For a County our size, Talbot has a huge number of “do-good” organizations of every description, and they garner extraordinary support. People engage. People give. Talbot rocks. The Talbot Spy and the Star Democrat are replete with articles of men in high heels running races, ballrooms full of Christmas trees, paddlers in cardboard boats. Sometimes it feels the paper would have nothing else to print but for accounts of our community organizations and their successes.
Everyone has their own list that pops to mind—Talbot Hospice, Casa, Pickering Creek, Empty Bowls, 4H Club, Boy Scouts, For All Seasons, and on and on. Garden clubs. Social services. The YMCA. Shore Rivers. The Volunteer Firemen. The Maritime Museum. Talbot Goes Purple. It’s hard to stop.
It seems much more intense than other communities. Why is that? I think it’s due to the happy confluence of two different sources of generosity, two layers of empathy.
At the base, like any solid American community, Talbot’s lifelong residents generously support the “normal” array of Norman Rockwell community organizations. These are especially the youth groups like boy scouts and little leagues and high school sports teams. Also church groups, and the fireworks, and so many others. Collective efforts often result in the “big checks” we see in the paper—the 3’x5’ cardboard ones, with smiling donors and happy recipients. This is the sound foundation of community non-profit involvement, and if that was as far as it went Talbot would still be proud.
But when it comes to “doing good,” Talbot thinks very big, and reaches very wide…far beyond normal for a place of only 16,500 households. What other community our size sports a first class art museum, an always-busy regional art center, a world-class maritime museum? Who runs anything like the Waterfowl Festival for 48 years and counting? What County our size spawns a homegrown mentor program that’s not just growing, but thriving? And hosts a Conservation Center housing a regional land conservancy, a regional waterkeeper program, and other environmental efforts. Multiple choral groups. And all growing and prospering simultaneously!
It does not take a rocket scientist to explain this added level of vibrancy. We have many retirees living here. It’s an older population, and many have moved in from elsewhere, having been attracted by the County’s unique character (ironically, the plethora of great community organizations being one of those attractions).
According to the Census Reporter, the median age in Talbot County is 49.7 years, compared to 37.8 years nationwide! Twenty-seven percent of Talbot County is over 65, compared to 15% nationally. So relatively speaking, Talbot Countians are older (a lot!).
Someone from Mars might say this is trouble—all those elderly folks living on social security checks burdening the local government with needed services. Well, obviously the opposite is true. The extraordinary, over-the-top quantity and quality of Talbot’s community organizations is largely because of the disproportionate number of older folks, and that these “come-heres” affirmatively picked this particular place above all others.
The unique charms of Talbot County are what attract retirees—especially the “young active retirees” not heading to assisted living–from DC and Philadelphia and other prosperous centers. These are very often very successful people, wealthy people, who can literally move wherever in the world they wish—and they wish to move here. Been doing it for decades. In fact, many native-born seem not to recognize that a good portion of the “come-heres” have been neighbors now for a couple of decades, sometimes more.
(Some argue that retirees come here just because of the low property tax rate, but I don’t believe that for a minute. Nice? Sure…but if Dorchester’s were 50% lower still, do you think folks would start moving from DC to Crapo and Vienna? Low taxes do not explain the special attraction of Talbot County.)
So the resources and interests of this retiree “come-here” contingent is another layer piled on top of the generosity of the locally rooted community. Many of the big checks (the other kind) are written by these folks, to the collective benefit of everyone in Talbot, rich and poor, wherever born.
And by no means is it just the money. In his recent book, The Second Mountain, David Brooks writes about the change of focus many experience at a certain time of life—no longer so self-centered on career and personal success, but much more “other directed.” That “certain time of life” often corresponds to retirement, and “the move.” So, often retirees arriving on Talbot’s shores deliver twofold benefits: not just passive donors with the wherewithal and interest to contribute, but also people ready to roll up sleeves and volunteer, go to work on something good and useful to the community. With enthusiasm.
Is it any wonder that Talbot’s community organizations are so varied and successful? Native born and come-heres, working together, have quite a good thing going, and we’re all richer for it.
Dan Watson is the former chair of Bipartisan Coalition For New Council Leadership and has lived in Talbot County for the last twenty-five years.