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Groh's generosity helps arts school take flight

July 01, 2009

In public school arts circles throughout the region, the buzz this spring and summer has been all about the new Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, opening in downtown Hagerstown this fall.

This would be the case under normal circumstances, but it is all the more poignant this year since most public school districts are headed in the opposite direction - cutting back on arts spending as educational dollars are becoming more scarce because of the contracting economy.

To use stock parlance, Washington County is getting into the market at a time when the herd is heading for the hills. As savvy investors will tell you, this usually is a pretty good formula for hitting it big.

We have always expected great things from the arts school, but the current conditions up the ante. As the best arts teachers in other locales become disillusioned with shrinking budgets, there is a great likelihood they will become interested in working here. And, of course, the school will be a magnet for top talent in the ranks of high school students.

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Of course, the debate isn't over, although it should be, about the value of arts in education. There will always be some who believe anything schools teach beyond reading, writing and arithmetic is frivolous.

Certainly, "the basics" are of prime importance, but the evidence of the arts as a key component to a well-rounded adulthood is too overwhelming to ignore.

Further, with Barbara Ingram, we believe Washington County will not just be a contributor, but a keystone, for the arts regionwide. It will help the top students achieve to the best of their abilities; it will help the top teachers put their skills to use; it will help the downtown, attracting both youngsters and adults who come to view their work; and it will raise the cultural bar throughout the community, a factor, it should be noted, that helps attract business and raises the tax base.

The Washington County Board of Education and Hagerstown City Council are to be applauded for bringing the school to fruition. Among all those who have worked toward this goal, however, one man stands atop the mountain - Vincent Groh.

Groh, a Washington County real estate developer and businessman, might be as unlikely a hero as Hagerstown has ever had, given his sometimes contentious relationship with the city over the years. But there can be no denying the magnitude of his contribution to the city today.

In the name of his late wife, an art devotee, Groh donated the Potomac Street building for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and earlier this month, he outdid himself, unexpectedly contributing a quarter of a million dollars to the school's foundation during a fundraising gala. His daughter and son-in-law, Brendan and Katie Fitzsimmons, pitched in another $50,000, and the foundation raised a total of $400,000 in one evening, leaving it just $300,000 shy of its $1 million goal.

Groh, who has always seemed to take a bit of pride in his curmudgeonly reputation, said afterward he was inspired by the cheers of students watching from the balcony. Dickens only wishes he had conjured up such a script.

Today, we take the opportunity to salute Groh and his family for a true piece of inspiration, both conceptually and financially. It is our wish and our belief the Barbara Ingram School for the arts will meet and exceed expectations, and become a jewel in the Tri-State area that will give the Groh name a rightful place in Hagerstown history.

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