Art Callaham: Area residents have much for which to be thankful

November 27, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

I know that I am a bit of a Pollyanna, but during this Thanksgiving season I thought it might be nice to remind people what we have to be thankful for right here in Hagerstown and throughout Washington County.

Before I get into those things that, in my opinion, we all should be thankful for, I would like to say I am just thankful to live here. I’m not a world traveler; I’ve not been everywhere, but I’ve been around, and this area I count on the short list of places in the United States where I would live and call my home.

My wife, my son and I moved here from Chicago during the winter of 1977. We were on our way to Washington, where all good federal government bureaucrats go to ply their efforts. Our move here with a job at Fort Ritchie was to be just a stop on a path that I hoped would further a long and prosperous government career.

We never left. Our daughter and two grandchildren were born here; we made friends here. We laughed and cried here; had successes and even some failures. Yet any night when travels brought us back to Washington County from the east, crossing South Mountain and seeing the lights of this valley made us remember that this wonderful place is home.

My good friend, the late Mike Callas, once told me that when he returned to this area after his military service, he stopped and kissed the ground on South Mountain because, after a long absence, seeing this valley, he knew that he was home.  Home is a feeling, not a place, and when that “homey” feeling coincides with where you live … well, I’m sure you get the picture.

More importantly, from the community’s perspective, the following are some of the things for which we should be thankful. We have one of the most modern and up-to-date health systems in the state. Coupled with urgent care facilities, a state-of-the-art emergency center and a free clinic, health care remains affordable and accessible for citizens of our county.

Our public school system ranks among the best in a state that ranks the best in the nation in providing quality education to our children. Academies, an arts school, international studies, early college credit programs, blue ribbon elementary, middle and high schools all create rigorous and well-rounded educational opportunities. Our community college continues to grow at a pace far ahead of similar colleges in the state. Their comprehensive and quality curriculum provides for a seamless transition to our local four-year programs at Kaplan University and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. “Stay close, go far” surely rings true in our local halls of higher education.

Of course, I have to mention our nationally and internationally recognized Washington County Free Library. Our library is the home of the first “bookmobile” and the international library symbol was also designed here.

Along with Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, we should be thankful for the historic Maryland Theatre, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, one of only three accredited fine arts museums in the state; the Maryland Symphony Orchestra; Maryland’s first “arts council;” and a recently formed Contemporary School for the Arts.

When these institutions are combined with events like the Western Maryland Blues Fest, Augustoberfest, local craft shows, local performing theater companies and other events, we as a community can boast of rich arts culture.

Let's not forget parades like the Mummers, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Halloween, Barge Bash and Independence Day. Every town, every year; these mark celebrations of our rich local and national heritage.

How about parks like Antietam National Battlefield, City Park, the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal, South Mountain, Gapland, Fort Frederick and on and on. The Hagers-town Suns, the state-of-the-art field at Callas Stadium, Municipal Stadium (one of the oldest operating professional baseball fields in the nation), state champion high school sports programs, regional and national champion Little League and PONY League Baseball and men’s softball teams; we have a “sports connection.”

Gosh, I’m not even halfway through my list. I know I have missed many other things to be thankful for, but I’ll simply close by saying that I hope both you and I are thankful this holiday season to call Washington County, Maryland, USA our home.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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