Event was full of heart and red all over

The Baltimore Sun

Talk about a party that was full of heart. Sure, Harbor Hearts: The 23rd annual Heart of Baltimore Gala helped raise money for the American Heart Association. But for many who attended, the cause was a personal one. Guests and members of the event committee talked about how they were personally affected by heart disease and stroke.

"In our first meeting, we went around the table, and everybody had a story to tell," said committee member Melissa Myers.

"My mother had a heart attack two months ago," said fellow committee member Barbie Hargrave, adding that her mom is doing well.

Writer Taylor Hubbard said his mom, too, had a heart condition; his friend, New York City film producer Doreen Dot, mentioned that she also battled heart disease.

Jan Braun said that her husband, John, managing director of Bravo Asset Management, has a heart condition, "so this means a little more to me."

This wasn't just a night for attendees to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Guests were encouraged to dress in red. Leslie Wilson, Maryland State Department of Education project manager, looked fetching in a scarlet and black taffeta jacket, while husband Courtney Wilson, executive director of the B&O; Railroad Museum, had his splash of red with a brilliant bow tie. Vasarri owner Gail Kandel sported a red glass heart pendant, as did board chair Heather Harlan. Party chairs Greg and Lisa Barnhill, with son Scott, each wore varying degrees of the fiery color.

Half the fun of the cocktail hour was perusing the crowd - which included folks like Don and Peggy Hutchinson, Greg and Charlotte Jarosinski, Neil and Ellen Meltzer, Linda Brazil, Jennifer Smith, Dawn Harman, J.C. Clinton, Mary Lou DiNardo and Ted and Jennifer Winslow - to see how creatively rosy folks could be.

A Drink With George Hastings

Oyster fan never tires of shucking

George Hastings, 51, has done the Baltimore area proud as national oyster-shucking champion twice - in 1999 and 2003. He grew up in Southwest Baltimore, and has been professionally shucking oysters for the last 37 years. That's when he's not working his day job as a transportation engineer manager at the Maryland State Highway Administration. Hastings has competed in oyster-shucking contests since 1994, which has taken him to 14 states, three countries and two continents. Hastings lives in Severn with his wife, Vicki, and cat, Lou. Their son, George, 19, is in college in North Carolina.

How often do you eat oysters?

For the most part, a couple of times a week. Do you ever tire of them?

Never. And I like the variety. ... Sometimes I can even taste what part of the Chesapeake Bay they come from. Do you shuck oysters at home?

I do. Every Thanksgiving, it's a tradition to have oyster stuffing. And we do other recipes, like oyster pye. It came from my aunt. Do you have to keep your hands in shape?

In oyster season, I'll always have a callus in my right palm here. You can see it. And sometimes I don't have much of a fingernail on my index finger because [the type of shucking] I do is called stabbing. You use your finger to stab. ... Then, my other hand would take all the puncture wounds. But, I've been very lucky in 37 years not to have any serious injuries. Does your family ever get tired of your oyster-centered life?

They do sometimes. I've got a great wife. She really, really knows this oyster thing has been in my blood since I was a newspaper boy. What are your favorite foods?

Anything out of the Chesapeake Bay; crabs, fish, seafood in general. And oysters are in the top three. ... I'm really partial to a good steak, too, every now and then. What food do you get an occasional craving for?

Breyer's ice cream. Vanilla. Plain ol' vanilla with nothing on it. Straight up. And some of Vicki's chocolate chip cookies. With nuts. I have to specify because she doesn't like them with nuts. So, what do you do in your free time?

In all seriousness, oyster shucking is therapy for me. It's kind of repetitious. However, when your mind is on where the knife is going, and everyone is coming to you smiling - they're happy to see you and you're happy to see them - it's therapeutic. It's not easy. But it's fun. Other hobbies?

I hate to go back to oysters, but I collect anything with an oyster on it. If it's an oyster knife, plate, poster, tin can, old receipts from old oyster houses around Baltimore. ... I have a glass jar that's full of pearls that have come from oysters I've shucked. You find pearls with your teeth more often than your eyes, because the pearl is in the oyster, not on the oyster. So, you should chew gently when you're eating oysters. Anything else in life that you're passionate about?

Children. All too often nowadays we do not give enough of ourselves to our children, whether it be discipline or recreation. The danger, the problems, our youth [are] facing. They need a coach. ... Give 'em a hug when you can. Spend as much time as you can with them.

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