Monday, June 30, 2008

Washington College to Acquire Land for Expansion of Waterfront Programs and to Invest in Quality Development at Stepne Manor Site

Chestertown, MD — The executive committee of the Board of Visitors and Governors of Washington College has approved an agreement to acquire 75 acres of land located on the western edge of Chestertown in partnership with Leroy Kirby, Jr.
The agreement, which President Baird Tipson signed on Monday, June 30, grants the College an option to purchase a 5-acre parcel on the Chester River, contiguous to its existing boathouse, for the development of an expanded waterfront presence. Ownership of this property would allow the College to develop, over time, coherent waterfront programs which would respect the natural beauty of the river frontage. Public access to the area would be greatly enhanced, particularly during the summer months when the College is not in active session. The College would also become a passive investor in a partnership owning the inland 70-acre parcel located north of Route 289, commonly known as Stepne Manor. Kirby would be the managing member of that partnership.
Stepne Manor has long been discussed in town planning meetings as a potential site for development of a new neighborhood that would incorporate the design and planning aesthetics of the historic district of the town. The College intends to sell its interest in the property to Kirby once he receives necessary approvals to proceed with development of the new neighborhood.
"This somewhat complex agreement allows Washington College to accomplish two of its most important goals," explained Baird Tipson, president. "Our strategic plan calls for us to recognize that our setting in Chestertown, amid the beauty of the Chester River and the Chesapeake, is a significant institutional advantage, one that will continue to help us realize our ambition to be one of the nation's most distinguished and distinctive liberal arts colleges. An outstanding waterfront presence will become a critical component of our attractiveness to students. This agreement also promises to enable us to influence the character and quality of what is developed on the Stepne Manor site, which has been identified by the Town of Chestertown as an appropriate location for new residential housing. Because Chestertown is an enormous asset to us, we will seek to do our part to ensure that this town's unique appeal is preserved and sustained for future generations. A carefully-planned residential neighborhood, working from and extending the town's existing street grid and incorporating timeless principles of tasteful design, will be far preferable to the clumsy, insensitive development that has become increasingly common on the upper Eastern Shore."
Tipson emphasized that the College will preserve and improve public access to the waterfront. While specific plans for the waterfront site have yet to be developed, the College has long identified a need for expanded space for academic programs and research vessels, including a new home for its Center for the Study of the Environment and Society, as well as expanded space for its rowing and sailing teams and for water-oriented recreation programs. Tipson added that the agreement does not change the College's possible interest in the former Armory Building, subject to the Town of Chestertown's determination as to its optimal utilization.
"We look forward to collaborating with the Town of Chestertown and Kent County in making the most of this opportunity," Tipson said.
June 30, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Poplar Grove Project: Details on the Trove of Recently Discovered Historic Documents

Chestertown, MD — Everybody likes the idea of finding treasures in the attic—but when the attic is in an old plantation that has been in the family since 1669, such treasures can amount to a historian's dream come true.
Such is the case at Poplar Grove, the historic home of the Emory family in Queen Anne's County near Washington College. James Schelberg '11, a, first-year student at the College, was searching for research material for a term paper last at Poplar Grove last semester when he happened upon what has turned out to be a historical bonanza: thousands of pages of family papers, political correspondence, military records and much more—a tidal wave of valuable documents spanning 350 years. Schelberg, a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and is now attending Washington College on a Hodson Star Scholarship, was interested in the military history of the Emorys, who served in every major conflict from the Revolution through World War II.
Schelberg's professor, Adam Goodheart, quickly realized that his student was onto something big. Goodheart had known of the collection's existence for several years, but was unaware of its full extent and wealth of material. “As we dug through 19th-century crates and barrels, we were amazed by what we were finding,” he said.
Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, contacted Edward Papenfuse, Director of the Maryland State Archives, who made haste for Poplar Grove and was glad he did. “I came over for a survey,” said Papenfuse, “and it was clear how valuable these papers were. This find is rich in many aspects of the area's history and national history as well.”
In addition to many thousands of pages of family letters, the discovery has yielded political correspondence, newspapers and broadsides, military records, a letter describing ex-President Monroe's visit to West Point in 1828 (the old man jumped in alarm every time the cannons saluted him), letters about politics in the Jackson administration (one written from the floor of the Senate describing near-brawl between Thomas Hart Benton and another senator, as described by John C. Calhoun), an antislavery petition signed by dozens of Queen Anne's County citizens in the 1830s; original manuscript poems (including a very x-rated one about a young man sneaking into a girl's bed on a winter night in about 1810), a detailed description by Tench Coxe of buying a slave in Philadelphia in 1779, important Civil War documents, and many more incredible things.
The documents were stored in attics and outbuildings on the farm, stuffed into steamer trunks, crates, and peach baskets. Now, thanks to a cooperative venture between Washington College and the Maryland State Archives, this valuable and voluminous find is being lovingly and meticulously preserved, inventoried, catalogued and researched. The Poplar Grove Project is being manned by Washington College students, including Schelberg, Jeremy Rothwell '09 and recent alumnus Albin Kowalewski '07, back for the summer from graduate school and serving as project supervisor under Papenfuse's guidance. Also participating is Olivia Wood, a student at Rhodes College and descendant of the Emorys.
The Poplar Grove team has created a blog to share some of its discoveries with the public. It can be found at
The Poplar Grove story attracted the interest of the Associated Press, and has since appeared in newspapers across the nation and around the globe.

Papers Available


TV Coverage

Associated Press Coverage

June 23, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

'Sankofa' Screened at Washington College

The African-American Heritage Committee and Washington College will present a showing of the film "Sankofa" at Norman James Theatre on Friday, June 13, at 6:30 p.m., with food, drink and discussion following.
"Sankofa" features a lush, expressive style and energy, juxtaposing the brutalities endured by plantation slaves with the beauty of the landscape and the spiritual will of the oppressed. Layered throughout the film is a complex musical score composed of African drumming, electronic rhythms, and American jazz and blues. It's a visceral and deeply moving portrait of plantation life viewed from an African perspective.
"History is power," said director Haile Gerima, "which is why we named the film 'Sankofa.' 'Sankofa' is a philosophical, mythological bird passed down from generation to generation from the Akan people of Ghana. The name means [that in order] to move forward, you must reclaim the past. In the past, you find the future and understand the present."
The special screening of "Sankofa" is co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost & Dean and the Office of Campus Events & Visitors. Admission is free and open to the public. (Some material is not suitable for audiences under 16 years old.) For more information, call 410/810-1416.
June 6, 2008

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Open Letter to Members of the Alumni Community

During our recent Reunion/Commencement weekend, we learned that some members of the Washington College alumni body had received a promotional mailer advertising a local real estate development. The mailing piece referenced Washington College Alumni and featured the official logo of Washington College. This created confusion about the source of the mailing and led some people to assume that Washington College was endorsing real estate sales. The owner of the development has apologized to Washington College for the unauthorized use of our logo, but in case anyone who may have received the mailing is in doubt about our policies, let me make clear:

  • Washington College does not sell or give away information from its alumni database to any individual or group for any purpose, commercial or otherwise.
  • Washington College is not endorsing or promoting the sale of waterfront properties to its alumni.
  • The logo of Washington College is a registered trademark which may not be used for any purpose without the permission of the College.

In this age of electronic communication, it can be difficult to identify the source of information. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight.

Baird Tipson, President
Washington College

June 3, 2008

Alonzo and Virginia Decker Bequeath $4.3 Million to Washington College

The estate of Virginia G. and Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. will provide $4.3 million to Washington College, President Baird Tipson announced today. In recognition of the gift and in consultation with the Deckers' personal representative, the College will dedicate the main theatre in the newly renovated Gibson Performing Arts Center in honor of the Deckers and will create two new endowed scholarships—the Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Scholarship for business management students and the Virginia G. Decker Scholarship for students in the performing arts. The Deckers also provided $100,000 to create an endowment to support the Virginia Gent Decker Arboretum on campus.

"Although not graduates or parents, the Deckers cherished Washington College and provided exemplary leadership for it," President Tipson said. "In addition to the many ways they helped to transform the College during their lifetimes, this gift will ensure that their legacy extends even farther to provide student scholarships, support the arts, and beautify the historic campus they loved."

Remembered by colleagues at the College as a leader of great intelligence, vision and kindness, Mr. Decker inspired others with his enthusiasm for the "joy of giving." "Don't give until it hurts," he was known for saying, "Give until it feels real good." Former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Black & Decker Corporation, he was a member of the Board of Visitors and Governors of the College from 1982 until his death in 2002. Mr. Decker, along with Washington College trustee emeritus James Price P'84, led in the 1980s Washington College's Campaign for Excellence that raised more than $43 million for scholarships and faculty support, academic computing and new facilities, including construction of the Decker Laboratory Center. Mr. Decker and Mr. Price also served together as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Campaign for Washington's College that raised more than $103 million and ended in 2003. During that Campaign, the Deckers created the Alonzo G. and Virginia G. Decker Chair in the Natural Sciences.

A Baltimore native and son of a co-founder of The Black & Decker Manufacturing Company, Mr. Decker began his career with the power tool company in 1922 at the age of 14. With an electrical engineering degree from Cornell University, he joined the company full-time as consulting engineer in 1930, working his way through most departments and eventually becoming chairman of the board. During the 1930s, he served as an engineer in research and manufacturing. In 1940, he was elected to the board of directors, followed by his election as executive vice president in 1956, president in 1960, and chief executive officer in 1964. Four years later he was named chairman of the board. During his ten years as chief executive officer, the company enjoyed its greatest period of growth. Today, Black & Decker is a world leader in the production of portable power tools, with offices in 50 countries. In addition to Washington College, Mr. Decker served on the boards of Johns Hopkins University, Hopkins School of Continuing Studies, and the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Throughout their 53-year marriage, Mr. Decker's wife, Virginia, steadfastly supported her husband's well-known love of philanthropy. At Washington College, he founded the Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Society to attract and recognize major College benefactors. Along with her husband, she participated in numerous campus events, and she was an integral part of the festivities when he received the Award for Excellence in 1986 and an honorary Doctor of Public Service in 1997.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Decker maintained her friendship with the College, returning to campus to attend lectures and meet with members of the Friends of the Virginia Gent Decker Arboretum, named in recognition of her long-time support and her love of nature. In 2006, at the age of 90, she cut the ceremonial ribbon celebrating the completion of the construction and renovation of the College's $26 million Decker-Dunning-Toll Science Center.

Like her husband, she will be remembered on campus for her love of Washington College and the Eastern Shore, as well as her great compassion, kindness, and generosity of spirit. To honor her memory, the College dedicated a descendant of the historic Wye Oak on the campus lawn on Arbor Day, Friday, April 25, 2008, the same day a memorial service was held in her honor in Baltimore.

Mrs. Decker grew up in the Chestnut Ridge area of Baltimore County. She was graduated from Towson High School in 1933 and later took continuing education courses at Goucher College. In 1948, she married Mr. Decker, a director and officer of The Black & Decker Corporation. Over the next 30 years, they traveled on behalf of Black & Decker, visiting 13 countries on five continents. Later, they often hosted the Corporation's directors and officers at Money Point Farm, the Deckers' home on the Sassafras River in Cecil County, until Mr. Decker's death in March 2002.

In addition to her involvement at Washington College, Mrs. Decker served on the Board of Directors of The Keswick Home for years and as a Director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Studies.

June 3, 2008