Columbia's inaugural village to celebrate

The Baltimore Sun

On June 22, 1967, The Sun reported the official dedication of Wilde Lake: "Rarely have so many dignitaries seemed so enthusiastic about walking through mud or standing under a hot sun while a flock of ducks was mercilessly maneuvered into position by sailboats for a dramatic gush of water jets."

At the event, Columbia founder James W. Rouse called the dedication "truly a beginning, a peek under the tent. It is the removal of the guards from the gate for the first time."

Forty years later, residents of Wile Lake village - named along with the lake for the president of the insurance company that provided Rouse with $25 million in financial backing - are proud of its status as the starting point for the planned community. Today, Columbia has 10 villages and nearly 100,000 residents.

Wilde Lake village is planning a Fabulous 40 Celebration tomorrow and Sunday - part of Columbia's 40 days of birthday celebrations - to highlight that "it all began here," said Carol Hobelmann, program and events coordinator.

"I think we just feel we are the heart and spirit of the town of Columbia," she said. "Naturally, we would want to have a big celebration."

The event will include music, food, family entertainment and a historical display tomorrow at Slayton House in the village center, and a walking tour Sunday of 11 Wilde Lake homes.

Hobelmann said Columbia's earliest residents often talk about their memories and the excitement of the early days. "They all do seem to take huge pride in having been early Columbians," she said.

Ethel B. Hill arrived in 1969, when there was one traffic light, few stores and lots of muddy construction sites.

She recalled how involved everyone was in the community. "We used to laugh and talk about how if you threw a petition up in the air, when it landed you would have as many signatures as you needed."

Hill, who served on the Wilde Lake Village Board among other volunteer roles, said that in a town in which you needed to build everything, the social cliques of other cities were absent. "Here we were on equal footing," she said. "We all came from somewhere else."

She also praised Columbia's early embrace of racial equality. She went on to run for the school board as the first black candidate and for the state legislature. She provided a training ground in her campaigns for several prominent black Howard County leaders.

Carolyn Keleman found Wilde Lake to be supportive of the arts as founder of the Bryant Woods Basement Bunch and the Interfaith Housing Ballet, among other arts programs at Slayton House.

A fan of Columbia from the earliest newspaper articles that drew her from California, Keleman said she has seen the generations raised in Columbia not only finding great success, but "I really, truly believe the tide is turning back again to more social issues," she said.

Rhoda Toback, a business developer and village board member, recalled a rich entrepreneurial philosophy in the early days of Columbia.

Today, she said, new businesses "come more along the lines of franchises. ... The challenge is to provide entrepreneurial incentives so we can reinvest in ourselves and the village square concept that Columbia was founded on."

Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

Wilde Lake fete

What: Celebration of Wilde Lake's 40th birthday

Where: Slayton House, Wilde Lake Town Center, Columbia


noon to 3 p.m.: Outdoor music and children's entertainment

noon to 7 p.m.: Indoor display of historical memorabilia

1 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Music, dance and other performances on Slayton House stage

3 p.m.: Rededication of Slayton House

5:30 p.m.: Reception


Noon to 3 p.m.: Walking tour of 11 Wilde Lake homes (including those of James W. Rouse and Padraic Kennedy)

Cost: All Saturday events are free. Walking tour tickets are $20 in advance or $25 on Sunday, available at Slayton House, the Columbia Archives, and, on Sunday, at the Wilde Lake Boat House.

Information: 410-730-3987

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