On his wedding day earlier this month, Tommy Tittsworth handed his older brother Mike a letter. With a groom's typical sentiment, he had written that he was glad Mike was his best man and his best friend, but went a step further.
"I wrote that he had helped me to develop my personality and about how I feel compelled to work with kids, especially those who haven't been given a lot," Tommy said. "I told him that the course I'm taking in life will fulfill my personal goals."
Tommy began his teaching career in special education this fall at Mount Hebron High School, joining a list of 17 former graduates who have returned to teach or work there. Among them is his brother.
"There's just something about Hebron," said Mike, a 1995 graduate and social studies teacher at the Ellicott City school.
When Principal Dave Brown took over in 2005, it didn't take him long to see "how much the alumni love this school," he said. "I have never been in such a community-oriented school in my 29 years in education."
One alumna loved her high school experience so much she returned to take a job teaching physical education in 1975 and, except for one year, hasn't left. Val Salvato McNeely, Class of 1971, said she was transferred to Hammond High for her second year because of a teacher surplus and practically suffered withdrawal until she rejoined the Mount Hebron faculty the next year.
"I guess I must have black and gold pumping through my veins by now," she joked, referring to the school's colors. McNeely is in her 32nd year of physical education and taught both Tittsworth brothers.
"They were great kids and are great teachers," she said. "All of our staff love being here."
Cristina Grimes, a teacher's assistant in the special education department, graduated in 2000 with Tommy and now works with him. "I'm in the classroom right next door to his, and I overhear him teaching," she said. "He takes a fun route in learning, and he's very popular with the kids."
"Popular" is an adjective frequently used to describe the brothers, who coach football and lacrosse together and played multiple sports as students. When Mount Hebron marked its 40th anniversary in 2005, they both came to the homecoming game wearing their letterman jackets.
"The Tittsworth brothers have an awesome friendship," said Gregory Murach, Class of 2001 and a mathematics teacher since 2005. "Mike would pick on Tommy when Mike was a teacher and Tommy was still a student. I remember Mike making a joke about Tommy's teddy bear on the announcements one day."
Said Mike: "That was 1999, and I was a first-year teacher, which was hard enough. Tommy had signed up for anthropology before I was hired so we just made the best of it. He was actually very good in class. It was his friends who gave me a hard time - they just knew me as Mike who threw snowballs at them."
"I was fine with it," said Tommy, 25. "He tortured me enough in our youth that I knew I had to behave."
When parent-teacher conferences rolled around, "we just talked about his grade at the dinner table," said Mike, 30. "I still lived with my family then, so I could poke my head is his bedroom and ask if he'd done his homework."
Home was on Furrow Avenue, which runs parallel to Route 99 near the high school. Their parents, Terrence and Rose Mary Tittsworth, still live there, while Mike and Tommy now live in Sykesville and Halethorpe, respectively. The brothers' great-great-grandfather Elisha Tittsworth of Ellicott City served as a sergeant with the Maryland Cavalry in the Civil War, a point of pride for the family.
"Having roots in this community means a lot to me, and it influences my desire to give something back," said Mike, who is in his ninth year at Mount Hebron. "If I couldn't have been a teacher, I would have been a policeman. I just want to serve people."
Tommy said he interviewed at several county high schools before choosing Mount Hebron, in part because the school is a regional center for emotionally disturbed students that also pulls from the Centennial and Howard high school districts.
"I could have been happy anywhere, but I love the staff here and working with the emotionally disturbed kids," Tommy said. "I want to help people, too, and would have been a firefighter if I hadn't become a teacher. But, it was a positive incentive to teach with my brother."
Another alumnus who credits Mike with influencing her is Amy Holthause, a member of the Class of 2001 and an English teacher at Mount Hebron for the past three years. "When I was a senior, I had Mike for psychology class and he personally encouraged me to return to Hebron [to teach] once I graduated from college," she said.
"Many people have asked me why I would want to return to an old building when I could teach at other, newer schools," Holthause said. "I truly believe that our building does not reflect the light within generated by the staff and students."
The publicity Mount Hebron has received recently regarding rat sightings and sewage overflowing is "over the top," said Mike. "But it will be nice when renovations are completed. Some of the newer schools look like malls inside."
Tommy agreed. "No one would come here because of the building, that's for sure," he said. "It's definitely the great people who make the school."
Mount Hebron also has nine alumni who have returned to coach sports at the school. Mike's wife, Laura, and Tommy's wife, Rebecca, are both alumni as well. Laura just ended a six-year run as girls' lacrosse coach.
"There is a definite appeal to returning to your old stomping grounds," said Brown, who added that the community really values the school. "This is a very, very tradition-rich environment."
back at school
Class of 1971:
Val Salvato McNeely, physical education teacher
Class of 1975:
Ann Johnston, special education teacher
Class of 1976:
Michelle Saunders, special education paraeducator
Class of 1981:
Jeannie Provosto, athletics and activities manager
Class of 1983 :
Larry Luthe, math teacher
Class of 1985:
Todd DeCrispino, physical education teacher; Ross Hannon, physical education teacher
Class of 1986:
Debbie Summers (Wiles), special education paraeducator
Class of 1991:
Lisa Hamlett (Combs), cafeteria worker
Class of 1995:
Tony Giro, special education paraeducator; Julie Kingsley, math teacher; Mike Tittsworth, social studies teacher
Class of 1999:
Jen Parandian, social studies teacher
Class of 2000
Cristina Grimes, special education paraeducator; Tommy Tittsworth, special education
Class of 2001:
Amy Holthause, English teacher; Gregory Murach, math teacher
There are 12 Mount Hebron graduates who don't work at the school but serve as coaches there. They are:
Colin O'Brein, Jenny Caputo, Tim Deppen, Andy Gotsch, Nick Hoffner, Mariah Johnson, Leigh Langmead, Mike Mengel, Mike McCarthy, Chatty Peddicord, Donna DeCarlo Schaaf, Zack Wendall.