Standing proud for Sharpsburg

March 23, 1997

Standing proud for Sharpsburg

Councilwoman Troxell gives herself to town, gives credit to others

What would you do if you were faced with a life-threatening disease, a disease that you couldn't do anything about?

Some people might quit their jobs and head for the beach, to drink pina coladas and watch the surf roll in. Others might spend their days in solitary prayer, begging a divine power to cure them. Neither of those scenarios describes Denise Troxell, who's decided to use any time she has left to serve the public.

Troxell, a member of the Sharpsburg Town Council, was born with a hole in her heart that went undetected for a long time. By the time doctors discovered the defect and corrected it, her lungs were shot. She's now on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant, though the only outward sign of her illness came halfway up the walkway of the restaurant where we talked, when she had to stop and catch her breath.


She agreed to let me tell her story not because she wants anyone's pity, but because she wants to encourage people to live life to the fullest and because she wants to promote the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival, set for Sept. 13-14.

The festival isn't her first try at civic involvement. During Sharpsburg's extensive street-rebuilding project, Troxell worked with town residents and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to try to save some of the big old trees there.

Unfortunately, the compromise she believed had been worked out - to save the old trees that were still viable and cut down those in danger of toppling over - was scotched when the DNR basically gave cutting permits to every resident who applied for one.

Despite the disappointment, she accepted an appointment to the town council to fill the unexpired term of George Kesler, who was elected mayor."I was there all the time anyway, and they'd gotten to know me," she said.

More recently, she tried to mediate the dispute between the town and Paul Carson, who renovated the old Sharpsburg Legion into the New Central Restaurant.

In every case like this, she said, she asks people to consider working in a way that does not divide the participants into winner and losers, but which seeks a solution that everyone can live with.

Her best tools are her easy smile and an ego so small she could hide it in a watch pocket. Even as she described the festival, she downplayed her own involvement in it.

"Now don't say I'm in charge," she said, "because Pat Holland is really the one who's the head of it. And there are a lot of people who meet every month, 12 months a year to make this what it is."

So what is it exactly?

Troxell said the festival is an event that celebrates the town's history with a series of lectures, crafts and authentic Civil War-era music. There'll be walking tours of the town, a workshop on how to trace down an ancestor who may have been involved in the battles of that era and a barn dance on Friday, Sept. 12 at the historic Piper Farm on the Antietam Battlefield itself.

A mere list of events does not describe the feeling of being there as well as one of Troxell's anecdotes. At one past festival, a large group of Confederate re-enactors came marching into town. On the spur of the moment, Troxell changed into her Civil War-era dress and got her two sons to put on the authentic type shirts she'd made for them, and all three stood on the front porch.

"All these dusty Confederate soldiers came marching past and I yelled, `Howdy boys!' and they yelled, `Howdy ma'am,' and I thought, `They really believe they're soldiers.' It's like going back into history; it's like going back into time," she said.

Troxell says her enthusiasm for the festival is in no way meant to detract from this coming September's re-enactment commemorating the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. Don't miss that, she says, but don't skip the festival either.

As she describes all of meetings necessary to help put together this festival and handle all of the other things affecting the historic south county town, the whirl of activity seems a bit much for someone not in the best of health.

Not so, she says, adding that it's something to do to ease the tension while she waits for "the call" on the cell phone that is her constant companion.

"For anyone who's facing depression or anything, getting involved, well, it's a trick that tricks you into not focusing on your own troubles. And I think it's something that works for everyone."

Maybe not, but unless your heart is as hard as the lead bullets that still turn up in Sharpburg's farm fields during spring plowing, you won't fail to respond to this brave lady's request. See you all at the festival. For more information about it, call 1-800-228-STAY.

Bob Maginnis is the editor of the Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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