With the emergence of the novel coronavirus, 2020 became a year that many people would love to forget. Towns nationwide suffered from the tragic loss of lives, cancellation of events and competitions, and business closings. The year 2020 had some good moments, though, and several of those reminded us of how a strong community supports its neighbors when they’re in need.
While most people were watching the 2020 Pro Bowl from their couches on January 26, camerawoman Elaine Rom was documenting the game. Rom, who films “Monday Night Football” for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN), was invited to work the Pro Bowl and capture all of the game-time action that took place on the right side of the field past the 35-yard line.
“I love that sports is unscripted and you don’t know what’s going to happen in a game,” Rom said. “We have to tell that story. Whatever happens, you have to be ready and prepared to cover it.”
Marylanders were eager to cover themselves in blankets and scurry to warm tents following another successful Polar Bear Plunge, which raised more than $3 million for Special Olympics Maryland athletes on January 25.
On January 21, dozens of Anne Arundel County residents gathered in Annapolis to support a different cause: getting better treatment and resources to prevent suicides. The county unanimously passed a resolution after hearing from parents like Celeste Anderson, who lost her son, Noah, to suicide in September 2019.
“Let me tell you, the system is broken,” she said. “I called psychiatrist after psychiatrist, office after office, and was told over and over, doctors were either not accepting new patients or Noah was going on a three-month waiting list for just an initial appointment.”
The council’s dialogue about civilian safety was just getting started. On February 3, the seven-member council passed a school bus camera law. One supporter of the legislation was Severna Park resident Stefanie Johnson, whose daughter, Allie, was hit by a car after exiting her bus on Truck House Road in October 2019.
“My husband and I both felt complete terror,” Stefanie said. “No one thinks they will get a phone call about their child like that.”
Allie survived but was left with daily debilitating headaches. Stefanie hopes the law — which imposes a civil fine of $250 — deters other drives from disregarding the safety of children.
“Our hope is if drivers that pass stopped school busses are heavily fined, it will make drivers think twice about that decision and have drivers take that decision more seriously,” Stefanie said.
New Donut Shack owners Ben Hilliard and Ali Matthews took their venture seriously, promising customers that they would study under original owners Bill and Stacey Prevezanos and bring back the beloved shop to its crowd-pleasing status. The community was invited to celebrate the occasion during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on February 29.
“Look, a donut is a donut, albeit a delicious donut, but it is everything else they did,” Matthews said of the Prevezanos family. “There is so much more that goes into the Donut Shack experience. We know that, and we are completely committed to honoring the history and recipes that made the Donut Shack special. It’s a tremendous responsibility.”
A special artistic talent, Aaron Yealdhall, better known as Skribe, released the single “Birdwatching.” For the song, he went back to the basics of his earliest influences, which were “fuzz-heavy, angsty” ‘90s songs.
Winter was also a time of celebration for many student-athletes. The Severna Park girls indoor track and field team won the program’s fourth consecutive winter county championship on January 21.
Two months after her field hockey team’s 4A state championship victory, Severna Park High School’s Lila Slattery was named National Senior Field Hockey Athlete of the Year by the National High School Coaches Association.
The Severna Park ice hockey team rallied from 1-0 down to defeat Easton 2-1 on February 12, winning the Maryland Student Hockey League Eastern Conference championship at Bowie Ice Arena.
On February 18, junior Carson Sloat became the latest in a string of Severna Park athletes to garner individual success in distance running when he won the 1600-meter title at the 4A state championship meet at Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex in Landover.
Severna Park's Ty Broadway defeated Manchester Valley's Grant Warner on March 7 to win the 4A state wrestling championship and finish the season 43-0.
Dancers Faith Bender and Alexa Kasten earned All-State honors at the Maryland Public High School Dance Showcase event at Goucher College in January. Maggie Kubista earned Honorable Mention.
For her academic excellence, Severna Park High School senior Allison Chang won a National Merit Scholarship.
The Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) selected Benjamin Van Brunt of Severna Park as the 2020 Maryland SAR Eagle Scout of the Year on February 15 during a ceremony in Phoenix, Maryland.
There were not many celebrations following the abrupt end of the 2020 legislative session, but it still yielded enough time for lawmakers to enact reforms that will impact Marylanders for years.
One of those bills was the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — an education plan that stems from the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations — which will cost roughly $4 billion per year over the next decade.
“The blueprint was a promise to Maryland; it was a promise that even after a crisis, we’re committed to improving Maryland schools, that we’re committed to finding solutions to a global education system, and that we’re committed to seeing this out all the way through,” said Delegate Heather Bagnall.
Winter ended with the news that schools would go virtual, a decision that extended to the remainder of the year and into the 2020-2021 school year.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan closed all nonessential businesses on March 23. As coronavirus cases soared in April and May, Severna Park nurses fought to save lives. Round Bay resident Carol Stob thought she’d seen just about everything in her 45-year nursing career. With surgical procedures reduced or canceled, Stob was redeployed to the COVID-19-dedicated intensive care unit of AAMC.
“Egos have been checked at the door and we are one team,” Stob said. “We are here to care for patients and we care for each other. Never in my long career have I seen a more supportive and pulled-together team.”
Severna Park native Ellie Milleker was working at Mercy Medical Center and a nursing home when the pandemic response was taking shape. With just three years of nursing experience, the 25-year-old jumped at the chance to apply for a position in the Baltimore Convention Center’s COVID-19 response center for critically ill patients.
“We’ve brought in books, TVs, games, even put decorations like pictures on the walls to make the environment less stressful,” she said, noting that patients typically spend seven to 10 days inside the field hospital before going home or to another facility to continue to self-isolate. “We are here for them one-on-one for days at a time, and we form bonds with the patients.”
At University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC), respiratory therapists Gina DeGreenia and Tim George helped patients breathe.
“The constant barrage and influx of patients has been unrelenting,” George said. “After going to see one patient and stabilizing them, you have to grab your gear and go stabilize another one. It is physically and mentally exhausting day after day.”
Around Severna Park, residents sought to help. In Round Bay, Carrie Gruver and Margaret Podlich sewed hundreds of fabric masks. Julie Banks Antinucci, who lives near Glen Oban, also made masks, as did Jennifer Crisp, Leslie Coleman and Hannah Warzoha.
Tales of kindness spread across town. An anonymous neighborhood mom set up a table with bagged lunches every weekday by the traffic circle on Leelyn Drive. Julie Jensen started a card donation station at Severna Park Elementary, encouraging people to make cards, draw a picture or write a note to a health care worker.
Dr. Richard Garden of Chesapeake Oral Surgery Associates spearheaded an effort to collect medical supplies for UM BWMC. Garden and his peers collected more than 3,500 pairs of gloves, 100 gowns, 1,750 surgical masks and 100 N95 masks.
“The N95 masks are as precious as gold right now,” Garden said. “These guys are selfless. I’m just the delivery guy.”
Nonprofits also adapted to meet the needs of struggling families. SPAN focused on getting food and essential items to people. Ellen Kinsella, SPAN’s director of development, and Jennifer Pumphrey, SPAN’s director of operations, asked people to show their identification through a window to get food SPAN left on its porch behind Our Shepherd Lutheran Church.
SPAN relies on donations from the community to give back to families in need, and there has been no shortage of kindness despite the pandemic.
“Community members have been dropping off food just out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s unbelievable,” Kinsella said.
The number of households served by Asbury Church Assistance Network spiked from 93 in February to 234 in March and 406 in April. To meet growing demand, ACAN started a delivery service.
To keep morale high, Jennifer Lee Kraus persuaded her Whitehurst neighbors to participate in the Front Porch Project, which encouraged families to pose for photos depicting quarantine life.
With so many important rites of passage canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, two women rallied to show high school seniors that they were not alone. Mother and daughter duo Georgette and Lauren Vetock started the “Anne Arundel County Adopt a Senior Class of 2020” group on Facebook in April to celebrate local seniors.
With support from friends and neighbors, Arnold residents Marina Anglim and Tracy Seybert launched NautiLife Wine, a planet-friendly alternative to heavy glass bottles.
Anne Arundel County was dealt a big blow on May 25 when Janet Pack, the executive director of Asbury Church Assistance Network (ACAN), died of a heart attack. Throughout her 58 years on earth, Pack routinely gave whatever she could to feed the hungry, clothe the cold, and to give respect and love to anyone who felt hopeless, regardless of their status or their condition.
“She was very selfless as a mother, as a cousin, as an auntie, as a friend,” said her youngest son, 38-year-old Wesley Pack, who had a close relationship with his mom and would often talk to her six times a day.
Following the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, two Severna Park moms wanted to show solidarity. Hundreds of people attended their silent vigil at Severna Park High School on May 31.
“There was a lot more attention from rioting and looting than the peaceful protests,” one of the organizers said, speaking anonymously to keep the focus on the cause instead of herself. “The vigil showed how long nine minutes is and how loud violence can be.”
Restaurants reopened for outdoor dining on May 29. Elsewhere, Shipley’s Choice and Cypress Creek were among the communities that hosted socially distanced high school graduation ceremonies.
Trey Smack kicked off the summer, literally, by impressing coaches, scouts and instructors at Kohl’s Kicking Camps in Philadelphia in June and in Tennessee in July. He competed against approximately 550 of the best kickers and punters in America in all high school grade levels. Smack is now ranked by Kohl’s Kicking Camps as the nation’s No. 1 kicker and No. 3 punter in the class of 2022.
He is currently being recruited by Penn State, Michigan State, USC and other universities.
“I’d love to go to college for kicking,” said Smack, who is somewhat new to football but has played soccer since age 3 and lacrosse since age 8. “The goals right now are to keep getting better and better. I’m just going to keep punting and kicking as much as I did before and keep up with everything. I don’t see myself stopping.”
Tim Altomare retired from his position as Anne Arundel County police chief on August 1, 2020, citing opposition to movements to defund the police.
“There is no group of people in this country in its history that have done more for poor communities of color across this nation than the American policemen. Take it to the bank,” Altomare said during a Back the Blue rally in Annapolis on July 23. “I have personally almost died five or six times saving another human life; every one was a person of color. To be called racist because I wear a uniform makes me sick to my stomach. I can’t do it anymore and be silent.”
Severna Park’s youth continued to show compassion beyond their years. Twins Tommy and Jack Castleberry filled two SUVs with donations for Sarah’s House on July 9, the first of many donation drive drop-offs. Stewart MacNaughton worked with Brooklyn Community United Methodist Church to identify homeless camps in need of tents.
Away from home, Severna Park natives Mike Hatcher and Steve Wagner ventured to Ocean City for the White Marlin Open. They won big, reeling in a 36-pound dolphin and a $103,000 prize.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools began the school year with virtual learning while some private schools had in-person learning. High school sports did not return, but youth sports were allowed to resume.
Marching bands enjoyed a limited season, without football games and competitions.
“It means a lot because I was pretty upset when the initial announcement came out that the season was going to be canceled,” said Severna Park High School senior Erik Binnix, the marching band’s drum major. “Hearing that we now get some sort of season is great for everyone in the marching band, but especially for me and the other seniors.”
Regan King gave good news to medical workers. She made a workshop in her basement, where she assembled and tested custom 3D printed adaptors to convert commonly used surgical helmets to be used for high-level infection protection.
On September 11, Severna Park residents gathered by the B&A Trail to celebrate a new gazebo and memorial in honor of Eric Kavanagh, William “Taylor” Wild IV, Eric Herzberg and Nathaniel McDavitt — four Severna Park heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Everybody chipped in and called friends, neighbors and businesses, and it took several thousand dollars to build this,” said Kevin Kavanaugh, the father of Eric Kavanagh. “This is not a homebuilt wood structure. This is all pre-engineered steel. We meant it to last forever and it will.”
Anne Arundel County’s General Development Plan (GDP) won’t last forever, but it will guide land use decisions for the next 20 years. County Executive Steuart Pittman released a preliminary draft of the Plan2040 GDP on September 30 during a press conference at the Brooklyn Park Library. The county council will have final authority to adopt the plan in 2021.
Also subject to approval was Pittman’s long-term choice for a police chief to replace Tim Altomare. Hyattsville Police Chief Amal Awad took over for Acting Chief William Lowry, who oversaw the department following Altomare’s retirement.
“I had to be sure that our next chief had that rare combination of professional skill and heart,” Pittman said. “Heart for the people in our communities, heart for the officers that protect them, and even heart for the young people who are trying to find their way in these difficult times but sometimes make mistakes.”
Voters found their way to Severna Park High School, with others mailing in their ballots. Anne Arundel County’s early voting process included the county’s highest early voting day turnout ever on October 28 with 18,757 voters. The county’s early voting total was at 76,200 voters by October 30.
While voters looked to the country’s future, the next generation of Severna Park’s youth celebrated the brightness of their futures. One of those young residents was community activist Emma Buchman, who was recognized during the Fannie Lou Hamer Awards reception on October 6 for her dedication to fighting for human and civil rights in the community.
Thirteen athletes were recognized for their skills in November as they signed letters of intent to play collegiate sports.
We hope that 2021 is a bit brighter than 2020, but as this past year has reminded us, Severna Park is full of caring neighbors, active youth, hardworking nonprofit groups and local businesses that care deeply about making the community a great place to live.