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As Long as We Remember...

April 9, 2008

Wendi Peters – Mount Airy’s Steel Magnolia

Kevin E. Dayhoff

People were delighted to see former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., last Friday when he came to Frederick County in support of Mount Airy Councilwoman Wendi Wagner Peter’s re-election bid.


He charmed a packed room at the American Legion, proving that his popularity among voters has certainly not waned since that fateful 2006 gubernatorial election, which – hopefully – only temporarily ended 20 years in public office.


As an added bonus the event’s master of ceremonies was none other than Blaine Young, a local business owner and host of Frederick’s Forum on WFMD (930 AM).


It was not necessarily a surprise to see that it took someone of Councilwoman Peters’ clout to bring out the former governor. Many have been impressed with how she has conducted herself in her community leadership role in the rough and tumble world of small town politics, a fact that was not lost on Governor Ehrlich. He praised Councilwoman Peters’ hard work, leadership, accomplishments and vision for the town.


He also reminded us that most political observers agree that elected office at the municipal level can be the most stressful of all elected positions.


In a small town, every trip to the grocery store, or the local PTA meeting, brings a municipal official up close and personal with those who may disagree, or who have a different vision for the future of a community. All too often citizens are more than willing to passionately advocate their position unpleasantly.


There is simply no place to hide.


Indeed, in the last decade, Mount Airy has developed quite a reputation for its contentious elections and unpleasant deliberations as it grapples with its growing pains.


The delightful, quintessential small town maintained a reputation for decades – from the 1950s and 60s – for a high quality of life. Then it began to be “discovered” by people in the throes of urban flight in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Being located near the upgraded Route 40 – Interstate 70 – exacerbated growth pressures in the days of inexpensive gasoline, low taxes, and quality housing stock reasonably priced.


Some suggest that the wheels began to get wobbly as early as June 1973 when Mayor Lewis C. Dixon got into a scuffle with Frederick W. Stevens after a “meeting when Stephens presented problems with a sewer station on land he used to own,” according to the June 29, 1974, edition of “The Community Reporter.”


Mr. Stephens filed a $90,000 damage suit in Circuit Court a year after the incident claiming that he suffered “painful injuries about his face and head and was caused great mental anguish, embarrassment, and humiliation.”


My Quaker ancestors, the Wright family; along with other past members of my family – the Warfield, Grimes, Haines, Farver and Gilliss family – have lived in the area since the early 1700s and witnessed the “first wave” of “newcomers” who came to the area now known as Mount Airy when the railroad arrived.


In a book, “Towns and Villages of Carroll County,” now-Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich wrote that after the railroad came in 1831 “Mount Airy became the equivalent of … Dodge City. Instead of cowboys, the bars and ladies served the railroad men. Fights were common, and drunkenness was as inevitable as the sunset. A jail was required, and built. It burned down in 1916, but it served a busy role while it lasted.


The town is situated at the highest point between Braddock Heights and Baltimore at 830 feet. This helped explain how the railroad town got its name. Numerous accounts involve railroad men complaining “about the cold winds (that) whistled along Parr’s Ridge,” according to Commissioner Minnich. “One of them, the story goes, said something about this being an airy mount, and the name stuck.”


Certainly Councilwoman Peters entered community leadership with her eyes wide open. She is a third generation elected official in the town that straddles the Carroll and Frederick County line at a point where four Maryland counties – Howard, Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll – come together at the Parr’s Spring where the Patapsco River begins.


She has served Mount Airy for 18 years in various capacities, the last four on the town council. Her father served four terms on the council from 1988 – 2004, and her grandfather served one term from 1960 – 1962.


In the May 5 election, Councilwoman Peters is joined by two other incumbents and a former council member seeking to fill three seats.


If there is anyone with the ability, competence and capability to lead Mount Airy into the future, it is Councilwoman Peters.


In her remarks last Friday she identified a number of key challenges facing her community. They included rebuilding the downtown area after the devastating fire last September 2; maintaining a conservative fiscal approach in the face of challenging financial times; identifying and establishing long term solutions to the water problems that have faced the town for over 20 years; and encouraging sustainable economic development and jobs growth.


With the appropriate leadership, all of Mount Airy’s challenges are opportunities to continue the town’s otherwise great reputation as a wonderful place to live, conduct a business and raise a family.


Many agree that leadership is found in Councilwoman Peters.


In consideration of her commitment to her hometown, along with her vast institutional knowledge and a firm vision for the future, she has consistently persevered to make the difficult decisions necessary to move the town forward.


With her easy accessibility, excellent educational background, keen wit, and friendly confidence, voters are looking forward to her re-election and many more years of leadership from Mount Airy’s true steel magnolia.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:


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