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Frederick County Government will develop a new north county regional park, located between Emmitsburg and Thurmont, on land purchased from Mount St. Mary’s University, County Executive Jan Gardner and Mount St. Mary’s President Dr. Timothy Trainor announced on February 25. The 152-acre property adjoins the campus, on the east side of U.S. 15, straddling Motters Station Road.

“We are excited to be moving forward with a regional park in the northern part of Frederick County,” Executive Gardner said. “County parks attracted over 3 million visitors last year, a 44 percent increase over the year before. The purchase of this land will help us to meet a growing demand for space to recreate and provide much needed park amenities in Northern Frederick County.”

“We are pleased to have offered the 152.7 acres for this regional park adjacent to the Mount St. Mary’s sports complex and are deeply appreciative of the county’s partnership in our shared commitment to expanding access to sports and recreational opportunities and fostering the growth of youth sports in Northern Frederick County,” Dr. Trainor said.

The parcel is currently zoned agricultural and features both forest and open land. A concept plan funded by the university shows the potential for multiple sports fields, walking trails, a dog park, and other features for active and passive recreation. There will be many opportunities for public input into the park’s design.

The Frederick County Division of Parks & Recreation will form a Master Plan Advisory Committee to develop plans for the future park. Members will include representatives from local recreation councils and sports leagues, civic associations, neighboring property owners, and others. The total purchase price for the land is $857,000, of which Program Open Space is providing $807,000; $50,000 will come from County recordation funding.

County Executive Gardner thanked Park and Recreation Division Director Jeremy Kortright and Deputy Director Bob Hicks for their hard work to make this acquisition a reality.

Map of new north county regional park, a 152-acre property that adjoins the Mount St. Mary’s Campus, on the east side of U.S. 15.

Jayden Myers

When looking at someone, they can seem “normal” based on their appearance.

When someone has a visible disability or injury, it is easier for an individual to notice and understand what’s wrong. However, when it comes to a disability or illness that lies beneath the surface, it’s harder for people to understand what the problem is since it isn’t immediately apparent to them. Although many people struggle with disabilities, there is one in particular that I live with on a day-to-day basis.

While growing up, I was diagnosed with multiple medical conditions. One I mainly struggle with is AMPS. AMPS is short for Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome.

According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Diffuse Amplified Pain, Intermittent Amplified Pain, and Localized Amplified Pain. It is a rare condition that causes extreme pain in the body. It will never go away, but it can be treated.

AMPS causes the body to work differently when reacting to pain. When areas in the body experience a painful event, it sends signals through the spinal cord and to the brain. However, unlike normal nervous systems, there is a short circuit in the process. The signals now cause the body to constrict the blood vessels in the area.

According to CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), “This constriction restricts blood flow and oxygen to muscles and bone and leads to an increase in waste products such as lactic acid. It is this lack of oxygen and acid build-up that causes pain.”

This new pain signal also goes across the abnormal short circuit in the spinal cord and causes a further decrease in blood flow, amplifying pain for affected individuals. The pain compounds through this continuous cycle, resulting in abnormally extreme pain.

The pain that I and many other people feel from this condition is 10 times worse than normal. While for many people, it’s a scale from 1-10, with AMPS it feels like a scale from 1-20.

Every day I’m in pain, some days worse than others, so I’m kind of used to it. I can tolerate a six on a pain scale. It would likely have to be worse than a 10 in order for me to cry. While everyone handles pain differently, living with AMPS has greatly changed my pain tolerance.

In relation to the pain, it can cause the slightest touches to be extremely painful. For example, getting hit by a soft frisbee wouldn’t be that painful for others. However, if a person with AMPS got hit with a frisbee, it could cause crippling pain. This also depends on how sensitive the area in the body is. The body can become so sensitive that even the slightest touches become unmanageable.

A few years back, I was in and out of the hospital from AMPS. Certain areas in my body were so sensitive, putting a sock on my foot hurt very badly. My legs would become extremely cold. I became immensely frustrated over time.

Nobody could tell me what was wrong, and there were so many possibilities for what was going on. When doctors asked what was wrong and I explained, I always felt like they thought I was lying or that I was crazy. I got mad at myself and the doctors because they couldn’t help me, and I wasn’t able to do anything to feel better.

I also got mad at my parents, and I was sick of everyone telling me they knew how I felt when they didn’t. I know they were just trying to help, though. I felt alone and that no one understood what I was going through.

I was eventually diagnosed and sent to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where, at the time, I was on crutches. I made some friends and slowly started to realize I wasn’t alone. That was not the end of it, though.

After the program, I started having more issues again. When physical therapy wasn’t working, I was sent to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

I learned more about my AMPS and was put into an intense therapy program. It was extremely hard to get through, but I knew it was the only way I was going to get better.

I made some amazing friends during my stays, and I learned I wasn’t alone. When I left, I did have some issues, but I knew much better how to deal with the pain. Some days are still a fight with myself just to get things done, but I cope the best I can.

I try to help and talk to other people who have been diagnosed with AMPS. I want them to know that they aren’t alone. It is going to be a struggle, but they are going to be able to get through it.

There are many questions that people have about AMPS, especially for those who are learning about it. To clarify: yes, it is real. There is no cure, but there are treatments. Anyone can get it, and although it is more common in children, it doesn’t just affect children. It is not contagious.

Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome affects people in very different ways. This cannot be treated with pain medication. There is still a lot to learn about the condition, and more research is being done.

My experience with Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome is unique, as is each case of AMPS around the world. With better understanding and more empathy for those affected, we can take steps toward progress in combating the difficulties of living with it.

Board members and volunteers of the Thurmont Historical Society took part in the Weller Church cemetery cleanup in Thurmont, on Saturday, March 20, 2021.

Pictured from left are Pastor Bob Kells, Felicia Albert, Doug Propheter (Acting Vice President Thurmont Historical Society), Chris Gardiner (Volunteer, Thurmont Historical Society), Bob Miller, Christine Miller, Carol Long, Roy Clever, Kathy Child, and Ayden Child. THS volunteers not pictured: Carol Newman, Theresa Pryor and Julie Portner (President of Thurmont Historical Society).

The Catoctin Area Civitan Club donated 30 bookbags,  filled with a folder, pencils, and crayons to our local schools. The Thurmont Primary School, Emmitsburg Elementary School, and Lewistown Elementary School each received 10 bags to distribute to children in need.

Stacy Bokinsky (Lewistown Elementary School Counselor), Daniel Genemans (Lewistown Elementary School Student), Ginger Malone, Mary Dal-Favero and Ann Malone.

The Vigilant Hose Company’s 137th Annual Banquet—normally held in January of each year to recognize and present awards to department members for the previous year—was canceled this year due to COVID and the social distancing requirements. The officers of the department decided to recognize those individuals who would have been recognized at the January banquet. Awards were presented at the monthly department meeting in March.

Chief Chad Umbel selected and presented the 2020 Chief’s Award to the DFRS career staff who are currently working at Station 6.  Chief Umbel selected the DFRS staff in deep appreciation for their individual talents and concerned dedication so generously given to the success of the Vigilant Hose Company. These DFRS staff included: Scott Johnson, Brian Hames, Matt Hughes, Chad Owens, Mitch Krysiak, and Alex Carnathan.

President Tom Ward selected and presented the 2020 President’s Award to Scott Maly. President Ward’s submission for this award included the following: “To call this year’s President’s Award recipient a “go-getter” would be a major understatement. Joining the VHC in 1998, after relocating to the Emmitsburg community with family, he quickly became involved with the VHC family and never turned back. With the drastic change in how we were able to operate this past year, this member kept his commitment to his duties and elected office and never let the pandemic stop him. While still maintaining his active operational role as a firefighter, he became a go-to guy for countless fundraising operations. When our in-person fundraising efforts were halted (twice), he got busy figuring out ways to keep the much-needed flow of cash into our reserves while still participating in any event or sale he could. He can be found in the station several times a week, unclipping cash from ticket entries in what has become one of the most popular fundraising events anywhere around the area: the “6 of Hearts.” He is respected by all members across the organization. For his commitment and contributions to the VHC, I am pleased to present the 2020 Presidents Award to Scott Maly.”

Both Chief Umbel and President Ward selected and presented the Member of the Year Award for 2020 to Steven Hollinger. The submission for this award included the following: “As 2020 began, nobody thought of the immense changes our operations and fundraising efforts would see. What was set to be a standout year with growth in fundraising and the purchase of a new tower ladder, we quickly, along with everyone else in the fire service, realized that we would have to drastically change the way we operate. 2020’s member of the year is somebody who is seen mostly behind the scenes but has one of the greatest impacts on the Vigilant Hose Company. He could regularly be seen in his office tending to invoices, bills, and banking inquiries, or perhaps playing a game of solitaire. He spent a great deal of time figuring out an entire year’s worth of anticipated revenue losses to submit to the county treasurer’s office. Also maintaining communication with the county government and submitting invoices and requests for reimbursement every month.  His devotion to the Vigilant Hose Company makes him stand out, even without a pandemic, but his extra effort and behind-the-scenes work make him a true candidate for this well-deserved recognition. The 2020 Member of the Year is Steve ‘Little Man’ Hollinger.”

The Hall of Fame Award—which is the highest award for the Vigilant Hose Company—was presented to Guy A. “Gabe” Baker, III. His nomination included the following:  “This individual joined the fire department January 11, 1983, at the age of 19. He was presented with Life Membership at the January banquet in 2009. He was an active firefighter and first responder until just a few years ago. Early on in his years with the department, he held the offices of assistant secretary and assistant treasurer. This individual participates in just about every fundraising activity of the fire department and most Auxiliary events. He is a ‘regular’ in the kitchen for the Friday evening Bingos, assisting even when it is not his scheduled week. He has served as the co-chairman of the Annual Spring Fling and is again co-chairing the event this year, as it is being conducted virtually. He usually serves as the applicant for the Special One Day Licenses required by the Frederick County Liquor Board when serving alcohol at events. In addition, he has completed the Alcohol Awareness and Crowd Manager Training, all of which is required when having fundraising events where alcohol is served. This individual is often called upon to place orders at Jubilee to assure that the fire department and Auxiliary have all the necessary supplies needed to make their fundraisers successful. It is for these reasons that Gabe Baker was selected as the Hall of Fame inductee for 2020.”

The 2020 Training Award for the most formal training was presented to Elizabeth Beaton. Training for the most in-house training drills was presented to Josh Kehne.

The Ten Top Fire Responders for 2020: (from left) Matt Boyd (10th); Alex McKenna (9th); Josh Brotherton (8th); Charlie Rustigian (7th); Josh Kehne (5th); Cliff Shriner (4th); Frank Davis (2nd); and Jim Click (Top Responder). Not pictured: Matt LeGare (6th) and Dave Zentz (3rd).

Five Top EMS Responders for 2020: (from left) Frank Davis (Top Responder); Josh Brotherton (4th); Tom Ward (5th). Not pictured: Dave Zentz (2nd) and Patrick O’Hanlon (3rd).

Three Top Fire Police Responders for 2020: (from left) Sam Cool (Top Responder); Steve Orndorff (2nd); Lynn Orndorff (3rd).

President Tom Ward (left) presents Scott Maly with the 2020 President’s Award.

Individuals are presented with their Years of Service Awards: (from left) Josh Brotherton (10 years); Tom Ward (10 years); Mike Working (25 years—you get life membership into the department); Bill Boyd (30 years); Ed Little (30 years); Carl White (35 years); and Wayne Powell (40 years). Not pictured: Brandon Murdorff and Dave Zentz (both 5 years); Jennifer Stahley (10 years); John Damskey and Tom Vaughn (both 25 years); Monroe Hewitt (50 years).

President Tom Ward (right) presents Gabe Baker with the Hall of Fame Award.

Pictured are President Tom Ward; 2020 Member of the Year Recipient Steve Hollinger; and Chief Chad Umbel.

James Rada, Jr.

The Town of Thurmont is considering building its own internet service to provide residents faster service at a lower cost.

The Thurmont Internet Commission presented a pilot program to the Thurmont Mayor and Commissioners in February. The plan would be a gradual build-out of service using the town’s electric company rights of way and water towers to do a fiber-optic build-out.

The idea is not new. Other municipalities, such as Easton, already offer this to their residents. For Thurmont, it would also rectify a problem residents have with current providers, which is they don’t get the service speeds they pay for.

“A lot of our residents only have access to DSL, and the speeds they’re getting on DSL are abysmal. They’re getting 7 megabits, or they’re paying for 15 and only getting 7. They’re still paying $30 to $50 a month and not getting what they’re paying for,” Elliott Jones, commission chair, told the commissioners.

The leading providers in Thurmont are currently Comcast and Verizon DSL. When the Internet Commission surveyed residents, it found that most residents received around half of the speed for which they pay. Residents in remote areas of town can’t even get DSL access right now.

Commissioner Marty Burns, the commissioner liaison, said this needs to change. “With COVID-19, it made it even more critical that we all be connected like never before.”

The proposed plan could eventually be expanded to be 10 Gbps, although it would start at 5 Gbps. The plan also proposes a wireless network initially that would be replaced by a fiber-optic network once enough residents are using the system.

The potential pricing is expected to be significantly lower than Comcast or Verizon. For instance, suggested pricing for 50 Mbps service for residents could be $65 a month, and they would also get a 50 Mbps connection.

The commission projects the cost to build a system to be $506,000 over three years. Afterward, it would cost about $90,000 a year to maintain the system. At this point, the system becomes highly profitable.

The basic idea underlying the plan is to create a wireless system that can quickly provide high-speed internet to most of the town at a minimal cost. Then, as users join the service, the town can save money toward paying for the expensive fiber-optic build-out, and it will know in what areas the fiber network is most needed. It’s all about a gradual build-out.

“It’s like eating a sandwich. You can take one bite at a time. Instead of having to eat the whole turkey, you can eat a turkey sandwich,” Elliott said.

The commissioners are interested in the idea, but they have not yet voted on whether to proceed.

Blair Garrett

Over the past year, there has been a major divide in this country.

People struggle to find common ground politically, and businesses and individuals have never experienced this much uncertainty in their entire lives.

The distancing and perpetual chaos of the pandemic have created more space between communities than ever before. Small towns like the ones nestled in Catoctin Mountain are supposed to be tight-knit. People are supposed to be able to lean on one another in times of need, and that time is now. One of the charms of living away from major cities is that neighbor-to-neighbor connection you develop with people you see every week. That’s the kind of charm a town like Emmitsburg, Thurmont, or Sabillasville has to offer. 

Historically, that’s how these small mountain towns have been. However, the past 12 months have shifted that neighborly mentality to a much more careful, reclusive state of mind. Public health comes first, but the lack of events, social gatherings, and general weekday happenings has left a lot of social time unfulfilled. Fear not, though, as numbers of new COVID cases continue to trend downward, things may return to normal sooner than later.

There are thousands of ways to connect and rebuild those once-thriving relationships—you just have to know where to start.

There are some under-the-radar organizations that anonymously donate each year to aid locals with things like Christmas, housing, and food. Communities thrive on the backs of volunteers, and these organizations are composed of like-minded people who are looking to support others, particularly in times of great need. Asking friends, family, fire and police departments, or others online is a great way to get your foot in the door to find out where to begin.

Awareness of a problem is the first step to addressing that issue, and many people have been silently struggling over the last 12 months due to a variety of factors. Keep your eyes and ears open to lend a helping hand whenever available. Whether it’s identifying someone through social media having a hard time, or just asking the faces you see every day how they’re getting along makes a world of difference.

If it’s donating clothing or volunteer work at your local food bank, there are a variety of great ways to give back to the community you live in.

Through the capacity limits and safety protocols, restaurants across the country have had to make tremendous adjustments to their standard operations. That means online orders and curbside takeout have become more and more a thing of the present, as in-house dining has been restricted for some time now.

Investing in your local restaurants recycles nearly 66 percent of the revenue spent back into the community, so consistently supporting your hometown family businesses helps keep the money spent locally. That doesn’t mean buying and trading public stocks for your favorite mom-and-pop shop, it means investing your time and attention to small local businesses instead of the big-time international chains that normally rule the industries.

Businesses owned by people who grew up here or have raised their families here have a much higher tendency to reinvest that money to support their schools, parks, or other areas of public interest, and that relationship is an important one to maintain a healthy and thriving community in these uncertain times.

The current state of our communities may be temporarily strained, but keeping your door open to a neighbor in need is the simplest remedy to this social distance mindset 2020 has led us to.

The pandemic has taken a lot away from us these last 12 months, but time has shown us that people strengthen from adversity, and communities will come back stronger from this setback.

This time is no different, and with time, things will return to normal sooner rather than later.

The Thurmont Lions Club is now accepting nominations for the 2021 Volunteer of the Year.  Nominate an individual(s) who is making a difference in the lives of others—working with children in the schools, helping at the food bank, a member of a service organization or church, a special neighbor who is always there to help whenever needed, and so forth. There are many individuals eligible for this honor. Please nominate those deserving individuals for the goodwill and volunteer services they give to help their community.

The volunteer service work must be done in the area of zip code 21788. Forms are available online at or by contacting Lion Mark Long at Nomination forms are due no later than April 5, 2021. Send your completed nomination form to Thurmont Lions Club, ATTN: Lion Mark Long, P.O. Box 306, Thurmont, MD 21788 or email to Thurmont Lions Club members are eligible to be nominated with the stipulation the MAJORITY (95 percent) of the volunteer services considered for the award must be performed outside of related Lions Club community service, e.g. church, school, community, another organization, etc. The recipient will be announced at the Thurmont Town meeting on April 20, 2021.

Nola and Harvey Schildt of Emmitsburg and Evan and Harper Laird of Thurmont were featured on the cover of the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter’s (CVAS) 2021 Calendar. The calendars were sold as a fundraiser for the shelter.

Evan and Nola sold calendars to family and friends and presented $820 to Jennifer Vanderau, communications director of CVAS. This was the fourth year that Nola and Evan have done fundraising for the shelter, and it was their biggest donation ever! A big thanks to all who purchased calendars for this wonderful cause.

Joan Bittner Fry

Last week a fellow knocked on my door.  With him, he had a spiral composition book. After introducing himself as Richard Lantz, he explained that the book was found among his parents’ (the late Helen and Dick Lantz of Sabillasville) effects and thought I might be interested in having it. I always love exploring old documents. The following is a summary of the contents of the book. Upon reflection, it shows quite a different political perspective. I long for the good-old grassroots days. Thanks to Richard for sharing.

The book began with minutes from the meeting of the Sabillasville Republican Party Hauver’s District #1, dated August 27, 1962. The meeting was held at the parish hall. Mr. Paul Fry, my father-in-law at the time, called the meeting to order with 12 people present. Mr. Fry explained the purposes of the meeting were to organize a group of party workers for the district and to contact persons in the district who were now eligible to register to vote. Each person in attendance was asked to contact several of these people.  Another meeting was scheduled for September 5. Mr. Jim Annis donated $10 to help with party work, and Earl Eby agreed to act as temporary treasurer until one could be appointed. Mr. Harry Zentz, a county candidate, spoke to the group, after which the meeting was adjourned.

I recall visiting people in their homes and asking them to register—hopefully Republican.

On September 5, 1962, the second meeting of party workers was held. In the absence of Mr. Paul Fry, the meeting was called to order by Helen Lantz, with 12 people present. Reports of the volunteers who contacted potential registrants were mostly favorable. A local registration was planned for September 11. Several volunteers offered transportation for those who needed it. A suggestion was made to invite people from the Foxville precinct to meet with us. An election was held with Paul Fry as president and Helen Lantz as secretary. Earl Eby agreed to remain as temporary treasurer until a future election could be held.

In August 1966, the committee met and the meeting was called to order by Donald Manahan, who explained the meeting was to organize a committee for the district and to elect officers. Guests of the evening were Mr. Russell Z. Horman, Frederick County Commissioner, and his wife (Mr. Horman served as County Commissioner from 1962-1970); Mr. Francis Harshman; and Mr. Edgar Palmer. After short speeches by each, the subjects of schools, teacher aides, county taxes, and many more were discussed.  Mr. Harshman and Mr. Palmer explained what would be expected of the organization and helped with election officers, who were Joan Fry, chairman, and Helen Lantz, secretary-treasurer. A vice-chairman was yet to be elected. Those present were Joan Fry, Paul Fry, Bob Martin, Walter and Joyce Lantz, Evelyn and Donald Manahan, Francis Manahan, Earl Eby, Ralph Working, Mary Benchoff, Harold Bittner, Rev. Claude Corl, and Dick and Helen Lantz.  Refreshments were served by Joyce and Evelyn.

A committee meeting of Hauver’s Districts #1 and #2 (Sabillasville and Foxville) was held in October 1966, to celebrate Candidates’ Night. Joan Fry, chairman of District #1, welcomed all and introduced the district chairman, Mr. Thomas, who introduced each candidate who spoke a few words to all. A question-and-answer period was held, followed by refreshments. Door prizes were awarded to Bob Bittner and Mrs. Ted Buhrman.  /s/ Helen Lantz

Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon, lost the 1960 election to John F. Kennedy. Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, lost the 1964 election to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Blair Garrett

The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack is a wonderful resource of astronomy, meteorology, and rich information.

Studying science and trends has led to a long and fruitful career for Bill O’Toole, who is the now-retired weather Prospector Emeritus of the Hagerstown Almanack. In fact, O’Toole was the Almanack’s longest-serving Prognosticator for one of the oldest publications in the United States.

“I started teaching math and computer science at Mount St. Mary’s in 1966, and in 1969, out of the blue, I got a call from the Hagerstown Almanack,” O’Toole said. “The predecessor had just passed away, and they were looking for somebody to take his place.”

Born in Waynesboro with family roots in Maryland, O’Toole had been familiar with the Almanack since he was a child. For the past 225 years, the Hagerstown Almanack has provided weather predictions, astronomical information, and useful bits of wisdom for everyday life.

O’Toole’s background in science and his affinity for numbers made him an ideal replacement as the new Prognosticator of the second oldest almanack in the United States.

“They asked if I could do the work, consisting mostly of weather and astronomy,” he said. “My first major in college was astrophysics, so the astronomy was no problem for me. If they could tell me how the weather was done, I figured I might be able to do that.”

With the responsibility of archiving so much data and information, it’s a daunting task for an outsider to take over such a prestigious position. “I said, ‘let me try this for a year or two, and if you’re not satisfied, look for somebody else.’”

It’s safe to say that after 51 years and becoming the longest-serving Prognosticator for the Almanack, O’Toole was a pretty good fit for the job. 

Over O’Toole’s half-century tenure, methods of prediction adapted with technology and improved knowledge of how earth’s climate worked. “I was pleased with how the forecasts were going until about 10 years into it, until they started going south, and that’s when I learned about sunspots and how they affect the weather,” O’Toole said.

Understanding the earth’s climate and the effects of its changes has been a challenge for scientists in the age of technology. Awareness of patterns in the climate and solar events has helped tremendously with the accuracy of O’Toole’s predictions over the decades.  

“Five or six years later [after learning about sunspots], I found out about El Niño and started including that information,” he said. “I had to factor in Global Warming more and more into my data, and I can see a definite trend over the last 50 years.”

El Niño’s unusually warm waters and weak winds create irregular weather patterns that can be extremely hard to predict, and they can have drastic effects on seemingly unrelated things like crop growth and natural disasters. The earth’s ecosystems can be very sensitive to change, so accurately predicting which years may have strong irregularities can be extremely difficult.  

The numbers don’t lie, and despite a few outliers, the statistics tell a definitive tale of shifting temperatures, which has to be taken into effect when trying to determine storms, temperatures, and precipitation.

“The amount of snowfall has gone down on average, and the date of the earliest snowfall has come later and later,” O’Toole said. “This is a trend, and while there are outliers, you can see the definite trend toward warmer temperatures and stronger, more destructive storms.”

As with most meteorologists, there is definitely some flexibility when forecasting storm systems and temperatures. O’Toole would compare the recorded temperatures with his predictions from the year before to test his accuracy, which is rumored to rival the National Weather Service. More often than not, his predictions were on the money despite being made over a year in advance.

“The second half of one year and the first half of the next, I would go through and keep accurate records each day, marking it with what I had predicted either completely correct, completely wrong, or half and half,” he explained. “I would do that every day and then calculate averages month by month and year by year.”

O’Toole’s historic career saw a lot of development in the Almanack. As of 2020, the book is up to 84 pages, and its content has never been more polished.

O’Toole continued teaching at Mount St. Mary’s until his retirement in 2007, but he continued working with the Almanack closely to shepherd in his successor, Chad Merrill. “We had it down to a science, and now Chad is filling in really well,” O’Toole said.

Merrill is a meteorologist by trade, so his skillset compliments O’Toole’s quite nicely.

Though O’Toole has now officially retired, his impact and contributions to the Hagerstown and Country Almanack cannot be quantified, but he’s confident he’s left it in good hands.

Bill O’Toole (right) officially passed the torch as Prognosticator of the Hagerstown Almanack to his successor, Chad Merrill.

Photo by Cathy Bodin

In Frederick County, as of January 21, 2021, over 12,000 residents have received their first vaccination for COVID-19. Currently, the county is vaccinating people in group 1A and those who are 75 years and older who live or work in Frederick County. Residents who are interested in receiving the vaccine must visit the website at, and complete the “Vaccine Interest Form” located in the blue box.  Please note, completing this form does NOT make an appointment for you to get the vaccine.

They will contact people who have registered on this form by priority group as they receive more vaccines.

You will be contacted by the email you provide in the form. When you are contacted, you will need to register for your appointment online.

You only need to complete the form once.

It may be several days, weeks, or longer until you are contacted since it depends on vaccine availability.

If you are unable to complete the form online, you may call the Frederick County COVID-19 Appointment line at 301-600-7900, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please note that this call center is specifically to help people make appointments if they cannot do so themselves online. They are asking our community to please check on friends, family, or neighbors who may not be able to make their appointment online and help them with that process so that the call center can help those most in need. Appointments slots continue to be limited, but more will be available each week.

The Thurmont Lions Club had another great opportunity to hold a fundraiser to help in giving back to the community to support local and charitable organizations during COVID-19.

The club conducted its first fudge fundraiser on December 19, 2020, just in time for the holidays. They sold vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, maple, eggnog, and peppermint fudge. It was a big success, with 145 pounds sold and a sizable profit for the club.

Peanut butter and chocolate were the best sellers, followed by maple. The club would like to thank the community for helping to make this a successful fundraiser. All the profit will go back to the community.

The Thurmont Lions Club meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Due to COVID-19, the meetings are held at St. John’s Lutheran Church, located on Church Street in Thurmont, or virtually. 

For more information, visit or call 301-271-4020.

This past Christmas, the Thurmont Lions Club had the opportunity to give the residents at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home a smile during Christmas.

During these difficult times, many nursing home residents do not have the opportunity to receive the love they normally would. So, the Thurmont Lions Club wanted to show them some love during the holidays.

In November 2020, Santa deputized special elves to fill stockings and deliver them to the residents. Lions Marci Veronie, Gayle DiSalvo, Joyce Anthony, Susan Favorite, Allison Hazen, and PDG Paul Cannada answered the call. They scampered around town looking for treats to place in 72 stockings and delivered them in time for Christmas. It was a warm, fun time to spread a little Christmas cheer to folks who have had a really tough year and can’t be with their families. On December 23, 2020, PDG Paul Cannada and Lion Joyce Anthony delivered the stockings to St. Joseph’s Nursing Home. The staff was overwhelmed with generosity, and they were so thankful for the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Thurmont Lions Club. Three large boxes of Russell Stover candy were also delivered—a box for the nursing station on each floor.

Patricia Sanville, Frederick County Sheep Breeders Association President

The 2020 Frederick County Sheep Breeders Association held a virtual annual meeting this year to bring sheep breeders together in a safe manner. At the conclusion of the business meeting, President Patty Sanville moved onto new business, which included the presentation of the Shepherd of the Year award. The decision to give this award virtually, and whether or not that was less exciting or somehow less of an honor, was certainly considered. Ultimately, the board voted to honor this member at this time.

There were members who were still out there, sharing their time and talent whenever possible. These members consistently raised their hand to help with virtual events, with shows that were now different, with youth programs that needed to shift gears, and with brainstorming how things could be done safely in our new reality.

The challenges our industry faced this past year and continues to face going forward into the next are no match for this member.

These members signed up for several of the demonstrations we are involved in, both by bringing sheep and demonstrating fiber arts. Again, these events will eventually resume, and I am quite sure these members will again raise their hand.

The award was presented to Mary Ellen and Matt Clark of Thurmont. Both Matt and Mary Ellen grew up in agriculture and have never shied away from a hard day’s work. As a former 4-H member in Carroll County, Maryland, and now 4-H volunteer, Mary Ellen’s roots in agriculture and Matt’s work ethic were a match made in heaven. They were married in 2000, and very soon after, began planning for their own future in production agriculture.

Clark Family Farms consists of 300 acres of crop production, including corn, soybeans, wheat, straw, timothy, orchard grass, alfalfa, and now also a commercial sheep flock. The sheep flock was added in 2013, once their daughter, Caroline, now 14 years old, joined 4-H. Mary Ellen wanted her children to represent the third generation of agriculture in her family, so a 4-H animal project was a perfect way to accomplish this. The Saylor Family helped them get started as they navigated raising market lambs with great success. With the support of fellow breeders, the commercial flock now stands at more than 25 in the breeding program.

Once the family was comfortable with a meat flock, Caroline then became interested in a heritage breed, which was being raised by the Sanville Family. The intrigue of raising an animal, harvesting wool, and making her own yarn became her number one priority, and who could stop a child from learning this art form. The registered Leicester Longwool flock was started with a ewe named Patty, purchased from Carolann McConaughy of Stillpoint Farm. This ewe became the family’s prized animal and quickly multiplied into a flock of ten and growing. The fleeces of this breed are known for the beautiful luster and ease for hand-spinning.  As members of the Livestock Conservancy program, the family has been focused on breeding and exhibiting this rare heritage breed to promote its versatility to other sheep enthusiasts. Matt and Mary Ellen have expanded their business by preparing sheep pelts, handmade felted crafts, dryer balls, yarn, roving, and fleeces.

Over the years, this couple has promoted the education of their children by participating in and attending numerous programs. In addition to countless 4-H livestock judging, livestock skillathon, and entrepreneurship courses, they have attended FAMACHA classes, and the Twilight Tours hosted at the Western Maryland Research Center. This family has been focused on improving its business acumen through the many educational experiences available in the Maryland area. The children have become active sewers, exhibiting wool clothing at local, regional, and state events. The highlight of the year includes the MD Make It With Wool Contest, which three of the family members have entered annually. Preston commented, “If we could only get Dad to sew, well, that’s not going to happen!” This year, the family lambed over 16 ewes and raised the most market lambs since starting out, but did not take them to all of the shows as planned due to COVID-19. The ewes are bred again, and the family will start watching for lambs again in January. 

Mary Ellen is a board member of the Frederick County Sheep Breeders and is also employed by AstraZeneca, located in Frederick. In addition to managing several farms, Matt is employed as a sales manager for Devilbiss Construction in Frederick.

Congratulations to Mary Ellen and Matt Clark, Frederick County Sheep Breeders 2020 Shepherd of the Year.

Mary Ellen and Matt Clark of Thurmont awarded Frederick County Sheep Breeders 2020 Shepherd of the Year.

Courtesy Photo


by James Rada, Jr.

Public Hearing On Parks Requirement in Subdivisions This Month

The Emmitsburg Town Commissioners will hold a public hearing during their January 4 meeting regarding changes to the town’s parks, recreation, and open-space requirement. The goal of the amendment is to make sure all residents have equal access to parks near where they live. Town Planner Zach Gulden said the rule of thumb from the county and state is that residents should be within half a mile from a park, so it is easy to walk to. All areas of town except for Pembrook, portions of Brookfield, and the section of town northeast of the U.S. 15/MD 140 intersection meet this goal. The amendment also seeks to balance when parks should be private versus public. The goal is not to place a burden to maintain a private park on a homeowner’s association when the park gets heavy usage from areas outside of the development.

Commissioners Approve CDBG Application

The Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners approved a Community Development Block Grant application for $697,953.50 to replace 117 curb ramps at various locations throughout the Town of Emmitsburg for ADA compliance. Many of the older curb ramps are cracking and not ADA compliant, which raises liability issues to the town. The goal is to have the new ramps installed by April 2022.

New Salary Chart Approved

The Emmitsburg Commissioners approved a new salary chart for the town based on an employee compensation analysis done earlier in 2020. The new chart moves from pay grades with step increases to pay grades with salary ranges. Employees will also now be assessed on a scale with a maximum score of 45. Employees receiving a score of 27 and above will receive a step increase annually if the funds are available.

Town to Review Water Restrictions

Emmitsburg Town Manager Cathy Willets told the town commissioners that they would review the current phase 2 waters restriction after the holidays to see if adjustments needed to be made. She said during the December town meeting that Rainbow Lake was 2.8 feet below the spillway.

Regional Park Coming to Northern Frederick County

Mount St. Mary’s University sold more than 100 acres along Motters Station Road to Frederick County to be developed into a regional park. The park will have ball fields, night lighting, walking trails, tennis courts, and more. The goal is to eventually tie the park into the Mount’s sidewalk system, which would increase park usage.

Committee Appointments

The Emmitsburg Town Commissioners appointed Stephen Starliper as an alternate member of the Board of Appeals from December 7, 2020, to December 7, 2023. They also reappointed Conrad Weaver, Tricia Sheppard, and Will Sheppard to the Citizens Advisory Committee from July 15, 2019, to July 15, 2021. Jennifer Joy and Mark Walker were reappointed to the Citizens Advisory Committee to serve from November 7, 2020, to November 7, 2022.


Town Wins Municipal Impact Award

During a recent Thurmont town meeting, Jodie Bollinger with the Frederick County Office of Economic Development, presented the town with a Frederick County Municipal Impact Award for Business Retention and Expansion. It is one of four Municipal Impact Awards the county presented this year. She said it was given for the town’s efforts to do everything it possibly can to support business in Thurmont. Mayor John Kinnaird said, “Main Street has been a real godsend to the Town of Thurmont, with grants we get, the opportunities, and the doors that have been opened with our Main Street designation.”

He also thanked Main Street Manager Vickie Grinder for her tenacity, spirit, hard work, and dedication for the town.

“It’s been a wonderful ride and a wonderful journey,” Grinder said.

Town Seeks to Create System for Determining Road Improvements

The Town of Thurmont conducted an initial survey to apply criteria and a scoring system to some of the roads in town to determine which ones are most in need of repair. While a step in the right direction, the new system does not take into account traffic on the roads. It strictly looks at the condition of the roads. So, while Mountain Road is the most in need of repair, it doesn’t have as much traffic as other roads that don’t need as much repair. One road that will definitely be repaved is Apples Church Road, from Main Street to the railroad crossing. This will cost about $70,000. Some roads can be patched to delay repaving until more funds are available.

The commissioners allocated $250,000, which includes Highway User Funds from the state, to be used to start making needed repairs on roads.

Town Considers Naming Bridges for Veterans

At the request of the American Legion, the Town of Thurmont is considering naming two of the town’s bridges for Thurmont Marines killed in action in Vietnam. Sgt. Woodrow Carbaugh was killed in Vietnam in 1968, and PFC Charles Pittinger was killed in 1969. Both of them were Thurmont High School graduates. The two bridges being considered are the Frederick Road bridge near Community Park and the Moser Road bridge near the library. The commissioners plan to discuss this further, but first they asked that the American Legion develop a set of criteria for how it determines which Veterans to consider naming bridges or stretches of road for and which Veterans should be considered for roads and bridges in the town.

Town Receives a Clean Audit

The Thurmont Mayor and Commissioners recently received the results of the annual review done of its finances by an independent auditor.

Town Issues Arbor Day Proclamation

The Town of Thurmont issued a proclamation recognizing Arbor Day. Thurmont has been a Tree City USA for four years. A group of town volunteers recently planted 20 new trees in Eyler Road Park, which brings the total of new trees planted in town over the past few years close to 500, according to Mayor John Kinnaird. “That is unbelievable, and this was, of course, sparked by our fear of losing so many trees at Community Park due to the Emerald Ash Borer,” he said.

Playgrounds to be Improved

The Thurmont Mayor and Commissioners approved a $40,000 to have Playground Specialists install new playground equipment in the Woodland Park Playground. Program Open Space fund will pay $30,000 of the bid, and the town will pay $10,000.

Playground Specialists was also awarded a bid for $13,726 to upgrade the equipment at the Ice Plant Park Playground. Program Open Space will also pay for 75 percent of the bid.


Mayor Don Briggs

Town Christmas decorations are up, and the town’s main streets stand dually adorned. To the broad sweep of the engineered virus a faint tribute, a mere tip of the hat, to all the traditional events we have forgone this past year. The pandemic, with certainty, jarred our routines. We have rubbed two sticks together to make another wonderful year here in Northern Frederick County. We have had to adjust to less, but less has come to be better in many respects. In part because of who we are and the way we live. To the overwhelming generosity of everyone living in our valley. Thank you. It has been the glue.

Somewhere amidst the strands of news coverage over the last weeks was the mention of a C.S. Lewis essay he wrote in 1948, regarding going on with life with the threat of the atomic bomb. Googling to find the essay, I saw where someone had the presence of mind, and connection to the breadth of Lewis’ writings, to suggest replacing “COVID-19 pandemic” in place of “atomic bomb.” Below is the Lewis essay. A year to remember, our stint in history.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

“On Living in an Atomic

    Age” (1948) in Present

   Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

Safe outdoor exercising is a strong ally of social distancing. Wear your face mask. Enjoy our parks and connected town.

From Libby and I: We hope you had a Merry Christmas, and we wish you a Happy New Year. 2020 is behind us; now, by the grace of God, we are armed with several vaccines. Let us go on with our lives, our stockings full.


 Mayor John Kinnaird

The year 2020 is now behind us, and I look forward to a much improved 2021. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas. I wish you a very Happy New Year and a healthy and happy year ahead.

The COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed and should be broadly available to all of us in the coming months. With that in mind, I ask that all of us keep doing what we can to help stem the spread of this virus. Wash your hands regularly, wear a mask when out in public and when in contact with others, keep at least six feet away from others whenever possible, and try not to gather in large groups. COVID-19 will continue to be a high health concern until the majority of our residents have been vaccinated.

As I first noted, I am looking forward to the year 2021 being a better year than 2020. It is my hope that all our friends and family stay safe, and that we move forward into the new year with an open mind and with an optimistic spirit.

Please call me at 301-606-9458 or email me with any questions or concerns you may have.

The Town of Thurmont has been designated as a 2020 Accredited Main Street America™ program. Accredited status is Main Street America’s top tier of recognition and signifies a demonstrated commitment to comprehensive commercial district revitalization and proven track record of successfully applying the Main Street Approach™.

“We are proud to recognize this year’s 860 Nationally Accredited Main Street America programs that have dedicated themselves to strengthening their communities,” said Patrice Frey, president & CEO of the National Main Street Center. “These Accredited Main Street programs have proven to be powerful engines for revitalization by sparking impressive economic returns and preserving the character of their communities. During these challenging times, these Main Street programs will be key to bringing economic vitality back to commercial districts and improving quality of life during the recovery process.”

In 2019 alone, $6.45 billion of public and private reinvestment was generated, 6,466 net new businesses were opened, 32,316 net new jobs were created, and 10,412 buildings were rehabilitated in Main Street America communities.

“The benefits that we receive from being a nationally accredited Main Street program are a vital component of the critical services the Town of Thurmont provides to our community” stated Jim Humerick, chief administrative officer.  “We are proud to be a Main Street community since 2005 and equally proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far.”

The Town of Thurmont’s performance is evaluated by the State of Maryland Main Street under the Department of Community Housing and Development, which works in partnership with Main Street America to identify the local programs that meet ten rigorous performance standards. Evaluation criteria determines the communities that are building comprehensive and sustainable revitalization efforts and include standards such as fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings.

Since Thurmont’s 2005 designation, the work of Thurmont Main Street has resulted in: $1 million in 57 private investment projects; $676,985 in 26 public improvement projects; 46 new businesses; 138 jobs created; 17,290 volunteer hours valued at $439,685; grants received $760,205.

Main Street America has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts for 40 years. Today, it is a network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Since 1980, communities participating in the program have leveraged more than $85.43 billion in new public and private investment, generated 672,333 net new jobs and 150,079 net new businesses, and rehabilitated more than 295,348 buildings. Main Street America is a program of the nonprofit National Main Street Center, a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Valley of Blessings” Joins World in Celebration of Local Saint

Anita DiGregory

“Elizabeth Ann Seton is a saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with special joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage.”—Pope Paul VI, in his homily from the canonization of Elizabeth Ann Seton, September 14, 1975.

The first canonized saint born in America, Mother Seton (as she is still fondly known) remains a saint for our country, our world, and our times. A convert, wife, mother, and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first community for religious women established in the United States, Mother Seton remains today a beacon of hope in a time of pandemic, isolation, and uncertainty. 

On January 4, 2021, the world will celebrate St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day and the 200th anniversary of her death. Locally, the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton will kick off a year-long celebration of this momentous anniversary with a commemorative Mass celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Mass, scheduled for 11:30 a.m., will be aired live on EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). Father Ted Trinko will celebrate an additional Mass at 1:30 p.m. that day.

Lori, who at the time of Seton’s canonization was studying to become a priest at Mount St. Mary’s seminary, recalls the day Seton became a saint. He and his fellow seminarians helped the Sisters of Charity coordinate the celebrations in Emmitsburg.

“Looking back on it, I’m not sure that we were much help to the sisters,” joked Lori. “But, I certainly remember how happy we were, how excited we were that a saint, who so loved Emmitsburg and who so loved the grotto, and who knew our seminary, and was the first saint born in the United States…we were so excited about all these things unfolding before us.”

Mother Seton had a deep love for the Catoctin Mountains and Valley, referring to the area as the “Valley of Blessings.” It was here that she walked, and prayed, and served the community. It was in Emmitsburg, in the heart of the Catoctin Valley, where she founded St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, the first free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the United States.  Here is where Mother Seton’s religious community flourished, and she wrote, “Our community increases very fast, and no doubt will do a great deal of good in the care of the sick and instruction of children, which is our chief business.”

The Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph inspired the formation of other communities across North America. Today, her legacy continues as the religious sisters of these communities serve the poor, assist the needy, care for the sick, and educate the young, just as Mother Seton did in countries throughout the world.

“Mother Seton sent sisters out across the country, who in turn have gone out across the world, and they’ve built hospitals and schools and orphanages—all of that came out of our community here,” said Rob Judge, executive director of the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. “The first American-born person to be canonized as a saint, she’s a saint of the universal church, which of course is international—Emmitsburg’s own, so to speak, has an international footprint. That’s a reflection on the community, and they rightly should have a lot of pride in that recognition.”

Now, on this 200th anniversary, the town of Emmitsburg will join with the world to once again celebrate Mother Seton. In addition to the commemorative Masses, The National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton will be hosting a year-long celebration honoring this anniversary and “Two Centuries of Charity.”

On January 4, the Shrine will premiere the new and inspiring film, “Elizabeth Ann Seton:  Seeker to Saint.” Every Saturday throughout the winter, the Shrine will offer free tours of Mother Seton’s historic homes, in addition to exclusive, live virtual tours. They will offer a free, downloadable, spiritual biography, as well as a deep discount on Annabelle M. Melville’s book, Elizabeth Bayley Seton. The year-long celebration has a few surprises in store and promises some big news coming soon. More information on these upcoming events can be found at

The Shrine strives to continue Mother Seton’s legacy through prayer, community outreach and support, education, and programs. Some of their newest initiatives include creating a prayer line (where the public can call, and trained staff can offer prayer and outreach), the Seeds of Hope program (offering assistance and support to the community), virtual learning, pilgrimage, educational and spiritual podcasts, and tours that bring guests “back in time” (utilizing adult and junior history interpreters).

“Our goal is to foster devotion to Mother Seton, to continue her legacy, and to make sure that her work remains in the minds and hearts of all,” adds Judge. “This is more than the story of how Elizabeth Ann Seton became an American saint. It’s about a woman who changed the world, the lives she touched, and a legacy that lives on today. That’s why visitors of all backgrounds are drawn here, and why we welcome everyone to share in this celebration.”

James Rada, Jr.

A Gettysburg-based writers’ group has released its first anthology, Four Score & Seven Stories Ago.

Gettysburg is where President Abraham Lincoln gave his most famous speech. It is also where he wrote parts of the Gettysburg Address. The town and its history have inspired many other writers to express their feelings and dreams on paper, whether a nonfiction examination of the historic battle, a story of a restless spirit in town, or poetry about the people. Gettysburg has inspired many authors, including the members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade.

The Brigade was organized in January 2010. Its mission is simple: A group of local writers willing to meet weekly to share and discuss the writing process, writing techniques, publishing, promotion, and marketing, and to help writers work through all these endeavors.

“We have 120 members, although, at any weekly meeting, attendance runs from 6 to 12. Our membership spans the gamut from novice writers with ideas for stories to published authors,” Brigade founder Will Hutchison wrote in the anthology acknowledgements.

Over the past ten years, the group has met over 500 times. The majority were held at O’Rorke’s Eatery and Spirits at 44 Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg. The group chooses the topic for each meeting. One member leads a discussion, whether it’s on writing technique, marketing, publishing, finding an agent, or something else.

Four Score & Seven Stories Ago is a collection of fiction and nonfiction about Gettysburg. Eleven talented members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade created stories related to the most famous small town in America. Some of these stories include:

Sgt. Francis Cassidy and Cpl. Paddy Quinn have looked danger and death in the face while fighting with the Union Army. Their friendship and love of their fellow soldiers of the “Irish Volunteers” now takes them to the Battle of Gettysburg, where they must meet their destiny.

Nestled in the rows of flat grave markers in the Gettysburg National Cemetery lies a Veteran of World War II who may be one of the few that knows the true story of the Kennedy assassination.

The death of a father sends a Gettysburg family into crisis. Dark secrets from the past come back to complicate the life of a son struggling to help.

The small garden of her Gettysburg farm was often busy with guests, mostly the ghostly type, and then someone from Abigail’s past surfaced there… as she dug him up in her flower bed.

Hometown hero or traitor? One Civil War soldier’s views of life, family, and friends in Gettysburg, inspired by true events.

The anthology project began last August when a group member suggested the group publish an anthology as a way to put all the skills the group had been discussing over the years into practice and offer novice writers a chance to have a professionally published credit.

The members responded enthusiastically. Eleven members have pieces in the anthology (six are published for the first time). Catoctin Banner editor James Rada, Jr. wrote a story about an aging Veteran’s walk from southern Virginia to Gettysburg to die on the battlefield called, “Finishing the Charge.” Other members helped with different aspects of the project, such as editing, formatting, and marketing.

Within a few days of being published, the book hit the Top 10 in three categories and was the no. 1 new release in several.

Frederick resident Kerry Springle wrote a story called “Past Attentions” for the anthology. “Getting published was a dream come true,” she said.

Profits from the book’s sales are going to be donated to the Gettysburg Area Education Foundation, which supports children’s literacy. The book sells for $14.95. It is available on or from E Plus Graphics in Emmitsburg.

The group has already started planning to put out a second anthology sometime in 2021.

New members are welcome. The group meets weekly, although members aren’t required to attend all meetings. To be kept up-to-date on what the meeting topics will be and other information about the group, sign up for the Gettysburg Writers Brigade on

Blair Garrett

Children’s books provide immeasurable value to the development of ideas, morals, and creativity for a child’s growing mind.

Stories are the keys to unlock the imagination of a child, and they’re a great gift for a parent to be able to share.

Rocky Ridge-based author Fabiola Miller has published a children’s story of her very own, hoping to give that gift to as many children as possible.

Miller’s book, Playful Princess Panda, tells a story about a princess who rules over a kingdom and her evil sister’s jealous attempts to ruin the kingdom.

The book was originally derived from years of reading stories to her son to help him sleep. “When he was young, he used to have a hard time sleeping, so I used to read him bedtime stories,” Miller said. “When I ran out of bedtime stories that I knew, I started coming up with new bedtime stories.” Coming up with her own stories on the spot developed into lessons and teachings. “I decided to tell him stories that had a little bit more value,” she said.

Her son used to tell other relatives about the bedtime story, and Miller relayed that same story to her niece over and over.

“She would ask me to repeat the story, and after having to recall it so many times, I was inspired to write it on paper.”

Putting it to paper got the gears turning for Miller’s book, and it eventually led to its publication. “It was always in the back of my head, until one day when I could visualize the characters, their message, and how it needed to be told.” Miller’s revelation brought the book to life. Through the colorful illustrations and thoughtful dialogue between characters, the story was told.   

Miller’s Boston Terriers displayed a lot of different personalities throughout her son’s life, and those traits are on full display in the Playful Princess Panda.

The inspiration for the art and characters of the story has deep roots to her son’s childhood, and it was intended to help him connect better with the message of the book. “The characters are based on dogs we’ve had in the past,” Miller said. “Their personalities come off in the book.”

Though the use of familiar characters throughout her son’s life helps him relate to the book, the themes and message are meaningful for all, young and old.

“The book is meant to teach children the importance of kindness and thoughtfulness,” Miller said. “It’s about their attitude toward others and how it impacts them.”

The importance of kindness is often placed on children, but the lesson is transcendent for people of all ages, and in trying times like these, kindness from person to person is more needed than ever.

Instilling those positive values at a young age is the goal for Miller, and through personalized illustrations and unique storytelling, she is well on her way to achieving that goal. “I like to write books that could help children build character,” Miller said. Her immediate plans don’t have more books in the works just quite yet, but it’s a future goal down the line, and Miller always has more stories to tell.  

Miller’s book is available online in paperback and for digital download.

Playful Princess Panda features hand drawn illustrations and valuable positive themes.

James Rada, Jr.

Emmitsburg’s annual Evening of Christmas Spirit had little spirit this year because of COVID-19.

About a dozen people were on hand for the lighting of the town Christmas tree in front of the Emmitsburg Community Center on the evening of December 7, 2020. Christmas music played during the brief event that usually draws a crowd and has local students singing carols.

Mayor Don Briggs thanked the small group for coming out. He acknowledged the problems that COVID has caused this year, and said, “Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you can.”

Briggs asked Dacosta Wivell, 12 years old, and the only child at the event, to assist him with the countdown. Then the pair flipped the switch, and the lights came on.

In the past, “An Evening of Christmas Spirit” at the Carriage House Inn has followed the tree-lighting ceremony. The event typically draws hundreds of people both inside and outside of the restaurant who come to enjoy free food, music, crafts, hayrides, and Santa’s visit.

None of that happened in December. For the first time in 32 years, it was canceled. State restrictions on restaurants and gatherings because of the virus forced the closure.

Mayor Don Briggs and Dacosta Wivell congratulate each other after lighting the town’s Christmas tree.

Photo by James Rada, Jr.

On Sunday, December 6, 2020, the family of the late James E. “Jef” Fitzgerald, Sr., gathered at the Vigilant Hose Company’s (VHC) emergency services stationhouse at 25 West Main Street in Emmitsburg to dedicate the apparatus bay in his memory. Jef, a much-respected and well-known area resident, was instrumental in overseeing all aspects of the significantly expanded and enhanced VHC facility back in the decade of the 1990s. The activity included collateral efforts to plan for and acquire the community’s first aerial ladder truck, Tower 6.

Portions of the re-constructed and enhanced complex included dealing with sections dating back over 200 years.

Jef was a life-long dedicated VHC member, including having served for several years as VHC president. Jef passed at his home on January 10, 2013, minutes after arriving there from a work detail at the station.

Jef had also served for several years as president of the Frederick County Volunteer Fire/Rescue Association. Over several decades, Jef assisted Emmitsburg Town Government Officials with assuring proper compliance to specifications and code mandates of a great many community constructions projects.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance at the December 6  event was limited. Thus, it is hoped that all who knew Jef will make it a point to view the permanent plaque on display along West Main Street on the exterior wall out front of where Tower 6 sits.

Plaque unveiling: With Jef Fitzgerald, Sr.’s family in attendance, VHC President Tom Ward (far right) unveils a commemorative plaque dedicating a portion of the Fire Station in memory of James E. “Jef” Fitzgerald, Sr.

Photo Courtesy of Vigilant Hose Company*Along with Jef’s photo, wording on the Commemorative Plaque reads: James E. “Jef” Fitzgerald, Sr., 1942–2013, a 55-Year Vigilant Hose Company Life Member. Dedicated in memory of his unselfish service and extraordinary commitment to the Emmitsburg Community, its Volunteer Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services organization, and the Citizens of Frederick County.

The Thurmont Lions Club is collecting much-needed items for its local homeless shelters: baby diapers, baby wipes, and adult white socks. You can drop off your donations at Hobb’s Hardware on 15 E. Main Street in Thurmont, and the McLean residence on 7 Geoley Court in Thurmont (there will be a container at the garage for items). The donation deadline is January 17, 2021. Thank you in advance for your generosity.