Two deaths hit the Worcester County community hard this week. Though the two individuals who died two days apart had no direct connection, their deaths impacted thousands near and far.
First, Rhonda Walsh, a teacher in Worcester County Public Schools for 22 years, most recently Berlin Intermediate, died after an extended sarcoma cancer battle. Walsh leaves behind three kids, two of whom are in high school and one in middle school, and husband Cory Walsh, business development officer and assistant vice president at Taylor Bank and a long-time youth sports coach. I coached the couple’s two sons in soccer a few years back and it just happened to be when the health issues arose. It’s a lovely family with deep roots throughout the community. Though Rhonda has had tremendous health challenges since her diagnosis, her passing last Saturday came far sooner than anyone expected, according to family friends.
Rhonda’s death came one week after the Stephen Decatur varsity soccer team held a “Yellow Out Seahawks Fight Against Sarcoma” game in support of Walsh, whose daughter Emma plays on the team. The players and fans wore yellow, and a bake sale was held, raising more than $1,200 for the family. A Go Fund Me page has been set up for “The Walsh Family” to help the family through the challenging time, raising about $19,000 to date. Of her friend, page organizer April Gershenfeld wrote, “Our dear friend Rhonda Walsh lost her battle with cancer on Saturday evening. She was a true warrior and a hero. Rhonda will be dearly missed by so many people whose lives she touched. Our hearts go out to her family and so many people have asked what they can do. We are revitalizing the go fund me for people who want to contribute and also suggest gift cards.”
On Monday, Hale Harrison died unexpectedly at the age of 75. His numerous achievements and contributions can be reviewed in the feature story and obituary. I wanted to share a couple stories about my personal interactions with him.
Though I knew of him growing up, most notably him eating breakfast at the Captain’s Table where I worked as a teen with his friend Jimmy Hall and later as one of the owners of a competing newspaper, my first professional interaction with Hale was in 1998 when he was serving as chairman of the AGH Board of Trustees. He wanted to present the hospital’s financial review to me as a newspaper editor ahead of any article. We didn’t meet at the hospital or one of his hotels, restaurants or meeting spaces. Instead, he wanted to review the financials at his company’s offices on the Plim Plaza property. At the time, these offices were surprisingly modest. He led me to a small room –seemingly not used by anyone for a long time — to review the hospital’s finances. He struck me as authentic and not wrapped up in being showy. It told me a lot about him. He was a private man who preferred a low profile.
Some years later, Harrison sought me out on a Friday night in Ocean City to let me know about a union vote that had just occurred. There was an employee union that was looking at the time to organize his company’s employees. It’s been 20 years at least, but my memory of it was he was a bit upset at something I wrote in this space about being open minded to the unionization effort. Immediately after the union vote was held, I can remember Harrison approaching me with paper in hand at a local happy hour to inform me of the results. He made his position clear, saying I could criticize his buildings or restaurants but not to ever claim he did not treat his people well. He had a point to make and he delivered it. I do not recall painting the picture he cited, but I admired his passion. He was not going to stand for any claims his employees were not treated well. History has shown this was a focus of his in his career based on the long tenures of numerous employees within his company.
Throughout a life of tremendous private success, Hale was also humble and private about those pursuits and successes. Additionally, Hale and his family business have proven time and time again to be charitable in nature helping countless families with various examples of help outside of the limelight. Former Ocean City Mayor and State Senator Jim Mathias summed it up in general terms saying, “Every element of who we are as a community, he was always there to do his part. … We are a better community because of Hale. We are a stronger community because of Hale. …”
The future may prove me wrong, but I just don’t see the addition of electric bikes to the Boardwalk as a huge deal. I spent much more time than usual on the Boardwalk last summer due to my teenager working at The Kite Loft, including dozens of walks on early summer mornings.
For the most part, the scene on the Boardwalk was idyllic even amid a sea of multiple users. There were joggers, walkers, strollers and a variety of bikers with the majority use being walking in my opinion. The addition of e-bikes should be barely noticeable. I could be wrong, but I don’t see their popularity has reached the point where a major change will hurt the Boardwalk experience.
The council plans to review the addition of the Class 1 e-bikes to the Boardwalk over the fall, winter and spring months. An update before the season will be nice, but it’s going to take a summer season to see whether any changes need to be made regarding electric bikes. My guess is all will be fine, and the city was wise to revisit the issue before a challenge came from advocates for the Americans with Disabilities Act.