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Three local heroes and two commissioners who would return

June 18, 1998

Bob Maginnis

Late last month I wrote a column about a local woman who'd saved a young child's life, but was reluctant to tell her story because she feared embarrassing the child's mother, who'd been "given the slip," as they say, by her kid.

In that same column, I asked people to tell me about some heroic behavior they'd observed in the last two years. I didn't figure on a big batch of replies, because people tend to pass along bad news more easily than good, but I did get three.

The first came from Chip and Beth Rockwell of Boonsboro, who nominated Mrs. Holtz, a second-grade teacher at Boonsboro Elementary who read an article about a 64-year-old Vermont farmer who was just learning to read. She suggested that her second graders write to him.

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"Through this extra effort, one kindly farmer touched the hearts and lives of 25 children in Boonsboro and they touched his. The reading and the writing came alive with the most basic of human needs, that of knowing that others care for us, no matter who or where we are," the Rockwells wrote.

And consider this: This farmer was kind enough to share what might have been, to some people, an embarrassing story, for the greater good.

The second letter came from Dan and Sue Parsons of Binghamton, N.Y., who wrote to tell about what happened to their grandson, John Titus, a student at Northern Middle School.

On May 9, they said, John choked while eating a brownie in the lunchroom. His two buddies, Samuel Guy and Jason Ferguson, performed the Heimlich Maneuver, cleared his airway and probably saved his life.

"The fact that these two young boys recognized what was happening and took action to help is amazing. We commend Nadine Stauffer for doing such a good job in teaching the boys the Heimlich maneuver and the school district for having this as a part of their program," they wrote.

The third letter came from Douglas Scott Arey, a member of the resident outreach committee at Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown.

Arey wrote to say that at the annual awards ceremony, the ROC honored Officer Harry Edmonds with its Humanitarian Award for performing the Heimlich Maneuver to save Thomas Matthews and also prevented another prisoner from committing suicide.

A 27-year-old Pennsylvania native, Edmonds had been a correctional officer for only six months when the incident occurred. His actions and his willingness to say for publication that he believes that a "them vs. us" mentality is not the best way to handle the job make him a hero in my book. Arey has asked that the $20 prize be donated to charity, which I'll be glad to do, if he'll let me know which one.

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Is anybody else surprised by the decision of incumbent Washington County Commissioners John Shank and Greg Snook to run for those offices again? I was there in April 1996 in the North Hagerstown High School auditorium when citizens upset over the sewer debt situation (and the rate hikes that were due to follow) held up signs calling for the incumbents' impeachment. Officials had to turn on the house lights that night to keep citizens from shouting out curses in the darkness.

You've got to have a thick skin to shrug off that sort of criticism, and Snook in particular, has in the last two years seemed to be a man doing his job out of a sense of duty rather than because he found any enjoyment in it.

Despite my puzzlement at their willingness to leap into the briar patch of public exposure again, both raised a couple of good issues in their announcement interviews.

Shank notes that the next board will face the task of overseeing a comprehensive rezoning and the rewriting of the county's master plan. This may be the last chance to save some of the county's rural atmosphere, and Shank says he won't support restricting development rights without compensating land owners. Just how much we're talking about is an issue that needs more discussion.

So does the idea of being more selective in the jobs the county seeks for local residents. Snook says the county board has helped trim the jobless rate here to 4 percent since 1994.

But at times during the present term the board has acted like it was still recession-time, and that the county can't afford to turn down anyone - remember the medical-waste firm? - who comes to the door. These two, both of whom were elected in 1990, need to talk about when and how the county board will be secure enough about the economy to take the search for new jobs to another level.

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

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