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Stories of What It’s Like Returning Home After 25 Years

by dave ammenheuser

A year ago, in the January issue of The Catoctin Banner, Blair Garrett wrote a nice profile of me and of how my journalism career took me from Thurmont to across the world’s sports stage.

I was flattered. Thurmont will always be my home. I was proud that my local newspaper cared enough to write about my career.

My mother was thrilled. My father’s friends got him extra copies. My father-in-law, who lived in Delaware, asked for a copy, too. I also coordinated a 40-year reunion of Catoctin High School basketball friends and teammates, while I started planning to take my USA TODAY sports staff to Japan for the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

The rest of 2020 wasn’t so great.

COVID-19 impacted the world and our family. There was the difficult day in March when I had 24 hours to get my son out of Ecuador, where he was spending a college semester studying abroad. It was a crazy day. Luckily, he got on the final American plane out before the country closed its airport because of the pandemic. 

But that was only the start of a terrible year. A nasty tornado ripped through the Tennessee town (Mt. Juliet) where we lived. Our home was spared, but hundreds of neighbors lost their homes. Two schools were destroyed. The community remains in recovery mode.

We also learned that my father-in-law, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, also had melanoma on his brain. The double-whammy cut his life short. He died in July.

My own parents, who have lived near Creagerstown for 50 years, also battled health issues. My father, John, died in September when his heart finally gave out.

Cancer struck my mother, Liz. First, the cancer was located in her breasts, then in her spine. Combine that with dementia, and you have a very unfair battle for a wonderful person in her senior years. She died a few days before Christmas.

I finally decided that it was all too much to handle from afar. Thus, two months ago, I returned home. My wife, Maura, and I sold our home near Nashville and moved back East.

I gave up my amazing career as a sports journalist to care for my father-in-law’s estate in Delaware and to care for my parents’ home in Thurmont and their estate.

It’s been almost 25 years since I left Frederick County. My journalism career took me to the Carolinas, Connecticut, California, and Nashville. Two years ago, I was named the sports director of the USA TODAY Network, overseeing more than 700 sports journalists across the nation.

All of those 700 are important to me. But my family and my mom’s needs were more important.

So, instead of working for a paycheck for USA TODAY in 2021, I’ve volunteered to write a free monthly column for Deb Abraham Spalding and The Catoctin Banner this year. I’ll write about what it is like to return home after being away for 25 years. I’ll recount stories of growing up in Creagerstown and of matriculating through the local school system. I’ll tell what it was like being an Eagle Scout in this community and about being the worst baseball player in the history of the Thurmont Little League.

Without a doubt, 2020 simply stunk for all of us. I’m looking forward to 2021 and hopefully seeing many friends I have not seen in a few decades.

Liz and John Ammenheuser visiting Bethany Beach in 2018.

Grace Eyler

Crossbow_1On August 15, 2015, the U.S. Crossbow Club (USCC) celebrated its 2nd Annual Awards Banquet. Located on Tower Road in Thurmont, members from across Maryland, and as far away as Ohio, joined together to share stories of their crossbow hunting adventures, to display their mounted trophy animals, and to receive awards for their hunting and fishing accomplishments. Although these USCC members come from all walks of life, the one thing they all have in common is their passion for hunting, fishing, and their crossbows. Dennis R. Britton of Thurmont is the club’s founder and first president. He recalled purchasing his first crossbow at Jefferson Archery in 2008. At the time, Britton was sixty-five years old and could legally hunt with a crossbow, but after reading Maryland’s laws and regulations governing hunting with a crossbow, he found them to be biased, discriminating, and unfair when compared to other legal archery hunting equipment: (1) a crossbow hunter could only hunt on sporadic specified dates of the archery season whereas the traditional bowhunter could hunt every day of the archery season; (2) a crossbow hunter had to be at least sixty-five years old, while the traditional bowhunter had no age limits; and (3) a crossbow hunter had to be physically impaired whereas a traditional bowhunter did not. He recognized the laws and regulations prevented many younger and healthier hunters from having a choice of hunting weapons. A firm believer in equal rights and freedom of choice, Britton campaigned for a change that would benefit all sportsmen across Maryland, regardless of age or disability.

Britton started in Thurmont with a door-to-door petition to enlighten as many residents as he could about the uneven archery hunting laws. After collecting over 2,500 signatures, Britton then sent the petition to the Maryland Governor’s Office, The Department of Natural Resources, and key state senators. He thought 2,500 votes could convince Governor Martin O’Malley to reverse his way of thinking in an election year, and they did. Beginning with the 2010-2011 Maryland hunting season, crossbows became a legal archery hunting weapon for everyone, without limits or restrictions for the entire hunting season!

In September of 2010, Britton founded the Maryland Crossbow Federation to unite all Maryland crossbow hunters into a single voice, and to represent that voice in all legal crossbow matters.

Britton said, “Because of reputation and popularity, our membership has grown overwhelmingly and has spread into Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Ohio, as well as Germany, Canada, and South America. On February 4, 2015, the Maryland Crossbow Federation became legally known as the U.S. Crossbow Club.

Today, Britton and his wife, Lucy, warmly welcome archers to the club’s headquarters and new crossbow range. The site has twenty Ironman targets, with no two targets being placed at the same elevation or distance. It is the only archery range in the state of Maryland to have permanent-placed straight in-line targets at 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards, great for calibrating long distance scopes.

During the awards ceremony, Dennis reminded his fellow members that, “…Our mission as a club is to promote more crossbow hunting and shooting opportunities for everyone, without limits and restrictions, and to recognize each member for their outdoor sports accomplishments.”

The U.S. Crossbow Club (USCC) has the most extensive awards programs in the world.

Britton said, “We have awards for all Maryland and National big game species, in both fair chase and estate hunting conditions,” adding, “We are the first hunting organization to recognize our member’s fishing and crabbing talents, and also the first hunting organization to recognize our member’s harvesting of Maryland and National doe whitetail deer.”

The 2nd Annual All Awards Presentations ceremony began with the club’s Biggest Catch Award, where award recipients reminisced about their fishing stories.

Next, another unique award was presented: the Maryland-National Heaviest Whitetail Doe Award, which was created to (1) allow young whitetail bucks to mature; (2) create award opportunities to those that never see a mature whitetail buck; (3) help in managing our ever-growing whitetail deer herd; and (4) recruit and retain crossbow hunters.

Other awards included Hunter of the Year; Estate Hunter of the Year, for harvesting the most different species of big game animals; and the USCC Golden Arrow Award and Estate Golden Arrow Award, for harvesting the most big game animals of the same species.

After members received their awards, Lucy gathered everyone for a tasty barbecue lunch. Members dined and swapped stories of their outdoor adventures. As the afternoon progressed, members said their goodbyes, and are now looking forward to next year’s gathering.

For more information on the USCC, contact Dennis Britton at 301-271-7001 or at

You do not have to be a Maryland resident or even a U.S. citizen to enjoy the benefits of being a U.S. Crossbow Club member.

The Praying Mantis: Friend or Foe?

Christine Schoene Maccabee

Have you ever seen a butterfly’s wings, mysteriously minus its body, on the ground beneath your favorite flowers? Did you ever wonder how and why they got there? The answer to this mystery is a very unexpected one—at least it was for me. It is more than likely the work of a praying mantis (or “preying” mantis as I call them), that seem to prefer the soft buttery bodies of our precious swallowtails and monarchs, not to mention invaluable bees.

The first time I saw a butterfly in the clutches of a mantis, I was shocked. Within seconds he/she ate the entire body from top to bottom, allowing the wings to float gently to the ground. From that moment on, I realized that I could not tolerate mantis in my flower gardens, which I had begun as habitat for bees and butterflies. I also witnessed a mantis nonchalantly eating a honey bee one day; not a pleasant sight either, as honey bees are becoming more rare lately. 

I know there are a lot of mantis lovers out there. Years ago, I lost a potential boyfriend because of our difference in opinion about them, though he did not give me a chance to plead my case (his loss). So, before I make any enemies in my readership, here are a few facts that you may not know.

There are three types of mantis in our country. One is a native, and the others were brought here—mostly accidentally—from Europe and China (the Chinese one is found mostly in Maryland and Delaware). There is actually an overpopulation of mantis in our country due to this problem. Also, according to the artist-naturalist John Quinn, who has written nine books on nature and science, a rumor was started back in the 1940s that one could be fined $50.00 if caught squashing a mantis. Mr. Quinn suggests that how this  myth got started and continued on for so long “is a mystery even to folklorists.” So feel free to reduce your mantis population, as you will not be fined, and they have few predators. Smaller birds tend to avoid trying to eat them due to the painful pinching of their strong forelegs. I rest my case…

Like most well-meaning people, I thought the mantis was an important insect to have in my gardens to control garden pests. Thus, when I moved out here twenty-six years ago, I went out of my way to save mantis egg cases before the field was mowed in the fall; I positioned those egg cases in various parts of the vegetable garden and berry bushes. Sadly, I discovered the next year that the mantis is all too frequently foe rather than friend. That summer, I found about fifty pairs of wings under the butterfly bush and other flowers. Also, rather than eating the bean beetles on my pole beans where I would transport any mantis I found, they would fly back over to the butterfly bush and begin stalking butterflies again. At that point I knew I had to take drastic action. I knew the war was on!

Let me say that I would never advocate killing praying mantis, but I thought I would share some information with you that you may find useful in your pursuit of “mantis management.” Most people are not open to ridding their gardens of the “fascinating” mantis, but why invite butterflies and bees into your beautiful gardens if it is only a death trap? For me, a choice had be made, and so I made mine.

I have a “largish” plastic container with a lid and a handle, so when I see a mantis I simply knock it into the container. Sometimes I might have several in there before the day is through. If I happen to have garden gloves, I will also grab one by hand. Then, I either throw them into the chickens to eat (a great source of protein for chickens) or take them down the road that night or the next day and drop them off in a wooded area. I also have no qualms about putting their egg cases under foot in the fall and winter as a means of control. So, there are many ways to control them, though there will always be more than enough of them—native and non-native—living out in the wild areas…just not in my butterfly gardens!

The human gardener, out of necessity, will usually intervene in order to have the desired results. We are as much a part of nature as all the other creatures on this earth. Sometimes it can feel like an eat or be eaten life we live, kill or be killed. If it isn’t a rabbit destroying your kale and cabbage (remember the story of Peter Rabbit?) or the beetles ruining your squash and green beans, then it is the mantis eating your bees and butterflies. The ways of nature, though fascinating, are as confounding as they are frustrating. We could therefore spend all of our time controlling, and spend no time simply appreciating.

So, I do what I can, and then let the rest go. I will try every day to sit on my deck and enjoy the indigo bunting in my old cherry tree, be thrilled when I see my first yellow or black swallowtail, and rejoice when I spot an endangered blue butterfly.  However, I will be quick as anything to grab my mantis catcher container if I see a “preying” mantis laying in wait on the branch of my butterfly bush or silently stalking anything that moves among the lilies and sweet peas.

Then I can go back to enjoying the beauty and mystery all around me, knowing that I have done my little part in the scheme of things, and relax in the reality of my inability to control everything.          Enjoy creation!