Gardens provide a haven for center patients

June 26, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Three years ago a tornado touched down in Hagerstown's North End, tearing through Rest Haven Cemetery on Pennsylvania Avenue before knocking over a large tree at the Western Maryland Hospital Center.

News accounts of the storm's aftermath describe residents and businesses as just struggling to clean up. But for Linn Hendershot, then a patient at the long-term-care hospital, it was an opportunity to begin building something better.

Hendershot, now a member of the Hagerstown City Council and a hospital employee, said that although repairs to the building were covered, there was no cash for reparing or upgrading the landscaping.

And so Hendershot and Phares Bitikofer, then the director of respiratory therapy, began an effort to create what Hendershot called "therapeutic gardens" at the center.


Some are raised planters that allow residents in wheelchairs to grow their own vegetables or flowers, while others are water gardens, where residents can come to be soothed by the sound of flowing water and to watch the large ornamental goldfish swim beneath the surface.

The newest gardens were dedicated this past Sunday at 3 p.m., a day so hot that for two cents, most of the 100 of so people who attended would have jumped into the new fish pond themselves.

The most eloquent speech came from Joyce Brown, head of the center's citizens' advisory board. Her son Steve was a sophomore in college when he was struck by a car, leading the family to an extensive search of the best treatment and rehabilitation services, which they found at Western Maryland.

Her voice breaking, Brown described the fight to keep the center open when it was targeted for closure by the state 10 years ago.

"When you cut to the quick, it was that woman, in her speech before the General Assembly, who kept the place open," Hendershot said.

Brown, Bitikofer and a host of others were credited with helping make the project a reality by Hendershot, who even got the contestants for the Miss Maryland pageant to stop by for pictures alongside the new fish pond's fountain.

In all, Hendershot estimated that more than $125,000 in cash, labor and materials have been donated to date. The project isn't complete, however. Hendershot said the next steps include a train garden, so that patients undergoing kidney dialysis can move the trains by remote control during treatment and a special garden for the blind that will offer sounds and pleasing scents.

The Western Maryland Center is located at 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. For more information, visit its Web site at To donate to the project's next phase, please call Hndershot or Bitikofer at 301-791-4400.

In attendance Sunday were two of the winners in the Maryland Court of Appeals redistricting decision. Delegates Chris Shank and Bob McKee, who had expected to be pitted against each other, will now get to run separately. County Commissioner William Wivell, who said he didn't want to take on an incumbent Republican, will probably file for commissioner again.

Less clear is the fate of LeRoy Myers Jr. and Vikki Nelson, who will now be in House Speaker Cas Taylor's district, 60 percent of which is in Allegany County. Both say they're still running, but despite some rumblings of discontent with Taylor up there, it's hard to believe that, absent a major scandal or misstep, he'll be knocked off.

It's not nice to smile at someone else's misfortune, but sometimes it's almost irresistible. I'm grinning because the apeals court's redistricting suit has put the squeeze on state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, who chairs the Maryland Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee.

Readers may remember that it was Hoffman who strong-armed Sen. Don Munson into voting for a tobacco tax hike, saying that if he didn't, she'd kill funding for the University System of Maryland campus in downtown Hagerstown. According to the Montgomery County Gazette, Hoffman had a big yuk about it afterward.

Now, under the court's plan, Hoffman, who is white, has been placed in a district in which the majority of the voters are black. Maryland Secretary of State John Willis told The Associated Press there could be a challenge under the federal Voting Rights Act, which Willis said "protects all races, not just African Americans."

Now consider the impact of such a challenge in a city where Martin O'Malley, a white man, won the mayor's office, even though Baltimore is 65 percent African-American.

Is Hoffman prepared to claim that the same people who disregarded race to vote for a man they felt was more qualified wouldn't be open-minded enough to do the same for her?

Mounting such a challenge might be seen as an insult, while not doing so might lead to her ouster from a position of power she clearly enjoys. Isn't it nice to see a bully backed into a corner?

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspaqpers.

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