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Laurel Historical Society getting groovy for fundraising gala

For Laurel Leader

Optional black tie will mingle with vintage Sixties attire as members of the Laurel Historical Society raid their closets for “groovy” remnants from the Sixties to wear to “The Laurel Pop Festival: 1969,” the group’s fundraising gala being held Saturday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Laurel.

This year’s party theme — The Summer of Love — is inspired by Laurel’s own historic pop festival held the month before Woodstock captured the nation’s attention in Bethel, New York.

The Laurel Pop Festival, held July 11 and 12 in 1969, attracted 15,000 young people to the Laurel Park racetrack to see performances by musicians who would become some of the greatest of their generation — Buddy Guy, Al Kooper, Jethro Tull, Johnny Winter, Edwin Hawkins, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Ten Years After, Sly and the Family Stone, The Mothers of Invention, The Guess Who and Savoy Brown.

According to WETA’s local history blog, tickets to the concert cost $4.75–$10; and the concert grossed about $30,000.

Fifty years later, members and friends of the Laurel Historical Society will celebrate the festival’s golden anniversary to the recorded tunes of the original musicians (and others from the Sixties) provided by a local DJ, according to Laurel Historical Society President Jhanna Levin.

Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Ann Bennett said she is optimistic the event will raise “in the ballpark of $20,000 to help promote and preserve the history and cultural heritage of Laurel” because the gala theme is fun and colorful, the pop festival lives in members’ memories and the Community Impact Awards draw community participation.

Tickets to the gala cost $100 for members, $110 for nonmembers, and tables seating 10 sold for up to $1,450.

“It’s definitely one of our biggest fundraisers,” Bennett said. “We try to raise money with sponsorships and ads, and to give everyone a good time.”

This year’s signature cocktail, Summer of 69 Sangria, will star in the gala’s cocktail hour. Appetizers, a buffet dinner and dessert will be accompanied by a silent auction featuring items donated by Main Street merchants, including Jane Pope collectibles.

Laurel History Boy Richard Friend, author of “Lost Laurel,” is donating a signed copy of his new book, “Postmark Laurel: Historic Picture Postcards of Laurel, Maryland,” to the auction.

Levin, who co-chaired the planning committee of about 10 volunteers with Mariam Thacker, said a temporary tattoo booth will help set the mood for a colorful evening that will be followed by an after-party at Olive on Main.

Main Street Pharmacy, the Marylin Johnson Design Studio, the Maryland Jockey Club and Revere Bank, she said, are among the gala’s contributors.

A highlight of the evening will be the presentation of three community impact awards sponsored by Revere Bank, a tradition the Laurel Historical Society began two years ago. Levin said that, once again, choosing three recipients from about 20 who were nominated by the planning committee and the executive board was difficult.

“It’s really hard to narrow down to just three recipients each year because there are so many people doing so many great things in our city,” she said.

This is the third year impact awards have been presented to individuals, organizations and businesses who have made significant contributions to the Laurel community.

The “grooviest” who are receiving community impact awards this year are:

Individual Community Impact Award — Ruth Walls, a registered nurse who teaches community health nursing at Stevenson University, has lived in Old Town since 1984. Walls founded the Patrons for Peace Project, a nonprofit that guides homeless people and others through the mental health services system and provides quality of life services to those in need. She spearheaded the Debnam Home Makeover for a young man with cerebral palsy. Among her other projects is the Laurel’s Peace Pole, which can be seen at the City’s Memorial Garden (

Nonprofit Community Impact Award — Side by Side Laurel, a faith-based nonprofit founded by former Laurel Leader editor Joe Murchison, serves as a liaison between schools and families to promote the academic success of children by providing assistance in reading, math, writing and behavior at home and at school. The organization offers workshops and summer activities, inspires hands-on parent participation and partnerships between schools and communities. It also helps families with English as a second language navigate the public education system (

Business Community Impact Award — Main Street’s McGowan and Cecil recently renovated the former Laurel Art Center by combining two buildings to house 15 businesses that serve as home to more than 150 employees. Founded by Mike McGowan and Robb Cecil, the law firm is committed to the revitalization of Main Street and supports a variety of local organizations — such as First Generation College Bound, Laurel Advocacy and Referral and the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad — and serves on the city’s Community Redevelopment Authority and Crime Line Committee (

About two weeks ago, Bennett reached out to Marilyn Johnson, owner of Marilyn Johnson Sewing Design Studio, who is loaning 1960s period clothing and two mannequins for display at the gala. The women share a love of vintage clothing and enjoyed comparing the dresses they plan to wear Saturday night.

“It’s always fun to meet with Marilyn and go through her costume collection; we appreciate her contributions to our special events,” Bennett said. “We are grateful for our supporters whose generosity helps us year-round.”

Johnson said authentic period costumes for the event might include sandals (but not flip flops) with bell bottom jeans, long-sleeved T-shirts and floral print calico dresses in pastel colors.

She will be wearing a long red Pucci-inspired floral print dress in “flower child” style to the gala. And Bennett has chosen a long black Pucci-inspired dress with floral swirls that dates to the late Sixties and early seventies.

“She’s definitely grooving,” Johnson said.

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