Amazing Grace

Women's Hall of Fame induction is latest honor for volunteer, activist

Women's Hall of Fame induction is latest honor for volunteer, activist

May 02, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Grace and Russell Snively shared a passion for helping others. The walls of the Pennsylvania Avenue home they shared are lined with letters, certificates and plaques of recognition as proof.

Even after Russell's death 10 years ago, Grace carried on their tradition of volunteering and at age 92 the accolades continue to roll in.

Her latest recognition - the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame - came as a complete surprise to Snively.

Although unable to attend the March 9 ceremony in Annapolis because she had had a recent heart catheterization, Dee Mayberry, legislation/policy chair of the Maryland Commission for Women, personally delivered the governor's proclamation and silver bowl that Snively was awarded.

Snively was one of six women honored by the Maryland Commission for Women this year. She was selected by a panel of independent judges from about 30 nominations - the only nomination from Washington County - for her contribution to the community as a civil rights activist.


Born in Hedgesville, W.Va., in 1913, Grace Mason was educated at Sumner High School in Martinsburg, W.Va. She met Russell Snively at a church conference in Washington, D.C., and moved to Hagerstown in 1943 when they married. Snively has one daughter and one grandson.

In 1945, there was a polio outbreak in Hagerstown and Snively volunteered with the Washington County Health Department as they gave shots to protect against the disease.

From there, she "branched out" and volunteered with the March of Dimes, American Red Cross and American Cancer Society. Cancer is prevalent in her family - both her mother and father died of cancer, along with her father's brothers and most recently, a cousin.

In the 1950s, Snively persuaded black women in the segregated sections of Hagerstown to have Pap smears, then a new procedure that women were suspicious of. When two women were diagnosed with cancer and treated as a result, Snively used their example to convince even more women to have the test.

"Because of a Pap smear, those two girls lived a long while. They were both grateful," Snively said.

In the '50s and '60s, Snively went door-to-door encouraging residents in her community to vote. As a result, she was appointed to the Washington County Election Board where she was a judge for more than 30 years. She was a Chief Judge when she left the Election Board about five years ago.

"It's hard to get our people to come out to vote. They don't see the importance - that one more vote could change things," Snively said. "We'd go around from door-to-door. Sometimes you'd get in red-hot arguments with them."

Snively chuckles when she recalls that she is a Republican and Russell was a Democrat. She said they were both involved with their own political parties, but supported each other by attending each other's events.

Over the years, Snively has been a board member of the American Red Cross and Community Action Council. She also served as United Way liaison to The Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Red Cross and Hagerstown Day Nursery. Just a sampling of the awards Snively has received are from the NAACP, AAUW, Maryland Senior Citizen Hall of Fame, as well as being named a Washington County Most Wonderful Citizen.

One of her most prized possessions is a Maryland state flag that flew over the State House in Annapolis on Flag Day in 1987.

Her faith guides her, despite her age. At Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, where Snively has been a member since 1943, her volunteering runs the gamut from serving as a trustee, secretary to two pastors, a member of the stewardship board and finance committee and as a delegate to the general conference.

"So many of my friends are gone. God must have something else for me to do," Snively said.

She said it was the example of her mother, always lending a hand when help was needed, that inspired her.

"My mother was that type of person ... I guess I inherited it from her," Snively said.

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