, A. James Clark and Derick W. Daly of Easton that asked the question, “What can be done to advance the educational opportunities for African American males in the community?”

Through the efforts of many interested individuals, an afterschool program Building African American Minds (BAAM) was formed in 2005 through a partnership with the Talbot County Public Schools, in particular Easton Elementary School. At a recent event celebrating BAAM’s new building expansion on Jowite Street in Easton, BAAM’s Assistant Coordinator and some of BAAM’s recent graduates spoke about their journeys with the program and what is ahead for each of them and for the program.

Pictured left to right are Xavier Rahim and Jaelon Moaney of Easton with Kendrick Daly, Assistant Coordinator of BAAM. Both Rahim and Moaney are graduates of the BAAM Program and are attending college and pursuing their dreams.

Xavier Rahim of Easton, who graduated from Easton High School in June 2017 started BAAM in first grade, recalls, “I remember the focus back then was on English and Math skills, with pressure on improving the African American scores on the MSA tests. Our scores improved, but the program did much more. It served as a backbone for students. My family encouraged me to stay in the program and I did.”

Xavier states that most of his peers didn’t feel comfortable asking for help about anything academic or social. He comments, “Through BAAM, I found a group of people like me who I could be around socially. It was a support system in school for me too.”

In middle and high school, Xavier had the chance to give back and help elementary students in the BAAM Program at Easton Elementary School. By being a mentor to them, he has realized that he wants to be an English teacher. Xavier is one of three children in his family who have pursued higher education. He will be attending Chesapeake College in the fall, with scholarship support from BAAM, and is hoping to transfer to Liberty College in Lynchburg, VA.

He comments, “Knowledge is about opportunity. It’s like riding a bike.  You have to first know how to do it in order to enjoy the ride. Without knowledge, there is no opportunity to get a career that exemplifies you who can become.”

He adds, “When I helped elementary school students, I saw how much they enjoyed being in BAAM. Realizing that made me realize how much the program is making a difference. I want to try and continue to help with BAAM.”

Another former member of BAAM, Jaelon Moaney, a 20-year old from Easton, is a rising junior at Williams College in Massachusetts. Moaney, a graduate of Easton High School, started BAAM in middle school. His fondest BAAM memory is an experience he had after attending a BAAM middle school assembly. He recalls having to come back to his classroom and talk about the program. It made him feel empowered and appreciate how the program was at work in his life. He comments, “I was amongst my peers and I had to recap the assembly. It was the first time I was comfortable in my own skin amongst my peers. I was proud of what I had to say. It was really a turning point for me. I am now confident speaking in front others.”

He adds that BAAM’s academic and social support has helped him tremendously, stating, “It’s choice rather than chance that will determine your destiny. I think for me, BAAM is a little of both. BAAM gave me choices as I started to mature. It invests in each student and the program teaches kids how to inwardly affirm their beliefs.”

BAAM has provided Moaney with a 4-year $4,000 book scholarship through the Mid-Shore Community Foundation. He is currently attending Williams College and is studying political science with a minor in African Studies. His personal dream is to come back to Maryland one day and run for political office.

He comments, “Because I was not from a nuclear family, I definitely believe in a village raising a child. When I got the book scholarship from BAAM, I understood about giving back. I am now running an afterschool literacy club in the public schools in Massachusetts.”

He adds, “Knowledge is power. The knowledge I gain is a force. BAAM has provided the curiosity giving me the acceleration to learn. My hope for students in the BAAM Program is that they assemble a network of people to support them and their dreams. Just imagine what it will be when kids feel it and internalize it and understand it.”

Kendrick Daly, BAAM’s Assistant Coordinator and an Easton High School graduate, got involved with BAAM after completing a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland at College Park. Daly was in high school when his parents Derick and Dina Daly founded BAAM. He never thought he would be back in Easton after college involved with the program himself.

After college, Daly, age 24 years old, decided to focus on a patentable invention he was working on. At that time, his father asked if he could help out at BAAM for a couple of hours each day. After seeing the positive effect he had on the BAAM students, he decided that his real love was teaching. He then got a job teaching Computer Science at Easton and St. Michaels High Schools.

He states, “I had been associated with a STEM afterschool program for the gifted and talented while in college and realized through that experience that I had more to offer. It was my decision to come back to Easton and teach here. I like the impact I am having on these kids.”

After his first full year with BAAM, Daly was tasked with revamping BAAM’s middle school program. That year he had 12 middle school students. Unfortunately, attendance fell off because the middle school students had problems sharing space with the elementary school students. He says, “They need a place to go where they wouldn’t be bothered and could do what they want to do with their friends.”

In year three, BAAM got its new building on Jowite Street in Easton and the middle school students got their own space, while the elementary students continued meeting across the street at Easton Elementary School. Looking to the future, Daly is excited about BAAM’s plans for its new building to be built next door which will accommodate elementary, middle and high school students.

He reflects on Xavier and Jaelon’s public speaking at the recent BAAM celebration, commenting, “Public speaking is a large part of BAAM’s programming. Kids start out simply by telling how their day went in a circle. Pretty soon, they are sharing the quote of the day with the whole group and competing for the opportunity to do that. This eventually translates to confidence and their ability to speak publicly at events like the one we just had.”

He adds, “Through BAAM, you learn how to learn. Kids learn the problem-solving process and strategies they can apply to the rest of their lives, such as navigating roadblocks. BAAM teaches kids to navigate the world.”

Xavier Rahim states, “I am excited for the start of a big growth this is occurring for BAAM and the great opportunities ahead. The community is recognizing the impact of the program and I am excited to see how much further it can go.”

Plans are currently underway for BAAM to build a state-of-the-art facility on the parking lot located on Jowite Street adjacent to their current building at 31 Jowite Street. The new building will be a multipurpose building that will include classrooms, a gymnasium, meeting/conference space, a kitchen and office space to accommodate BAAM’s program staff.

According to Derick Daly, President of BAAM, “Our goal has always been to give our students and families access to services that have been lacking in the community, so that they can thrive and be successful in attaining a brighter future. This next step is to provide the students a place of their own. A place they can claim and be proud of. A place where they are safe and can be themselves. Through this new building, we will be able to continue to expand our services in the community.”

For further information about BAAM or about donating to BAAM’s current Building Campaign, contact Executive Director Debbi Short at 410-714-3838.

 

The Heart of It by Amelia Blades Steward

Seven years ago, in the summer of 2010, English Tong was driving home from college in Arizona to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She always tried to stay with friends and family whenever she could while road tripping. She wanted to split the drive into at least two days so she asked her parents if they knew anyone between Colorado and Maryland. English’s father had a suggestion, but not one she could have imagined.

Pictured left to right are the Tong children: Hunter Tong, Chloe Tong, and English Tong

Seventeen years earlier, English, her sister Chloe, and her parents, Rodney and Elizabeth Tong of Royal Oak, lost their brother and son, Hunter Tong, age two and one half, to an unexpected death. Hunter’s parents chose to donate Hunter’s organs. English’s father was suggesting that English stop in Topeka, Kansas on her way home and meet the family whose son received Hunter’s heart.

In honor of the 24th anniversary of her brother’s death, English wanted to tell the story of her meeting the young man who got her brother’s heart– Casey Artzer. She writes in her blog entry of March 9, 2017 for Sniglet Writings, “This is not a story of how my brother died, but of the life he brought after his death. I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for my parents to not only decide to donate his heart, but continue contact with the recipient’s family still to this day.”

Once English’s blog was published, Casey and his mother, read it and discussed it. Casey said he was ready to meet the whole family and reached out to them to set up a meeting this June at the Tong’s home.

Pictured is a painting of Hunter’s shoes done by artists Wendy Van Nest.

Elizabeth Tong states, “For me, meeting Casey has to be emotionally assimilated, it has even affected me physically. We received letters from each of Casey’s parents on the first anniversary of Hunter’s death, but I was unable to respond to them for seven years. After that, we have kept in touch at Christmas time through Christmas cards and notes, but we haven’t really talked.”

The Tong’s story begins on the night of Rodney Tong’s 40th birthday party in 1993. Hunter played long and hard with all the children in attendance at the birthday party. After Hunter woke up at 7 a.m. the next morning a little fussy, Rodney recalls rocking him back to sleep. At mid-morning, Elizabeth decided to wake him up and he was limp in her arms. Once at Memorial Hospital in Easton, the decision was made to fly him to Children’s Hospital in Washington, DC where Hunter was placed in intensive care. At this point, Rodney and Elizabeth both knew Hunter’s condition was serious, but they didn’t know what was wrong.

Rodney recalls, “On Sunday his brain scan was normal, but doctors were treating him for seizures and trying to figure the cause of the problem. Monday, the doctors discovered that Hunter’s brain was swelling and things had turned for the worse. At that point, the doctors told us that the damage to Hunter’s brain would most likely be fatal.”

Pictured is a painting by Nancy Tankersley of Elizabeth Tong with Hunter.

Elizabeth desperately clung to the words “most likely,” but not for long as the doctor in attendance that afternoon only shook his head and looked away when she tried to convince him that it was only “most likely,” in other words not fatal yet, leaving her the slightest glimmer of hope. Elizabeth remembers, “I can only assume, that was their way of gently giving us the real news, that Hunter was dying and there was nothing that could be done.”

At that point, shock took over, the kind of shock that consumes a person facing the worst kind of news. Elizabeth likens it to a time release capsule, allowing reality in only so often and only in amounts one can take. This shock allowed Elizabeth and Rodney to put one foot in front of the other and later to broach the subject of organ donation. As soon as it was raised, the wheels of donation were immediately set into motion.

The family had to wait from Monday through Wednesday for the drugs to get out of Hunter’s system in order for the doctors to pronounce him dead. This gave English and other family members and friends time to come to Washington to say good-bye. The doctors never were able to tell the Tongs the cause of Hunter’s death.

When asked whether she needed a medical explanation for what caused Hunter’s death, Elizabeth comments about her son, “I don’t need a name for what happened to Hunter. Hunter came and did what he was supposed to do and left us very gently.” She adds thoughtfully, “It’s been a good thing to transplant his organs – it’s something beneficial coming out of something so horrific. A piece of him went on.”

On March 10, 1993, Hunter Tong died. The next day, Casey Artzer from Kansas, got a new heart.

Lisa Colaianni, Donor Family Advocate with The Washington Regional Transplant Community, who met the Tongs after the donation and who has become a family friend, comments, “I can’t imagine trying to think of others while going through such a tragedy as the Tongs experienced. Twenty-one people die every day needing an organ transplant. They gave the ultimate gift of life to another boy and that provided them with hope in their despair. Today, we have a 25-year old who is alive because of Hunter’s donation.”

Pictured is Hunter doing what he loved to do most, snuggling with his sister Chloe

For sisters Chloe and English, the memories are scant of their brother Hunter. English can only remember bits and pieces of Hunter, so for her, Casey makes him real. Family videos of Hunter following English around and mimicking her actions prove the special bond they had. Chloe was only four months old when Hunter died. According to Elizabeth, however, Chloe and Hunter had a special connection as well. He proudly announced to everyone who called, “new baby,” referring to his new little sister. He constantly wanted to be next to her and touching her.
Chloe comments, “I had questions about Hunter as I grew up. I identified with qualities of him as I grew up, always trying to help my dad do things a boy would do because he had lost a son.”

Rodney recalls the rich relationship he had with his son, if only for a short time. He states, “I was able to spend quality time with him because I was doing carpentry work at the time. He loved to be with me on jobs. He had work boots to wear when he went with me. I have a memory of building a railing on our steps and Hunter figured out at age two what screws went into what holes. He would pick up tools and ask what they were.”

He adds, “He loved mechanical things – cars, back hoes, and mechanic shops. He loved being with me when I was doing things and adored being with my father, who was a builder by trade.

He made toys for Hunter out of scraps of wood and fixed things.”
Elizabeth recalls Hunter as being very attached to family and not wanting to leave his mom to go to preschool. She states, “He would always say about doing new things, ‘When mine gets older.’”

English writes in her blog about meeting Casey,

“The family asked me to meet them at his high school, where he would be performing in his school band, playing the saxophone. I remember being really picky about what I wore (a striped grey and green sweater, black skinny jeans) and trying really hard to focus on my driving over there. I walked into an empty entrance way to the school, more nervous than I had ever been in my life. Having no idea where I was supposed to go, I started to panic a bit, when a short, blonde, friendly face came racing up to me, wrapping her arms around me. His mother had been waiting for my arrival outside of the auditorium, and all of a sudden I was surrounded with so many enthusiastic greetings and smiles and hugs from his older sister and father.

Pictured is a painting by Tankersley of Rodney Tong with Hunter.

The first time I ever saw, in person, the man carrying my brother’s heart, was on that stage with a saxophone. If I remember correctly, he performed last, with a large group of other seniors.

After the show, we moved out into the lobby, waiting for him, and his younger sister, to join us. So many people approached and introduced themselves to me, commenting on how amazing this was and that I needed a camera crew following me. All I could think about was how I was going to react to shaking his hand, looking him in the eye, and hearing his voice. The poor guy was probably more overwhelmed than I, so I tried not to scare him by bursting into tears or wrapping my arms around him too tightly. He was just so sweet, soft, and obviously nervous, for good reason.

Once finished, the family took me to dinner. There were quite a few people with us, so it was a large group. I remember eating some kind of chicken wrap and stumbling over questions I had for him about his life and interests. One thing I definitely remember is never wanting the night to end, as it had given me a high I had never felt before, nor since.”

While the family members’ reactions have each been different, each family member is approaching the June 13 meeting of Casey with great anticipation. The week Casey and his family are here, the Tongs are planning a musical gathering with friends because of Casey’s own musical interests. English recalls her memory of Casey, stating, “Casey is a quiet and reserved person.

He is into alternative things like our family – a more liberal person, I think, and one who thinks outside of the box.”

Elizabeth adds, “I have thought about a bit of our son coming home. I haven’t wrapped my head around that yet. All of us want it to be as gentle and natural as possible for Casey. We want him to get to know us and for our meeting to be as organic as possible.”

For Chloe, who perhaps knew Hunter the least, but who had a special bond with her brother, comments, “I have always wanted to meet Casey. I was angry I hadn’t met him sooner. It’s so cool that it is such a major organ that was transplanted from my brother.”

Rodney tries to grasp the upcoming meeting, stating “Our son is dead but he’s not – his major organ is still beating. I want to hear his heartbeat when I meet Casey. I want to put my ear next to his heart.”

Lisa states, “It is highly unusual to have a meeting between a donor family and a recipient 24 years later. Most meetings like this happen within the first five years of the transplant.” She adds, “What I love about this story is the sibling side of it, which is not told that often. The fact that English met the recipient and then wrote the blog, which went everywhere, and ultimately reached the family, is very unique.” She adds, “The Tongs understood from the very beginning the importance of telling their story so that others may register to become donors.”

At the end of her blog, English writes, “Oh, and one last little detail, the one I tend to leave out and only recently revealed to my parents. The last song he and his band played that night on the stage where I first saw him? My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dion.”

To read English Tong’s blog, visit http://snigletwritings.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-tornado-going-on-outside.html?spref=fb. For information about making the decision to be an organ donor, visit Washington Regional Transplant Community’s website at www.beadonor.org.