Citizens of the Year honored in Towson

Towson Times
Councilman David Marks fetes six in ceremony at Aigburth Vale

Mandy Stepp helped get a neighborhood park in Ridgely Manor — and started a community association in the process.

Christian Estes patrols solo, on foot, several times a week in his neighborhood, Burkleigh Square, which he said has seen everything from a sexual assault to a drunken college student passed out naked in the street. He was also honored for successfully getting street lights installed in his neighborhood.

And Wendy Jacobs helped organize the planting of dozens of trees in West Towson, adding to the area's tree canopy that she said first attracted her to live there.

They were among six Baltimore County residents who were honored by County Councilman David Marks on Dec. 19 as Fifth District Citizens of the Year.

"These are volunteers who have given of themselves and often aren't recognized," Marks said after a short awards ceremony as part of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations meeting at the Aigburth Vale senior apartment complex.

The GTCCA elected new officers, including Mike Ertel as president, succeeding Paul Hartman.

Also honored were:

• Jason Garber, who as president of The Associates of Loch Raven Village, a community association, since April, helped get air conditioning at Pleasant Plains Elementary School, among other projects.

• Cathleen White, a resident of the Pinehurst neighborhood on the county side, who led the revitalization of the Christ Child Society of Baltimore, a non-denominational, nonprofit group of volunteers who try to meet the needs of Baltimore children and families in the areas of education and literacy, infant care and parenting, and basic needs.

• The late Ken Wetzel, former commander of the Towson American Legion Post 22, who died suddenly earlier this year at 67. Wetzel had been active in causes ranging from reaching out to a veterans club at Towson University and supporting the Towson Fourth of July parade to fighting last year for more parking at 101 York, a planned $60 million student housing project in downtown Towson.

"What didn't he do?" Marks asked rhetorically, standing with Wetzel's widow, Kathy, who accepted the posthumous award on her husband's behalf.

An audience of about 75 people also toasted the late Richard Parsons, a retired Baltimore County librarian and longtime Towson residential advocate, who died in September at 87. Parsons served three terms as president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association and was co-founder and past president of the GTCCA. He was also a past chair of the Towson Fourth of July parade.

Stepp, 39, has lived in Ridgely Manor for seven years and was instrumental in getting a park on Yakona Road.

Ground was broken in August, ending five years of community frustration over flooding and contamination from a nearby Hess gas station. Residents in the neighborhood of 200 brick duplexes sued Hess Corp., and Marks got involved. Hess settled the lawsuit, purchased and tore down 16 houses on the site, and built the 2-acre park in conjunction with NeighborSpace of Baltimore County and the Ridgely Manor Community Association, which formed in 2012, with Stepp as its president, soon after the lawsuit was settled.

"It feels good" to win a Citizen of the Year award, Stepp said, adding that the park has brought together many neighbors who didn't know one another. "It's nice to have recognition."

Estes, 59, a semi-retired Baltimore County employee, has lived in Burkleigh Square for 12 years and said he has patrolled for the past seven years, three or four nights a week by himself, but with the backing of police and the Towson Area Citizens on Patrol, in his four-street community of 110 houses. Estes said he started because, "It was just getting really bad in the community," with trouble ranging from students ripping out street signs to reports of sexual assault and residential break-ins.

Estes, who is unmarried, said he starts walking typically around 10:30 p.m., and finishes as late as 4:30 a.m., calling police when he sees suspicious activity. He said the neighborhood has been quieter since he started.

"I'm going to keep doing it," Estes said. "You can't do nothing. You have to be active in your community."

Estes also worked to have street lights installed in the neighborhood as a deterrent to crime.

Estes, too, said he is honored to receive an award, but gives police most of the credit and said, "I wish we could recognize them for some type of award."

Jacobs, 61, has lived in West Towson for three years and said the tree canopy was one of the selling points of the area for her. She heads the greening committee of the West Towson Neighborhood Association.

As time went on, "I noticed that my neighborhood kept losing trees and not replacing them," which the retired forensic accountant to organize a group of volunteers — including from Goucher and Towson universities and Gilman School — to plant oaks, maples, elms, black gums and other trees on streets including Piccadilly Road, which runs between Chestnut and Joppa roads, as well as on Charles Street Avenue. Some 30 trees were planted this fall, with help from Blue Water Baltimore, which provided the trees and some of the volunteers, she said.

"I feel very honored and particularly want to share (her award) with all the volunteers who have made this (project) work."

White, 58, an 11-year resident of Pinehurst, and an independent human resources contractor for training and development, re-chartered the Christ Child Society of Baltimore, which was first founded in 1905, but had been inactive until she got involved in 2012, according to the National Christ Child Society.

White's friend, Anne Easby-Smith, and White's daughter, Emily, both are active in the Washington chapter, according to the national organization's website.

White said the Christ Child Society's Baltimore branch supports 15 organizations, shelters and schools, mostly in Baltimore City, including the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County, in Dundalk, and the Hampden Family Center, where volunteers help school children with their homework once a week. The chapter has 35 members and 100 people on its email list, she said. Other projects include working with soup kitchens, collecting and distributing more than 2,000 books to target groups, and reading to pre-kindergarten children.

"We're really hands on," she said.

White too said she was honored to accept her award on behalf of her volunteers.

Garber, 42, a civil litigation attorney in Towson and a resident of Loch Raven Village for more than five years, said he has put in "a lot of hours" as Loch Raven Village president. In addition to pushing for air-conditioning at Pleasant Plains Elementary, the community association also helped fund the endangered Fourth of July fireworks and has been involved in reviewing plans for the redevelopment of a former Raytheon property as Loch Raven Commons, a $45 million, mixed-use development with up to 200 high-end apartments, commercial space and a village green on East Joppa Road.

"We took over, so that tradition continued," Garber said.

Like the other honorees, he said, "I feel touched. "I feel humbled."

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