Public year of birthday fun begins

Although Howard County won't turn 150 years old until next year, the party began last night.

Hundreds of residents flocked to Centennial Park to begin the festivities with the temporary renaming of the park in honor of the birthday.


For now, it is Sesquicentennial Park.

With the new name in place, Howard County residents learned about the county's past and talked of its future.


County Executive James N. Robey and his wife, Janet, arrived in a horse-drawn carriage. They were joined by former state Sen. James Clark, 81, and Leola Dorsey, 82, both lifelong Howard countians and honorary co-chairs of the Sesquicentennial Committee.

"I feel like I have something to do with it," Dorsey said of the county's history. "I've made a lot of contributions over the years."

Dorsey said she assisted with the racial integration of Howard County. She marveled at the way "anyone can go anywhere and do anything" in modern Howard County.

Clark, who serves as an honorary chairman, said last night's kickoff event was a great way to acquaint Howard County residents with their history.

"This county has an illustrious history that goes back to even before we were a county," he said.

To chronicle that history, the Sesquicentennial Committee called on nationally known artist Joe Yznaga Regan. Born and raised in Howard County, Regan seemed the perfect choice to put together a series of panels depicting aspects of Howard County's past.

One panel represents the seal of Howard County and the sixth shows the sesquicentennial seal. The four panels sandwiched between them represent Elkridge Landing, Ellicott City, Waverly and Columbia at various times in history.

Regan said he was honored to work on the project. Although he hasn't lived in Howard County since 1958, he said he is considering retiring here in a few years. Regan, who lives in Florida, stayed with his sister in the Howard County home that he grew up in while he worked on the project.


Many other current and former Howard County residents are pitching in for the celebration.

Local composer Robert Lichtenberger wrote the Sesquicentennial March and local historian Helen Voris wrote the Sesquicentennial Hymn. Those pieces were performed by the Columbia Concert Band as part of the "Sunset Serenades" concert series that followed the renaming of the park.

Throughout the evening, about a dozen children and adults strolled about the park dressed in costumes from 150 years ago.

Lee Wildemann, executive director of the Sesquicentennial Committee, said she was concerned that people would be tired of celebrating after the Fourth and skip the event. Surveying the park, she said she was happy to be wrong.

"This is not going to be the biggest sesquicentennial event," Wildemann said. "We're saving that for next year, closer to the birthday. But, at the same time, it was important for people to attend this event so that we can spread the word about all of our activities."

Some of those events and displays have begun.


The Pillars of the Community project has three of the more than 55 planned pillars in place. Each concrete and cardboard cylinder will detail an aspect of Howard County.

The three in place were provided by the Howard County Garden Club, the African Art Museum and the Howard County Commission on Aging.

Mary Toth, chairwoman of Pillars of the Community, said she expects schools to complete many of the other pillars. She hopes to have most of them in place by the end of the summer.

Howard County residents will be invited to a March 24 sesquicentennial ball at Savage Mill that will feature several bands playing music from different eras.

The ball is the only major fund-raiser for sesquicentennial activities. Tickets will be $100 each.

Robey, who was born and raised in Howard County, said community spirit has always been high in the county. He said he sees the sesquicentennial events as a way for longtime residents to remember the county's past and newcomers to be introduced to it.


Howard County was born on the Fourth of July in 1851, carved out of Anne Arundel County. It is a home-rule county.

"We've had a wonderful history," Robey said, "and I really think our history will dictate our future."