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Towson Citizen of the Year is a citizen in more ways than one

Knollwood-Donnybrook resident Jo Marvan shows a "My Stuff" bag in her garage. Each bag is filled with books, toiletries, a throw blanket, a toy and a game for children at the Baltimore County Family Crisis Center.
Knollwood-Donnybrook resident Jo Marvan shows a "My Stuff" bag in her garage. Each bag is filled with books, toiletries, a throw blanket, a toy and a game for children at the Baltimore County Family Crisis Center. (Staff photo by Larry Perl)

Winning an award from Baltimore County Councilman David Marks as Fifth District Citizen of the Year caps quite a year for British native Jo Marvan, who in August became a U.S. citizen.

"I've only lived here 31 years," said Marvan, tongue in cheek. "I just have to learn to speak American."

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Marvan, of the Knollwood-Donnybrook neighborhood, was one of five Towson-area residents named by Marks last week as Citizens of the Year. Also honored were Mike Ertel, in recognition of his work as president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations; Joe La Bella, new president of the Towson Manor Village Community Association and an active member of the Green Towson Alliance; Jim Cosgove, former Loch Hill community leader and GTCCA vice president, who has since moved to Timonium; and G.T. Keplinger, president of the Towson Estates Association and former president of the Burkleigh Square Community Association.

Marks announced the awards and gave each honoree a certificate during the GTCCA's annual holiday party Dec. 17 at the Aigburth Vale Senior Community.

Cosgrove's award was bittersweet for Towson community leaders because he no longer lives there. The former Philadelphia, Pa. resident lived in Towson for 58 years and in the Loch Hill neighborhood for 38 years, the past 10 as a board member of the Loch Hill Community Association, before moving to a bigger house with a garage in Timonium with his wife, Jane, in September

He was also active in a committee that Marks formed to study the viability of a free circulator bus that Marks has been promoting for downtown Towson. The committee's final report is scheduled to be sent soon to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Cosgrove said.

"The infrastructure of Towson is what it is," said Cosgrove, 68, a retired real estate settlement attorney, who supports a circulator and is optimistic that it will come to fruition by the end of 2018. "You have to try to keep traffic off the streets."

Cosgrove told well-wishers at the holiday party that he would stay in touch.

"It's not like I'm moving to another state," he said. "I'm still going to drive through Towson. If you need me, just yell."

La Bella, 30, a special education teacher at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, said he has become "really invested" in environmental projects in the Towson area since joining the Green Towson Alliance, including pushing the Baltimore County government to complete its acquisition of 2.5 acres of property off Aigburth Avenue owned by Radebaugh Florist and Greenhouses. The sale is in limbo because of questions as to how much it would cost the county. Marks, too, has been lobbying the county to buy the land.

Keplinger, 45, an associate professor in the Film and Moving Images department at Stevenson University, has the rare distinction of having headed two different neighborhood associations, after moving from Burkleigh Square to Towson Estates, a community of 60 stone houses built in the 1920s and 1930s. He said he has also worked with Marks on issues such as historic designation for Towson Estates and getting developers of projects in the Burkleigh Square area to help maintain a local park.

Ertel, who lost to Marks in the 2010 race for the Fifth District County Council seat, is serving his second stint as GTCCA president. He also served from 2006-08.

Citizen Marvan

Marvan, who said she is in her 50s, is active in her neighborhood as a board member, secretary and an alternate representative to the GTCCA. She also is a board member and financial secretary for the Knollwood-Donnybrook Improvement Association. She works on a monthly food drive in the neighborhood.

She is also treasurer and board member for the nonprofit Christ Child Society of Baltimore, a group of women of all faiths, whose mission is to better the lives of children and families. Its programs include bringing new and used books to children, reading to pre-kindergarten students at least once a month, providing "starter kits" for parents of infants, such as diapers and baby shampoo, finding speakers on parenting and child care issues, and packing "My Stuff" bags with basic goods for children in shelters who are escaping domestic violence.

Marvan also volunteers at Baltimore County's Family Crisis Center, and serves as the Christ Child Society of Baltimore's liaison to the Family Crisis Center. She used to be active in UNICEF, along with her friend, the late Christine Sarbanes, wife of former U.S. Paul Sarbanes, of Guilford.

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Marvan was co-nominated by Pat France, also of Knollwood Donnybrook, who is active in Towson Citizens on Patrol, and by fellow Christ Child Society member Cathleen White, of Pinehurst, who won a Citizen of the Year award from Marks last year.

"I can't think of anyonewho is more deserving of this award than Jo Marvan," White said. "She uses her skill setbrilliantly to serve so many organizations in our community."

Also writing letters of support for Marvan were Rebecca Foster, executive director of the Family Crisis Center, and Mary Galvin Wilson, president of the Christ Child Society of Baltimore, a branch of the national Christ Child Society.

"I definitely count her as a guardian angel for the shelter and I don't know what we would do without her," Foster wrote.

Wilson called Marvan "someone who cares about the underserved members of the Baltimore County community."

Marvan is also being congratulated for becoming a U.S. citizen. She now has dual citizenship here and in England, where she was born and met her husband, American Paul Fuchs, when he was at Cambridge University and she was a speech pathologist. They later moved to Denver for his job as a researcher for the University of Colorado medical school, and in 1995 to Baltimore, where he is now director of research for the Otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) department and Johns Hopkins Hospital. She is a part-time assistant to several area musicians.

Marvan said her longtime green card was due to expire this year when she decided to attain U.S. citizenship, because she couldn't vote or serve on a jury. It took her nine months — "It's quite a long process," she said — and she had to correctly answer 100 questions related to American history and civics.

"I probably know more than most Americans," she said.

But Marvan is still proud of her English heritage and is a member of the non-profit, philanthropic organization Daughters of the British Empire

'I'm always one of those," she said, adding that the Baltimore chapter meets about three times a year and "we enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit."

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