Four community leaders were honored Friday at the annual St. Mary’s County Democrat of the Year Dinner at the Hollywood firehouse. Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell received the Democrat of the Year Award. Delegate John Wood, who is retiring after 28 years in the legislature, received a Special Life Achievement Award.
Two new awards were instituted this year and named after two beloved Democrats: Dr. Janice Walthour received the Mary Ann Chasen Humanitarian Service Award and Dr. Sal Raspa received the John G. Lancaster Education and Business Award.
Greetings were delivered by Democratic Club President Karl Pence and Democratic Central Committee Chairperson Dr. Kathy O’Brien.
Pence said the two new awards were established to honor those who supported “Democratic ideals.” The late Mary Ann Chasen’s husband Steve talked about her long-service to St. Mary’s County, including her many years at the helm of Christmas in April. He said his wife, who was dying from pancreatic cancer, went to Leonardtown to vote one last time. He said everybody she voted for won.
Chasen noted that Janice Walthour and her sister Elfreda Mathis were the last to visit his wife at the Hospice House. He said the Chasen family was honored that Walthour was the first recipient. Walthour said of Mary Ann: “She was one of the sweetest persons I have ever known.”
Walthour, a retired educator and community activist, said she has learned over time that “political action was paramount to change.” She concluded by saying, “Go Dems. I love St. Mary’s County.”
The late County Commissioner John Lancaster’s daughter Elaine Lancaster Gohlston talked about her father moving to the county from Farmville, VA, where he was fired as an extension agent for participating in the historic school desegregation efforts there. She said as she was growing up she heard so much about Dr. Raspa and said her father would be pleased that he received the first honor named for her father.
Raspa, always the cheerleader, said, “It’s great to be an educator, great to be a Democrat and great to be with all of you good people in St. Mary’s County.” Raspa is retiring from the school board this year. His education career included teacher, principal and administrator. “Several in this room were my students,” he observed.
“John Lancaster believed in quality education and citizen participation in government,’ Dr. Raspa said. He also believed, Raspa added, “in success for all children,” the school system’s motto. He added, “I am honored to be seen fol