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People explore old farm equipment and sunflowers at an event hosted by Serenity Farm on Saturday, Sept. 5. The sunflower festival attendees gathered flowers and basked in the sun throughout the holiday weekend at the Benedict farm.

Soaking in the sunflowers

Calvert school board president dies

A significant figure in the history of the Calvert County Board of Education passed away over Labor Day weekend.

On Monday, the president of the Calvert County commissioners announced the death of William J. Phalen Sr., 79, the current school board president.

“He spent many years of service to Calvert County,” Commissioner Kelly McConkey (R) wrote on his Facebook page, adding that it was an “honor to serve on the school board with him.”

Phalen, who was serving the second year of a four-year term, had been absent from the last several school board meetings.

“We at Calvert County Public Schools extend our sympathy to the family of William J. Phalen, Sr., president of the board of education,” school system officials tweeted late Tuesday afternoon. “Bill served the CCPS community with integrity and a commitment to creating opportunities for students. During his 23 years on the board, first as an appointee of the governor in 1993 and then elected by his constituents, he was a passionate advocate for the arts in education. We will miss his leadership, his perspective and his work for the greater good of the school system.”

As a result of a 1995 referendum, Calvert County began its transition to a school system with an elected school board. All five seats were up for grabs in the 1996 election. Phalen was the only member of the sitting appointed board who decided to seek election.

In November of that year, Phalen won a six-year term as one of two at-large members. Extending the tenures of the at-large members was a one-time mechanism designed to ensure staggered terms. Phalen was reelected to the at-large seat for four-year terms in 2002 and again in 2006. He was barred by county law from seeking a fourth consecutive term. Instead, he ran as a Democrat for county commissioner but lost.

Phalen raised a few eyebrows in 2014 when he filed to run as an at-large candidate for the school board. He correctly pointed out that although county law didn’t permit him to seek a fourth consecutive term, it didn’t prohibit him permanently from running for the board of education again. He finished second in polling for the two at-large seats in both the 2014 and 2018 general elections.

Phalen, a Huntingtown resident, was a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Platteville, where he earned a degree in history and political science. He worked for the U.S. Census Bureau as a survey statistician for 35 years.

“Bill is an excellent friend and a good board member to serve with,” said school board member Tracy McGuire. “He and I disagreed a lot, vehemently, and yet, because of who he is, we always enjoyed our work together. His commitment to get to the right decision meant all sides of an issue were listened to, not just respectfully, but with a spirit of being willing to learn, to have his mind changed.”

“Bill brought a depth of institutional knowledge to our board that was so important in providing context to discussions around some of the most difficult decisions,” said school board member Dawn Balinski. “He was a consummate public servant who cared deeply about our school system.”

Before he became a school board member, Phalen had leadership roles with the PTAs of Huntingtown Elementary and Northern Middle schools. He was also involved with the Northern High School Band Boosters.

After becoming a school board member, Phalen also represented Calvert as a member of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. His tenure included a stint as MABE’s president in 2007. Phalen was the recipient of MABE’s Willis Award for outstanding school board member in 2010.

Phalen is survived by Donna Phalen, his wife of 49 years, his children, William Jr., Elizabeth and Kerry, as well as his five grandchildren and three siblings.

“I am so grateful Donna and the kids shared him with the Calvert County school community,” McGuire said.

“I will miss his gentlemanly ways and especially his sense of humor,” Balinski stated.

Services for Phalen will be held Monday, Sept. 14, at 10:30 a.m. at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Owings, where he was a founding member. There will be a visitation Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Rausch Funeral Home in Owings.

Twitter: @MartySoMdNews

Huntingtown singer recalls dark day in American history

Like so many other people, MJ Brickey-Godfrey was impacted by the dark events on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Huntingtown publicist will help commemorate the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks when she performs at the “9/11 State of Mind” event, which will be live streamed from various locations today in Nashville, Tenn.

“Of course, it is an honor for me to perform, but I hope this also brings pride to the Southern Marylanders who lost loved ones during the attacks on the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001,” Brickey-Godfrey said. “I know that some in the area also lost loved ones in other attacks that day as well.”

Brickey-Godfrey will sing Celine Dion’s “Ashes” during the event.

“The very first time I heard it I listened to the words and thought, ‘What a beautiful song,’” said Brickey-Godfrey, who is also the Washington, D.C., liaison for the National EMS Memorial Service. “The words spoke to me because when you’re working with first responders constantly we’re still hearing of 9/11 and how EMS and other responders are still dying by cancers and other health problems” after working at Ground Zero.

The event, which is also Suicide Awareness Day, will begin Sept. 10 and run in a continuous loop until the Ground Zero Flag is hoisted up over the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge by the Nashville Fire Department.

“We started putting the pieces together and I made some calls to some of the bands I know,” said Santos Lopez, who helped organize the event along with Rick McGachey and 9/11 Remembered Traveling Memorial Foundation Founder/CEO Eric Robertson, “and now three weeks later we have this.”

The event, which is usually held in New York City, was moved to Nashville as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The website said the event is “simply to provide a positive tribute and a virtual experience like no other. To honor 9/11 and promote the 9/12 phenomenon mindset of getting America working again like we did after the horrific attacks on American soil in 2001. To never forget of what we were and what we can once again become.”

There will also be performances by Thomas Gabriel, the grandson of the late country music icon Johnny Cash, whose agent is Brickey-Godfrey, as well as Saving Able along with Paul Sr., Joannie Kay, Joanne Cash, Canned Heat and Dave Bray USA.

Like so many others, Brickey-Godfrey was affected by the horrific events on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, which claimed a total of 2,977 lives.

At the time, she was living in Portsmouth, Ohio, had slept in late and was rushing around trying to get her daughter to school and happened to hear a passing report about the World Trade Center on the radio, though she was more focused on calling a childhood friend whose feelings she had hurt the previous night.

“I heard on the radio that something had happened at the World Trade Center but I was really caught up in what I had done to my friend,” she said. “I called him and was trying to apologize but he kept saying, ‘Look, I don’t even care about last night, have you heard what has happened?’ And I’m like, ‘No’ and he told me the first plane had hit.”

By the time she had driven to her friend’s house, the second plane had hit and her thoughts immediately went to a close friend whose fiance worked at, and dropped their baby off at a daycare, at the World Trade Center.

“I panicked and thought, ‘Oh my God, Rosie’s baby and fiance,’” Brickey-Godfrey said.

By some miracle, Rosie had not had to go to school that day, so he kept the baby with her, though “any other day he would have.”

Rosie’s fiance, however, died in the attacks and his body was later found using cellular technology.

“I don’t know what the word is, but some people would say she lost it,” Brickey-Godfrey said of Rosie, who she spoke with every day on the telephone. “Our friendship changed because she couldn’t handle it. [Sept. 11] was that day our friendship ended.”

A journalist at the time, Brickey-Godfrey poured her emotions into a column titled “Re-living the Loss,” which ran in the McAlester News-Capital. The column took first place in the Best Serious Column division during the National Newspaper Association’s 2012 Better Newspaper Contest.

“This one stood out for its raw emotion captured in easy-to-read, short sentences that pull the reader along. Great job of putting a really human face on the tragedy,” a judge commented.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Lopez was a volunteer 9/11 responder with the New York National Guard who helped the rescue effort with “a bucket brigade, carrying one piece at a time.”

The vice president of marketing for “Orange County Choppers” added he didn’t like talking about the tragedy and that it took him 18 years to revisit the site — “I tried to cut my emotions off that day,” he said — but said he “can still remember that pulverized cement smell.”

The event will raise funds for the 9/11 Remembered Traveling Memorial Foundation, which is a mobile exhibit of four tractor-trailers that travel coast to coast “to share the history and artifacts pertaining to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.”

For more information or to watch the event, go to

To make a donation to the 9/11 Remembered Traveling Memorial Foundation, go to

Twitter: @CalRecMICHAEL

St. Mary’s high schools to begin athletic scrimmages and practices

St. Mary’s public high schools are bringing back sports this semester, but in a different way.

The school system announced first semester athletics and extracurricular engagement will begin Sept. 21 with an abbreviated season for what are normally spring sports, before offering shortened fall and then winter sports seasons. A Monday press release stated the plan will ensure a safe return to in-person participation in athletics, maximize participation opportunities and align with state and local guidelines.

Athletics and extracurriculars in the first semester will have skill development, team practices, intra-school scrimmages and possibly in-county scrimmages. It will also include virtual engagement, in-person weight training and conditioning.

Southern Maryland students were recently participating in outdoor summer workouts.

“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, and sponsors is our top priority,” the press release stated. “Modification or cancellation of the first semester athletic and extracurricular engagement plan may happen at any time and will be based on current local and state data related to COVID-19.”

Marvin Jones, Charles County’s executive director of schools, said they have not finalized any athletic plans for that county’s high schools yet, but are hoping to do off-season conditioning in late September or early October.

“We wanted to see what would come out of this meeting,” he said at a meeting where school board members decided to wait until Nov. 5 to return any students.

He said the school system is in close contact with St. Mary’s and Calvert public schools’ officials.

Calvert public schools announced last week the high schools will have voluntary strength and conditioning workouts for athletes outside and in the weight room.

“We understand the importance of athletics and extracurricular activities for the health and social emotional well-being of students,” Superintendent Daniel Curry said in a press release. “We have specific guidelines in place for the safety of our athletes and coaches during the fall workouts, and we are exploring ways for other school clubs and activities to occur safely.”

Catherine Page, spokesperson for Calvert schools, said they have no further updates to those plans.

St. Mary’s announcement came a month after the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association postponed fall and winter sports for public schools. The Aug. 3 announcement stated school systems can use a waiver that would allow interscholastic athletic opportunities based on local COVID-19 conditions.

The MPSSAA also stated at the time the association is working on a hybrid two-semester plan focused on student engagement option in the first semester and modified seasons for all sports during the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year.

All students participating in St. Mary’s sports will be required to have a current physical on file with the school and a signed COVID-19 acknowledgement form. The form indicates information on the virus was provided and understood by the parent and student.

Spring sports will be offered from Sept. 21 to Oct. 23, fall sports from Oct. 26 to Dec. 4, and winter sports from Dec. 7 to Jan. 28, precluding Thanksgiving and winter breaks, according to a Twitter post by Mike Watson, St. Mary’s public schools’ director of facility coordination, health and physical education, and athletics.

Additional operational guidelines include a daily contact tracing form, a gradual return to conditioning, social distancing, face coverings, hand washing and hydration.

St. Mary’s schools states its plan aligns with the county health department, the state’s education department, MPSSAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations. A committee of stakeholders from St. Mary’s school system helped create the procedures and guidelines.

For more information on St. Mary’s athletic plan, contact a school’s athletic director or email Michael Watson, director of facility coordination, health and physical education, and athletics at

Twitter: @KristenSoMdNews

Teen, uncle die after St. Mary's drowning

A teen and his uncle are dead after drowning near the kayak launch at Greenwell State Park in St. Mary’s County on Labor Day, according to natural resources police.

First responders attempted CPR on 15-year-old Juan Carlos Cesar Medrano and his uncle, Heber Calixto Garcia Medrano, 37, after they were recovered from the water shortly after noon on Monday, according to DNR police spokesperson Lauren Moses.

A preliminary investigation by natural resources investigators has determined the two, who were from Montgomery Village, had fallen off an offshore ledge near the park’s kayak launch, where they had been fishing.

CPR was attempted, but was unsuccessful, according to police. The two were transported to MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital where they were declared dead, according to a release from the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department, which said the victims had suffered cardiac arrest while in the water.

“We would like to remind everyone as the summer comes to an end, to make sure you always have a life jacket when you are in or around the water,” the fire department said in the release. “Please follow the recommended safety standards and remember to only swim in designated locations.”

The Department of Natural Resources Police is continuing to investigate the incident.

Twitter: @DanSoMdNews