Written by admin on . Posted in Business

  If you dream of being a designer, Lee Andersen can help

STORY BY Anne Haddad      PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mary C. Gardella

September/October 2017

The ateliers of Paris and Milan rule the world of haute couture, but there are other gateways to fashion and design. Lee Andersen has opened a portal from her Laurel design and clothing factory that allows entry to anyone with the aspiration and grit to make a longtime dream come true.

One student is creating a line of children’s clothing—set to debut at an Annapolis boutique. Another is designing a line of hijab-friendly soccer clothing for Muslim women who want to play fiercely but dress modestly. Yet another, Valerie Cheeves, is knitting lushly textured, eye-popping designs that she envisions celebrities and models wearing.

“I want someone famous wearing my designs,” says Cheeves, who grew up in Baltimore and lives in Harford County. “I want to be on the runways in New York and London.”

The sylph-like green jumpsuit she designed and hand-knitted for Andersen’s annual wear¬able-art event is easy to imagine on, say, Jada Pinkett Smith, one of the people Cheeves would love to design for.

Cheeves, 51, enrolled in May at the Maryland Fashion Institute (MDfin), a new nonprofit venture by Andersen, who has been designing and manufacturing fashions for boutiques and online sales, authoring books on knitting and design, and organizing a festival and museum. Andersen is co-owner of Andersen-Becker Inc., a vertically integrated fashion business in Laurel.

In the last year, Andersen began the Maryland Fashion Institute ( as a school and incubator for aspiring designers, while having access to the factory and marketing infrastructure she uses for Andersen-Becker.

“I decided to go to MDfin because I am trying to learn to sew better, so that I can incorporate my knitting and sewing to create designs,” Cheeves says. “You don’t see a lot of that. I want to be a little bit different.”

She pays a monthly fee to work on a personalized curriculum with Andersen and her business, factory, staff and resources, and is learning the sewing skills she needs. Her dream of dressing a celebrity isn’t far-fetched. She has a family connection to the Baltimore-born Pinkett Smith. When Cheeves is ready—with finished designs and the nerve it takes to approach an A-list actor—she plans to reach out through their mutual connection.

Ever since her mother taught her to knit at age 9, Cheeves has loved it and taught others, including all four of her children. Friends and coworkers would commission pieces or buy her creations, but it didn’t pay enough to make a living. For that, she did a combination of home nursing care and 21 years in the Maryland Air National Guard. Five of those years were full-time active duty, including two overseas tours at a U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan.

As a certified nursing assistant, she works as a subcontractor for agencies in Maryland that provide private-duty home care. It turned out to be fortuitous: Her night shifts include long stretches of sitting with elderly clients, usually when they are asleep, and so she has time to knit.

“I can’t just sit idle—I’m the kind of person who has to be doing something,” Cheeves says.

With all but her youngest child now grown, Cheeves has been turning her attention to design, going all the way with her ideas and inspirations. She first looked into classes at universities that offer design, but realized that she could bypass the four years required to get a degree by enrolling in Andersen’s newly launched MDfin.

Many of those who attend Andersen’s Maryland Fashion Institute have had some level of experience designing and making clothing. But there are also some newbies, Andersen says.

Some of the MDfin students hear about the program through ManneqART, says Andersen. “We have people who don’t have any experience, but design¬ing has always been in their hearts.” Others have technical degrees, but have wanted to add clothing design to their experience, she adds.

The institute is not an accredited degree-granting program, although Andersen says she hopes to seek that at some point. The unstructured curriculum, she says, means that each student can customize the program to their individual needs.

Andersen likens it to a circle: “You can enter at any point,” she says. “We look at where the person is, and what they need and want to know, and do that.” To arrive at the perfect plan, she says, “takes persistence.”

One student had produced clothing and even shot photos of her work and came to the institute for marketing help. Andersen and her team set the designer up with models, photographers and makeup artists looking to build their own portfolios. Andersen even provides a ready-to-shoot mini studio all set up with a backdrop. Photoshop can provide an infinite array of backgrounds from the Chesapeake to the Serengeti and beyond.

Like Cheeves, fellow MDfin student Lena Thompson is focused on her goals. Growing up just outside of Los Angeles, Thompson says she always wanted to be a fashion designer. She moved east to major in design at Virginia Commonwealth University, but her life took a detour. Instead of working in fashion, she built a life around family and a career in the automobile leasing industry. She designed, made and sold children’s tutus on the side, out of her Randallstown home and at farmer’s markets.


More than 30 years later, in January 2017, Thompson again found herself at a cross¬roads. She was laid off from the job she’d had for 15 years managing accounts for a large vehicle-leasing company. When she began looking for another job, her husband suggested an alternate route.

“He said, ‘Now would be a perfect time for you to do something you’ve always wanted to do,’ ” Thompson recalls. Her dream? To design a line of children’s cloth¬ing. “Fashion has always been my passion,” she says.

She toured Stevenson University. While Stevenson has a strong design degree program, she said, the faster track with personalized advice and instruction from Andersen seemed a more direct route to her goal. Now, less than a year later, Thompson’s clothing line, DeLena Couture, is about to debut at a boutique in Annapolis.

Andersen has also helped her to move into factory production a unique tutu design she had been selling at farmers’ markets and other events. Once the tutus went into larger scale production, Thompson was able to crank out more inventory in less time. The design, stretchy satin lining under the stiffer layers of tulle, makes for a more skin-friendly tutu. The soft lining under¬neath, she says, makes the tutus more comfortable for “the little girls who like to wear them every day.”

Designing is Thompson’s day job now. She goes to the studio and factory at least three days a week, for eight to 10 hours at a time.
“Lee is open to whatever kind of schedule you want to do,” Thompson said. “You choose your own hours.” *

Rising Stars

Written by admin on . Posted in Business, PHILANTHROPY & VOLUNTEERING


STORY BY Rebecca Kirkman      PHOTOGRAPHY BY Mary C. Gardella

September/October 2017

On a Wednesday evening in April, an entrepreneurial urgency seems to fill the room as about 20 young women tackle challenges that come with a start-up business—like what to include in an annual shareholders’ report, or the most efficient way to distribute pre-ordered products to customers. Dressed in slacks and blazers, they sit in groups at BTS Software Solutions in Columbia, typing information into spread¬sheets or jotting down sales numbers on a whiteboard.

Promptly at 6:30, members of the start-up company Boundless gather in a conference room and Ashley Martin calls a weekly huddle to order, hearing reports from the sales, finance, marketing and supply chain departments. Martin is the CEO of Boundless. She’s also an 18-year-old graduating senior at Atholton High School.

“When I first read the flyer online, I almost didn’t believe it,” recalls Martin of learning about Rising Women, an after-school entrepreneurship program for female high school students in Howard County. “I had to question whether we would start an actual company.”

As Martin quickly found out, it was very real. Run by Junior Achievement of Central Maryland (JA) , a national nonprofit dedicated to teaching young people skills for economic success, the 13-week curriculum offers young women a crash course in entrepreneurship—from conceptualizing and establishing a company to fundraising, sales, production, and, finally, liquidation. “It was so unique, even among all of the amazing opportunities in Howard County, says Martin, who has participated in the program’s fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters. “I’m going to be studying business in college, and I came into it trying to find any real-world experience I could get.”

Now beginning its fifth cycle, the Rising Women program was established in the fall of 2015 through a grant from The Women’s Giving Circle, a fund of the Community Foundation of Howard County. Each semester, about 20 young women from a variety of Howard County high schools are accepted into the program after undergoing a rigor¬ous application process.

“The curriculum itself is a capstone of Junior Achievement; it’s been around for decades,” says Hina Naseem, Rising Women coordinator and regional director for Junior Achievement (JA), a program that teaches financial literacy, decision making and entrepreneurship to students in grades k-12. The idea for a female-focused program came after JA observed a gender disparity in Company Program, its in-school co-ed curriculum. “We saw that when we go into the business classrooms it’s usually boys, and the few girls there aren’t taking the leadership roles,” Naseem explains. Rising Women establishes a safe environment where young women can develop business skills and feel comfortable taking risks and speaking their minds. “With the rise of women entrepreneurs, we want to get these girls ready, because entrepreneurship is a huge space for these girls to make their mark,” Naseem adds.

As the only JA program of its kind nationally, Howard County’s Rising Women is serving as a pilot. The student companies (which are liquidated at the end of the semester with profits donated to charity) have increased their profits with each term. The fall 2016 cohort’s company, Medley, which created and sold a community cook¬book, was chosen as one of 15 teams from nearly 700 across the country to compete at the JA National Student Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., last June. Now, other counties are interested in replicating the program, Naseem says.

  …..       …..   

Part of what makes the program successful is a focus on empowerment. While local entrepreneurs act as mentors, all of the decision making comes from the young women themselves. “Ultimately, each decision made is a decision by the company,” explains Naseem. “We offer feedback,” Naseem says of herself and the other mentors. “We give advice, but the ultimate decision is within the company.” This is one of the many ways the curriculum prepares girls for professional lives outside of school.

The 13-week structure means students have to work fast, jumping right into the spirit of entrepreneurship. “In the first session, we start considering some of the needs in our community, because entrepreneurs solve problems,” says Naseem. The young women head out to conduct informal surveys and interviews within the community, then form groups of potential business ideas based on that market research. Next comes a memorable experience for many of the young women: a “Shark Tank”- style meeting in the third week, where the groups pitch their ideas to a panel of mentors and receive feedback.

“We had to explain how we planned on making the product, how much we expected it to cost, and how we expected to distribute it,” recalls Josie Yodzis, a 15-year-old freshman at Marriotts Ridge High School, whose group was chosen to be one of the companies. “I’m not one for public speaking, so it was a little nerve-wracking, but everybody was really encouraging and they walked me through it when I got stuck,” Yodzis says. “It was pretty cool.” Her group’s idea—manufacturing and selling headbands sporting Howard County high school logos—became HoCo Heads, one of the two companies formed during the spring 2017 semester. Yodzis chose to be part of the finance department because she likes math and because her dad used to work in finance. And even as a ninth grader, she has an eye on how the experience could affect her future. “Even if I end up not going into business, it’s good to have an idea of how it all works for when I’m doing things on my own,” she points out. “Like buying a house.”

Mentors find value in the experience, too. “I wish I had something like this when I was their age,” says Patricia Diaz, an entrepreneur and business consultant based in Columbia. “It’s really neat to see their learning process, how they solve problems and the emotions around all of the different challenges they face throughout the process.”

In the fall 2016 semester Medley, the cookbook company, ran into a printing challenge. “There was this conversation about a failure, and the CEO was in front of the room talking to the team in a strong way, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get it together,’” Diaz recalls. “It was encouraging to watch them as a team come together—all of them owning up and saying we have to run the business differently.”

Mentors see big changes in the young women over the semester. “Self-confidence is what stands out to me,” says Diaz, who has taught a variety of Junior Achievement classes. “They realize, ‘I do have a voice, and I’ll act on my voice.’”

The students recognize growth within themselves as well. Ashley Martin, Jelena Chen and Annabelle Gao sit on a couch during the spring 2017 semester, studying a laptop, animatedly discussing Boundless’ annual report. When asked what she’s gained from the experience, Chen, a graduating senior at Mt. Hebron High School who is the company’s vice president of supply chain, says, “For me, it was talking to adults in a professional manner, because you don’t really get too much experience with that in school.” Chen continues, “I’m naturally pretty shy, so when it comes to talking to people, strangers especially, I get pretty nervous.” After participating in the ‘Shark Tank,’ she says, “I feel like I’ve really honed that skill.”

The friendships they have formed here will also last a lifetime. “There was a group of five of us from the last cohort, we all go to different schools, we didn’t know each other whatsoever,” says Martin. “Now, we talk in our group message every day—we talk about things that don’t even relate to business,” she adds with a laugh. “Having that much work and being so invested in the business made us close friends.”

And what do they think of the focus on young women? “It’s amazing,” says Martin. “It’s cool to see all the support we have, since we are a minority in the business world. Everyone wants to be involved.” *


Written by admin on . Posted in Business


By Lyn Dippel

September/October 2017

For many of us, fall is a chance to reset, to take a look at where we are. In financial terms this can mean fine tuning plans and budgets, but we might also take a broader view and question whether our lives are where we want them to be. While there is no question that money plays a role in our life’s path, I’ve observed from working with hundreds of clients over the years that a person’s earnings or accumulated wealth has little to do with his or her joy and fulfillment.

According to research, it’s not money that makes us happier, but our perception of money and what it allows us to do. Once we are past the poverty point, increasing our wealth will not necessarily increase our happiness or well-being. For women especially, challenging and fulfilling work is a larger contributor to life satisfaction than how much we make. And being able to have meaningful connections and experiences is more important than the amount of money we have to spend. Those who believe their money can help them create change and live meaningful lives are more likely to feel fulfilled.

The way we actually spend our money has a greater impact than how much we are able to spend. For instance, research, including a recent study at Cornell University, has shown that giving money to others creates a greater sense of fulfillment than spending it on oneself. And when people do spend on themselves, they receive considerably more joy from experiences, like travel, than from material goods. Experiences, it seems, satisfy more of our underlying psychological needs. Typically shared with other people, experiences create greater connection and sense of identity, along with memories that last well beyond the life of material items.

The spending behaviors with the highest correlation to happiness and satisfaction are:

Activities with children and loved ones
*Travel and learning
*Giving to loved ones or those in need
*Buying time that is then spent with loved ones
*Paying off debt and living with less

Buying time can take the form of anything from downsizing and simplifying your home to hiring a service to do routine time intensive tasks. Elizabeth Dunn, author of “Happy Money,” provided this powerful illustration, “Use money to buy yourself better time,” she says. “Don’t buy a slightly fancier car so that you have heated seats during your two-hour commute. Buy a place close to work, so that you can use that final hour of daylight to kick a ball around in the park with your kids.”

So this fall, instead of thinking in terms of budget and investments, think about how much satisfaction and joy each dollar you spend is creating and what changes will lead to a more meaningful life. *

Lyn Dippel, JD, CFP®, president of FAI Wealth Management, provides financial planning and investment management for transitions such as retirement, career changes, sale of a business, relocation and inheritance.


Written by admin on . Posted in Business, news

September/October 2017

The $9 million Long Reach Tennis Club is scheduled to open in the spring. The club will feature six climate-controlled courts with viewing areas and hard court surfaces, locker rooms with showers and an on-site racket stringing service. “The project was designed that could serve all types of tennis players in the community,” says Anish Manrai, Columbia Association’s assistant director of sport and fitness.

Manrai says the tennis program in Columbia grew from around 5,000 participants to almost 7,000 in the past three years. Officials felt the new facility, which will replace the 17-year-old Owen Brown Tennis Club and Bubble, was necessary to accommodate the increased interest in tennis. The bubble “is well past its useful lifespan,” Manrai says. “We needed a new club to continue to engage our current members and to create an environment to attract new players.”

The tennis bubble currently has five indoor courts and seven outdoors. Once Long Reach opens, the indoor courts will be converted to outdoor courts, which will increase the association’s tennis areas from 33 to 39 including facilities at Wilde Lake Tennis Club, Columbia Athletic Club and The Racquet Club at Hob¬bit’s Glen. The addition of Long Reach, says Manrai, will mean more clubs are available—and convenient—to members.


Written by admin on . Posted in Business

June/July 2017

Meal time will get a whole lot easier for Howard County residents starting this fall.

Freshly, a New York City-based food delivery service, will open a new 171,000 square-foot meal distribution center on Bollman Place in Savage. The facility, estimated to add more than 500 jobs to the area, is set to be the company’s east coast site for food preparation, cooking, assembly and distribution.

Customers visit the Freshly website to choose meals from a rotating weekly menu. Once an order is placed, your dish– made with all natural, gluten-free ingredients—is packed for delivery. Meals arrive ready for meal time.

Freshly selections include breakfast, lunch and dinner options with subscriptions available for four to 12 meals per week. Custom meals are available for those with special dietary restrictions.

“Freshly will be a great addition to the business community along the Route 1 corridor,” says Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman. The company’s innovative approach to meal delivery will complement the existing food and distribution industries here, he says. “Soon, people all across the east coast will enjoy fresh food prepared in Howard County.” For information, visit


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By Lyn Dippel

June/July 2017

Whether we realize it or not, our financial habits, fears and perceptions about money are internalized by our children. If we teach our children about the value of being frugal, but we regularly purchase the latest model car or iPhone, those philosophical lectures will have little impact. If we teach our child to judge people by what’s inside and not what brand of clothing they wear, but that later remark in a condescending way about someone’s bargain-brand shoes, we’re asserting that brands do indeed matter.

The best thing we can do as parents is to bring our actions in line with the values we want to instill in our kids. This requires some self-reflection. Identifying areas where we have perhaps not been as intentional or responsible as we would have liked, can become teaching moments for children. If we demonstrate a commitment to positive change, children will intuitively understand. For example, if I habitually make impulse buys at Target instead of purchasing only the detergent and light bulbs I planned to purchase, I can use my moment of weakness as an opportunity to talk about the negative impact this has on our family finances. This lecture won’t stick, of course, if I don’t change my behavior. The lesson is even better if it leads to a positive result. For example, what if our family can afford a special day trip because of our discipline at the checkout counter? Success.
Here are some important age appropriate experiences to encourage financial literacy.

AGES 9 TO 12
• comparison shop—read price labels, compare the bulk amount per cent, try a brand name and a generic brand
• attend or host a yard sale—assess the value (for pricing or purchasing), experience what it’s like to negotiate over prices

AGES 13 TO 15
• create and stick to a budget—this can be for hosting an event, a grocery store trip or purchasing supplies for a project
• start savings jars or accounts—show how small regular savings (birthday money and money from babysitting or odd jobs) can add up over time
• discuss tradeoffs—talk about needs versus wants; have your teen choose to forgo one thing now in order to have something else they want down the road
• give to charity—empower kids to donate a small amount to a cause or family in need
• purchase personal gifts—have teens use their own funds for a birthday or other gift they are purchasing for a friend

• invest in a company—help them (actually or virtually) pick shares of stock in a brand they know and like
• pay taxes—explain how various taxes work (state and federal income tax, sales tax, FICA, etc.) and, if your child has a part-time job, how their paycheck is affected
• contribute to retirement plans—discuss the value of 401k or IRA contributions
• provide exposure to credit cards—start with a prepaid card (like a VISA Buxx); if they are away at school, only allow use of credit if they pay it off each month or stick to a predetermined budget
• apply for financial aid/scholarships—if your child is headed to college, include them in the financial planning process
Many online tools can help. has a list of resources for teaching kids about money,

Also, check out, an inter¬active online tool that helps kids learn about financial responsibility, managing money and contributing to causes.*

Lyn Dippel, JD, CFP®, president of FAI Wealth Management, provides financial planning and investment management for transitions such as retirement, career changes, sale of a business, relocation and inheritance


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By Amanda R. Piper, CFA, MBA, CEP

June/July 2017

More and more women are taking charge of their retirement planning, but some need help getting started. What does retirement mean to you? Do you dream of traveling, pursuing a hobby, volunteering, or starting a second career? Whatever your goal, you’ll need a retirement income plan that’s designed to support the retirement lifestyle that you envision, and help minimize the risk that you’ll outlive your savings.

Save as much as you can, as early as you can. The earlier you start, the more compounding can help you.

• Employer retirement plan
• Traditional or Roth IRA (either from your own income or Spousal)
• Personal/joint account

• How much money will I need in retirement? Start with your current take home pay, but things may change.
• How much you expect to receive from Social Security, pensions and other income.
• Retirement savings
• Long Term Care

• I don’t have time • I’ll save later when my kids are out of college, my house is paid off
• I don’t know where to start

Amanda R. Piper, CFA, MBA, CEP Financial Advisor, RJFS Chief Investment Offi cer In 2015, Amanda earned the Chartered Financial Analyst® (CFA) credential, considered by many to be the most respected and recognized investment management designation in the world.

Wagener-Lee, LLC 5950 Symphony Woods Road, Suite 412 Columbia, MD 20144 phone: 443-276-9595 email:

Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC Investment advisory services offered through Wagener-Lee, LLC and Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Wagener-Lee, LLC is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Investing involves risk and investors may incur a profit or a loss. Every investor’s situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance and time horizon before making any investment. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with y our financial advisor about your individual situation.

Pioneering Women

Written by admin on . Posted in Business, PHILANTHROPY & VOLUNTEERING


Heather Kirk-Davidoff, Amanda Loudin

March 2017/April 2017

Everyone knows that Columbia is a “planned community.” But who, exactly, planned it?

James Rouse and his staff, along with the 14 experts who constituted a “Work Group,” came up with the design for streets and houses. They designated areas for commercial and recreational use. But they knew their plans alone wouldn’t breathe life into the community. “Rouse would always say, our work is to build the structures that will allow the people to form community,” says Barbara Kellner, director of the Columbia Archives. So while the Columbia plan called for indoor and outdoor gathering spaces in each village center, it was up to community members to figure out what should happen there.

But Rouse and his team may have underestimated what women would want. “The thought had been that women would be looking for things like art classes and coffee klatches,” says Kellner. But this was the early 60’s and these were, by and large, college-educated women.” When the first families arrived, she says, “There wasn’t much here.” During this period, a time of social change, Kellner points out, “Many of these women had greater ambitions for themselves and their community.”

The Columbia Women’s Center became a place where women could come together for consciousness raising circles. They got together and shared ideas, coming up with plans with which to create the changes they wanted to see in their community. These women started a cooperative nursery school, a women’s art gallery, an orchestra and many of the nonprofits that continue to serve the county today.

“If you were here in the beginning, you were a charter member of everything that happened,” explains Helen Ruther, a Columbia pioneer. “If you wanted something to happen, you had to start it yourself.”

And that’s how Columbia really got planned. The families that moved here wanted ways to connect, ways to advocate for their interests and ways to enrich their lives. More often than not, it was the women who formed the relationships and founded the organizations that made those things possible. Here are some of those women. Just a few of the many who made Columbia the community it is today. – H.K.D


Pat Hatch couldn’t have realized in 1981 that her early vision for improved immigrant services in Howard County would be needed more than ever 35 years later. At the time, Hatch was a church volunteer helping resettle families. “I saw that most of them were struggling,” she says. “The programs available to them back then were one-size-fits-all and they are not one-size-fits-all clients.”

Her determination to better serve the county’s immigrant population led to a joint effort between Howard Community College and the Columbia Foundation called the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network (FIRN). Hatch was a one-woman show, who led “lots of volunteers” to work with 90 people that first year. “By the end of the third year, we were serving 600 people and we applied for a second staff person,” she explains.

Today the organization provides immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from more than 75 countries access to community resources. Hatch spent 16 years guiding and running FIRN and then decided to move on.

Hatch’s work with FIRN very much formed what she does today as a retiree, working full time leading refugee and immigrant resources ministry for the Mission to North America for the Presbyterian Church in America. “As I got ready to retire, I told people I was looking for my next step,” she says, “and that led me to this.”

While the work has never been easy, Hatch’s strong sense of community and faith have kept her at it. “It’s amazing how it has all unfolded,” she says. “ – A.L.


“I was interested in the two things that have been the least successful parts of Columbia,” May Ruth Seidel explains. “Public transportation and affordable housing.” Seidel says that Jim Rouse counseled that public transportation would have to wait until Columbia was fully populated, she says. “Well, we’re there and we’re still waiting.”

Seidel didn’t wait for affordable housing— she promoted it while serving on Howard County’s Housing and Community Development Board through the 1980s and she organized the Howard County Housing Alliance in 1987. She also played a key role in establishing Howard County’s first homeless shelter, the Audrey Robbins Shelter.

Born and raised in Baltimore, Seidel moved to Columbia in 1970 with her husband, Henry, a pediatrician who founded the Columbia Medical Plan. “The year we moved here, my youngest son went away to college and I retired, so I put my energy into the community,” she says. The Community Action Council (CAC) was the focus of her attention at first—she joined the board of directors in 1971 and served as president from 1972 to 75. Together with CAC staff Dotty Moore, Seidel promoted Head Start throughout Howard County.

The Columbia Forum is the work that Seidel likes to talk about these days. The group formed out of an effort to engage the community in a conversation about what Columbia could—and should—become. “We started with eight or 10 people who sat around my table and talked about community over sherry and cheese and crackers,” she says. Ten years later, the group engaged the whole community to celebrate Columbia’s 25th anniversary with a “Columbia Voyage.” The “Voyage” began with a conference, led to a series of task groups and resulted in “An Agenda for Columbia” with input from over 1,000 people. – H. K. D.


Helen Ruther moved to Columbia with her husband and two young children four months after the community officially opened. Six weeks later, she found herself sitting next to the president of the Howard County League of Women Voters, Anita Iribe, at an elementary school meeting. Before long, Ruther was a board member. “If Jim Rouse was the father of Columbia, Anita Iribe was the mother,” Ruther says. “The league ended up acting as a kind of liaison between the county and Columbia in the early days.”

Through her work with the league, Ruther came to know many of the elected officials in Howard County. She served as the Town Center representative to the Columbia Association board from 1974 to 77 and was later appointed to the Planning Board where she served for 15 years. “I didn’t know a thing about planning when I started, but it was so interesting. I learned a lot.”

Ruther’s interests extend far beyond politics. In 1968, she and a friend, Marsha Gorrie, founded the Columbia Film Society. “The first movie we ever showed was a Japanese Western called “Yojimbo,” she says. “It was so violent!” A number of people walked out before the movie ended, Ruther says. “Marsha and I hid in the bathroom so we didn’t have to face them.” Fortunately, people returned the following month, and things improved after that. The club is still running, 49 years later, and Ruther still serves as the society’s treasurer. – H.K. D.


Doris Ligon’s husband always told her to “stop thinking about it and do it” when it came to establishing an African art museum in Howard County. After about five years of thinking, she finally did. That was in 1980 and today, Ligon continues to bring the artworks of Africa to the community.

“I was learning how to become a docent in the 1970s and I realized that not many people were learning about African art and people,” she explains. “Finally I decided to start an educational institution with the plan of encouraging a positive view of African art.”

Ligon’s vision brought the first museum to the county, and she poured her own knowledge and financial backing into making it a success. She also ensured that the museum formed a partnership with the public school system and Howard Community College to expand its education mission. Young people, she says, are receptive to learning, and at the same time, honest. “They’ll tell you when they are bored,” she says. “If you don’t do your job well, it encourages no one to learn about your subject.”

Today Ligon’s impact on the community is far reaching and her love of the subject matter keeps her going. That said, the 80-year-old ball of energy is looking forward to finding the right person to carry on her work sometime in the near future. “I didn’t start this to stop it,” she says. “But I am searching for the next leader to take it over.” – A. L.


Howard County has always treasured the arts and at the center of that passion is the Columbia Pro Cantare, a mixed volunteer chorus of more than 100 members. Director Frances Dawson founded the chorus back in 1977, inspired by the Rouse vision of Columbia as a place where residents could find and grow their artistic talents. “We started by filling a summer need with the BSO, but it became clear that the cantare was of value to the community,” she explains. “Over time it became a full-time job for me.”

Today the cantare continues to entertain throughout the region, offering up performances of works spanning centuries and from around the world. Through it all, Dawson has remained a tireless champion of the arts in Howard County. “I hear from new people moving to the area all the time and this serves as a sense of community for them,” she says. “I never tire of hearing their stories. It’s rewarding to hear what the cantare means to people.”

There’s no question that the cantare has been Dawson’s life’s work, and she worries about its future, as audience sizes dwindle and fundraising becomes an ever more daunting task. “This is something everyone in the arts is facing,” she says. “But the sound of the music and the friendships I have made reinforce why I do it.” Columbia Pro Cantare will celebrate its 40th anniversary as Columbia celebrates its 50th with a concert in May, 2017. – A.L.


We Remember…

Libby Rouse was married to Columbia founder James Rouse until 1973. Libby was instrumental in the formation of the Family Life Center, a resource for children and families that still operates today, and was part of the team that founded the Kittamaqundi Community, an ecumenical church in Columbia Town Center. A statue of Libby Rouse as a child, sculpted by her son, is nestled by a pond in the church’s Sacred Garden on Vantage Point Road.

Florence Bain moved to Columbia at age 70 and made sure that the concerns of seniors were considered in Columbia’s early development. Bain served on Howard County’s Commission on Aging and advocated for the creation of a senior center, which finally opened in 1983 and was named for her.

Louise Eberhardt came to Columbia in 1969 to work for the Columbia Cooperative Ministry. She soon began to gather women for support and consciousness raising. These groups led to the development of the Women’s Resource Center which opened in March 1973.

Peg Zabawa, founder of Mrs. Z’s, an early Columbia restaurant that offered homemade soups and breads and served as a gathering place for the community. After the restaurant burned down in 1979, Zabawa continued to offer a monthly dinner in her home to people involved with the Growth Center, a day program at Kahler Hall for people recovering from mental illness.

Ruth Keeton was elected to the Howard County Council in 1974, along with a full slate of Columbia residents, and served until 1988, chairing the council from 1979 to 1984. An advocate for affordable housing, Keeton was appointed to the Maryland State Housing Task Force. An assisted living facility on Ruth Keeton Way in Columbia is named in her honor.

Wylene Burch founded the Howard County Center of African American Culture of Columbia in 1981, with displays based on her extensive personal collection and passion for teaching Black history.

Maggie Brown arrived in Columbia in 1970 with her husband and three children. After some time as a community volunteer, she worked for the Columbia Association in a variety of capacities for more than two decades until she was appointed president of the CA in 2001. She served until 2010.

High Flier

Written by admin on . Posted in Business, WHAT'S ON HER MIND


Martha Thomas

March 2017/April 2017

Jean Moon moved to Columbia in 1971 and a few months later started freelancing for the local newspaper, the “Columbia Flier.” She quickly worked her way up to become general manager of what eventually became Patuxent Publishing, where she remained until 1995. Today Moon runs a public relations firm that focuses on Howard County businesses and organizations. She has been involved in a number of philanthropic projects, including the Women’s Giving Circle, the Columbia Foundation, the Columbia Festival of the Arts, and was a founder of the Howard County Poetry and Literary Society, known as HoCoPoLitSo.

Q Columbia’s founding was based on progressive ideals. Has that vision had an effect on Howard County as a whole?

Columbia started off with such a strong identity, its own brand—before we even used that term. Initially it was a very geographically contained area and we thought what happened here would be contained here. But the early Columbians benefitted financially from being early arrivers; they bought their homes at prices that very quickly escalated. So Columbians who were attracted to the new town sold their homes, and some moved outside of Columbia where much larger lots and homes were available. They ended up influencing the region.

Q People didn’t necessarily come for the home prices.

Not at all. People came here for a reason. I don’t know of many communities that were as intentional. The founders said, we’re going to have the janitor living next to the company president. We’re going to have blacks and whites living together. The idea of Columbia was immensely popular. We arrived in 1971 on Columbia’s fourth birthday. It was already a community with an identity. It was one of the first planned communities in the U.S.

Q So the people who moved here were looking for that kind of diversity.

They were yearning for it. There was a pent-up demand in the market by people who had felt excluded. Even the religious institutions were different. We had an Interfaith Center. If you were a church going person, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish families all worshiped in the same facility. The ecumenical movement was also occurring in American society at that time. A particular set of historical occurrences influenced Columbia. On top of that, we had this charismatic founder who communicated that you could come here and do things you couldn’t do anywhere else.

Q Was Columbia a good place for women back then?

When they talked about it being a community open for all, they were really talking about race and income. They weren’t talking about gender equality. It’s interesting to remember the cauldron out of which Columbia was born. The great civil rights movement, to be followed by the women’s movement which gathered incredible momentum in the late 60s. And there was also the Vietnam War. All of these informed the consciousness of the people attracted to Columbia. The people who settled here were far more engaged than subsequent waves of arrivals. Nothing was here. There were no organizations. The people who arrived in this Martian landscape had to create everything.

Q So you residents set about creating things?

I once had lunch with Jim Rouse and told him I thought what marked Columbia was that everyone thought they could do something about it. He said, ‘About what?’ I said it didn’t matter. There was this sense of possibility.

Q What were some of those possibilities?

Women formed their own coop nurseries, for example. At the beginning women did all that by volunteer. They formed the rape crisis center, the domestic violence center. The consciousness raising was going on nationwide, but it was more concentrated here.

Q You mentioned to me that the founders expected women to drive shuttles as volunteers.

We’d have to go back in the archives to confirm that. The founders seemed to expect women to get together and have coffee. They actually considered having a shuttle that would be driven by women volunteers. By the time women got here there was no way that was going to happen. When I got here, there was a twice weekly get-together in the morning for women. They had day care, so women could hatch out their plans together. Women very quickly hit the ground and realized that there were needs to be addressed, and they began creating institutions. It was the women who created many of the institutions that we still have.

Q What was your experience when you moved here?

When I came to Columbia and couldn’t get a job as an English teacher right away, I decided to create a Women’s Studies class at Howard Community College. In the summer of ’71 when I was like suicidal because I’d left my (university) job in Milwaukee, I was sitting at the pool one day and looked at the Columbia “Flyer” and said, ‘I could do a better job than this.’ I was one of those people who started in journalism when I was 11. I’d worked on school newspapers all through high school, and worked for the Daily Oklahoman when I was in college. I showed up at the (Flier) editor’s doorstep. I started in November 1971 as a freelancer and was editor by March of 1973. I continued to teach Women’s Studies at night for about five years. As I moved from being editor to general manager, I hired many women who were taking my classes. Women were just starting to enter the workforce. Most of the women in my classes were young mothers.

Q So it sounds as if women played major roles in your business and in other Columbia institutions.

We should feel very proud of all the institutions women have created here. They are the backbone of the community we have today. Our caring, compassionate community rests on the foundational efforts of strong women. Women have become more and more leaders in philanthropy and civic leadership. We have our voice, we have our vote, we have our time. But we also have our money to spend to change the world.

Big Ideas Start Small

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Heather Kirk-Davidoff

March 2017/April 2017

When you think of a laboratory, what images come to mind? Men in white lab coats pouring liquid from beaker to beaker? Edison’s tangle of wires and filaments and switches? Do you imagine the Google offices with 20-somethings writing code on white boards between skateboarding breaks?

Add to those images this one: a little room with a fireplace framed by two built-in couches that face each other. A cozy spot, designed for conversation—and a place for inventing.

“The Nook” was what Libby Rouse called her favorite spot in her Baltimore house. Jimmy Rouse, James and Libby’s oldest child, remembers the discussions his mother and his father had there. “Their conversation began over cocktails in the Nook, followed by dinner together with us kids. After dinner, they’d go back to the Nook and keep talking.”

James Rouse brought his experience as a banker and a developer to those conversations. Libby brought her yearning for community. According to Jimmy, his mother had felt lonely as a child, playing more with her dog than with other children. As a young mother raising children in suburban Baltimore, she was struck by how isolated she felt and challenged her husband to be part of the solution.

In a profile of James Rouse in the February 24, 1967, issue of “Life” magazine, Rouse gives his wife credit: “If a man wants a reasonably balanced life he strongly needs a protesting wife who sets up a counterforce. The most important single force, philosophically, has been my wife … She has felt the inadequacy of the city and its fracturing impact, the absence of a rich community. I have come to see through her eyes the requirements of family and community.”

According to her son, Libby Rouse was a strong proponent of cul-de-sacs, which she felt created natural gathering spaces for families. She proposed mail kiosks for the same reason: neighbors would run into each other while getting their mail and strike up conversations with each other. Just like her Nook, these design elements brought people close enough together that they could talk.

Nowadays, cul-de-sacs are out of fashion. For many of us, the mail kiosks lost their appeal after our first winter in Columbia. But Libby’s belief that community arises when people can face each other and talk still rings true. At my church, we get our best ideas—for projects or for prayer practices—from small groups. I’ve been at tables in the Housing Department or the County Council building where the conversation nudged an idea closer to reality. And sometimes, as my husband and I settle down in front of our fireplace to muse about how we might solve some of the world’s problems, we offer a toast to Libby Rouse and her Nook.

Community is something we create together—and we can destroy it as well. Online, we seem emboldened to say things to each other that we would never say face-to-face. Up close, we can see when our words sting. It can be tempting to avoid looking our neighbors in the face when we’re not sure how they voted or where they stand on issues that matter to us. Separation may keep us safe, but it also keeps us stuck. When we reach out, when we meet, the friction we create may be just enough to generate a spark of insight.

If you’ve ever been to the Kittamaqundi lakefront, you’ve seen the life-sized bronze statue of Jim Rouse standing with his brother, gesturing with open hands. You’ll have to look harder to find the statue of Libby Rouse. A couple of years ago, her son Jimmy made a sculpture of Libby as a young girl, looking wistfully into the distance with her dog seated at her side. The statue is nestled behind a small pond at the back of the Sacred Garden of the Kittamaqundi Community church, my congregation.

There isn’t a fireplace in the garden, but there are benches. Some are situated for solo contemplations, but there are also pairs of benches perfect for conversation. Stop by the next time you’re around Vantage Point Road. Make a date to meet someone there. Just say it’s your laboratory and suggest that you invent something together.

Heather Kirk-Davidoff is a mom, foster mom, and the Enabling Minister of the Kittamaqundi Community Church in Columbia. She blogs at