She went back to her roots

September 11, 2007|By JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Cathy Beeler

Age - 53.

Occupation - Chief of Resource Education and Visitor Services at Monocacy National Battlefield.

Hometown - Sharpsburg.

Where would you see Beeler? - Cathy Beeler thought her degree in elementary education would take her to the classroom, but instead, her classroom is Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, Md.

Beeler heads up a staff of 15 at the Civil War battlefield. She and her staff were thrilled to see years of planning come to fruition when the Visitors Center on Urbana Pike opened at the end of June.


When she started working for the National Park Service at Monocacy in 1991, it was just Beeler, a site manager and one law enforcement personnel. There were no educational materials or much of anything to offer the public.

"It was literally a total blank slate - no reference materials or park library to go back to for information," Beeler said.

She added that she knew of only one reference book on the Battle of Monocacy, which she initially used to develop materials. Beeler said the days were long then, wondering how to fill the time.

It didn't take long for that to change.

"Now we don't have enough time to get all the work accomplished we have to do," Beeler said. "With 15 full-time staff, that's good that we've grown so fast."

Visitors will now find an auto tour, gift shop and fully staffed visitors center with an array of information and special events to choose from. The next event is a battlefield hike on Saturday, Oct. 13, and reservations are required.

Beeler is still amazed with her career path. The 1972 Boonsboro High School graduate grew up in Sharpsburg and had never flown in an airplane before she started working for the NPS.

Now she's traveled all over the U.S. for training and speaking engagements.

An only child, she said her parents didn't have the financial means for family vacations, so she spent her summers with Antietam Battlefield as her playground. Beeler remembers as a fourth-grader mapping out all the headstones in the battlefield's cemetery for fun.

"I learned to ride my bike there. I learned to drive there. That was our backyard," Beeler said.

Then, during summers as a college student at Shepherd College, Beeler, whose maiden name was Shank, worked as a seasonal park aide at the battlefield and C&O Canal. She said it was a 1-mile bike ride to work when she worked at Antietam.

"That was a fun job for me. I never thought of it as a career," Beeler said. "... It's because it was local. It was interesting to me."

After earning her bachelor's degree in elementary education, with minors in social studies and English, she married Mike Beeler, who was also a teacher. She said instead of hiring teachers when she was looking for a job, school districts were laying teachers off.

The Beelers, who have lived in Boonsboro for 17 years, decided to start a family and Cathy stayed home to raise their daughter. She then worked as a longtime substitute for the Washington County Board of Education.

When Beeler was ready for permanent full-time work, she applied to the WCBOE and the National Park Service. She said she wasn't a risk taker, but when the NPS offered her a job first, she decided to see where it would lead.

"It was the best risk I ever took. I never thought I'd be doing the things I've done," Beeler said.

Beeler worked as a seasonal park ranger at Antietam, then transitioned to a clerk typist to get full-time status with the NPS. When the job at Monocacy National Battlefield opened up, she applied and got the job.

She fulfilled the prophesy of a college professor who told her she'd never be an elementary school teacher, that she'd be a historian instead. Beeler never dreamed that some day she would be shooting off cannons and teaching about and inspecting black powder weapons.

Beeler, whose father died when she was 15, said her father would have a "cow" if he knew she "played" with guns now.

"He took all my cap guns away from me when I was about 9. He was pretty old-fashioned," Beeler said.

For more information on Monocacy National Battlefield, call 1-301-662-3515.

Hobbies - Beeler said she collects historic weapons, mostly late 19th century. She said she enjoys scrapbooking with her daughter.

"Any free time I have, when I'm not gardening, is spent with my two grandsons. Spending time with my grandchildren is my biggest hobby," Beeler said.

What does Beeler like best about Washington County? - A Washington County native, Beeler said she likes living in a rural area.

"Where else would you have the opportunity to get to know people and build lifelong friendships? You have the feeling of home being a place where you plant yourself. Some people you grow up with and grow old with," Beeler said.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail

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