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'Skip' Amass leads the charge for Westminster's 145th Memorial Day observance

Not long after the sun comes up on Memorial Day, and hours before Westminster's 145th Memorial Day parade kicks off at 9:30 a.m., Arnold "Skip" Amass will be on site, helping set up the TV cameras and tying up last-minute loose ends.

Most of all, he'll be praying for good weather during an event that he's been busy planning almost from the moment that last year's 144th Memorial Day parade wrapped up.

"To give you some idea of the scope of this project, the committee that's working on this with me has about 145 people on it," said Amass, who for the past 15 years has also been the voice of the parade, providing commentary for Carroll County's public access TV channel 19's live coverage of the event.

This is the first year he's taken on the far more demanding role of principal coordinator.

"The people on the committee, who meet at the American Legion, represent just about every organization and every government in the county, including the library, the farm museum, the police departments," said Amass, 80, himself a Korean War veteran and long-time member of Westminster's Carroll Post 31 American Legion Post.

"Just getting all the governmental things lined up, like the military units and so forth, takes a lot of time, since they make their commitments a long time ahead of time.

"People think you can just walk down Main Street and have a parade," he said with a shrug. "But first you have to get all kinds of permits. After all, you have to close off Route 27, a state highway, and a railroad track. You're also going to be closing the Route 140 /Route 27 intersection and Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, in town. And all that traffic has to be redirected, so you need police and barricades and all that.

"It's a time consuming process, talking to everyone and explaining what you want, and having elected officials follow through on your requests with calls and letters," he said.

"But everybody has been really good about it and it looks like it's coming together really, really well."

He paused, and added fretfully, "We just need good weather."

Steady march

On a weekday morning just a few days before the Memorial Day weekend, Amass was sipping decaf coffee at the Bob Evans restaurant in Westminster and talking on his cell phone with someone from the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department as he scribbled notes on the back of a parade poster.

He was gathering some last-minute details to spice up his TV commentary and needed to know how many and what types of vehicles the department will have in the parade? Who owns them? Who will be riding in them?

He wanted to make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Then, before hanging up, he added, "Do you guys have any fundraising events coming up that I can mention? I'd like to do something for you, too, because you know, I live here in Westminster and you might be coming to help me sometime."

That sentiment pretty much captures the sense of community that has shaped Amass' life.

He once owned and operated pharmacies in Finksburg and Taneytown, and for years has been active in a host of local nonprofits and charitable endeavors, including the Rotary Club, the Carroll Country Hospital Foundation and Carroll Hospice.

He also served on the national board of the American Cancer Society for 28 years, and helped launch the society's local Relay for Life fundraiser.

"It sounds trite, but my sense of public service really came from my mother and father," said Amass, who graduated from then-Western Maryland College (now McDaniel) in the mid-1950s, and later earned a masters degree and a doctor of pharmacy degree at the University of Maryland.

"My parents were both very involved with our community in east Baltimore, where I grew up," he added. "My father was very active in the Masonic Order and my mother with the Eastern Star and the Methodist Church.

"I can remember my mother and father both being involved in what they used to call The March of Dimes, which started back when Franklin Roosevelt was president. They were always involved in some charity event, or fraternal event, and it was just natural for me to go along and be part of it.

"Also, I think anybody who has served in the military comes home with an obligation or feeling that they have to do things to make the world better, because war is so terrible.

"I don't think I've ever met a veteran who wants war."

Solemn observation

Amass served in theU.S. ArmyMedical Corps during the Korean War, but has another deeply personal connection to Memorial Day about which he tends to be low-key:

His older brother, Jack, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, in World War II.

"One of the things that a lot of us in the American Legion get upset about is that Memorial Day is not a celebration," he said. "It's an observance for those who served in the military and a tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. When I see signs, like `Memorial Day Celebration Sale' it bothers me. You don't celebrate Memorial Day; you observe it.

"That's why in the Westminster parade we don't allow anybody to throw anything, like candy or beads or whatever. The marching units can't do any fancy marching and counter-marching and no politicians can give out campaign literature.

"None of that is allowed, because it's just not the right thing to do in a Memorial Day parade."

With that in mind, Amass and everyone else on the planning committee has been determined to make this year's parade "bigger and better" and more memorable than ever.

"We are going to have five marching and musical units who've never been in it before, and about 10 organizations who've never been in it before will have floats this year," he said. "We'll also have war re-enactors out at the farm museum, which also has taken a lot of coordination to get done. We will not only have Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War re-enactors, but also military vehicles from those periods of time, as well as a Civil War era artillery unit firing cannons."

Amass said that even after months of patient, detailed logistical planning, the last few days counting down to Memorial Day still get a bit frantic.

"A week ago, we put up the banners and billboards advertising the parade, so now there's even more people and groups starting to come out and asking if they can be part of it," he said with a weary cheerfulness. "At this point, we're still saying 'yes' to them — and still figuring out how to fit them in.

He paused, stared at the posters on the table and took another sip of decaf.

"At this point, mostly what we do is just pray," he said. "Pray for good weather."

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