Our Final Centennial Note
Daughter of Maryland’s First State Forester Celebrated 100th Birthday
Officiated at the
Maryland State Forest & Park Service
Centennial Time Capsule
Gambrill State Park- July 31, 2007
Address by Kirk P. Rodgers, Grandson of Fred
Helen Besley Overington was born a
hundred years ago on this day. It was a different time in our country. Our
flag had only 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii and Alaska had
not yet been admitted to the Union. There were only 8,000 automobiles in the US
and only 144 miles of paved highways. Only 8% of our homes had a telephone.
And it was a different time for our citizens. Average life expectancy was only
47 years and 95% of all births took place at home. But we didn’t celebrate
Mothers Day yet. Nor Fathers Day either.
in Maryland we were just beginning our amazing century of progress in scientific
management of our forests and parks. Fred Besley had been hired as State
Forester just a few months before she was born. He had registered the deed to
the first state forest land in April of 1907 at the County Court House in
Garrett County. This was the 1200 acres of forest land donated by the family of
Robert Garrett that launched forestry in Maryland.
And in June of 1907 the deed to the first 46 acres of land
that was to become the Patapsco Valley State Park was registered in Baltimore. This grant from the family of John Glenn was the seed from which our system of
state parks grew.
She watched the whole career of Fred Besley from 1907 until
he retired at age 70 in 1942 and went on to found our family business of
managing forests which he and my father bought during and just after World War
II. When Fred Besley passed away in1960 she became one of the directors of our
family corporation where she served for many years. And today she is our
Director Emeritus who is always present at one or more meetings of the Board of
Directors each year. She keeps a watchful eye on us.
The simple fact is that she has lived through and
participated in the whole century of forestry and parks which we have been
honoring for the last year and a half. It is no wonder that Maryland’s forest
and park historians fell in love with her when they began to collect information
for the Centennial two years ago. Her clear mind and astonishing memory has
been an invaluable resource for all of us. When historians had questions about
the life of Fred Besley or his views on many issues, Holly was often the
ultimate authority. Ross Kimmel, Offut Johnson, Champ Zumbrun and Robert Bailey
who are here with us today can all attest to this. The Centennial would simply
hot have been the same without her.
Our family history would also be unimaginable without her. She is our icon just as
she is an icon to Maryland forestry and parks. Many of her family are here with
us today. Her son and four daughters, their spouses, grandchildren, great
grandchildren, nieces and nephews are all here. By my last count most of the
Board of Directors of Besley & Rodgers Inc as well as many of its stockholders
are here smiling back at me as I speak.
Helen is central to a family legacy in forestry that was
honored by the Maryland Forests Association in an award presented in 2005. In
the Tea Room where we will celebrate her 100th birthday in a few
minutes you will see a picture of her with a firm grip on that award plaque. It
is on a poster that shows many photographs of her amazing life that I invite you
all to enjoy along with other photos and articles that are on the walls.
How appropriate that Helen will be the person to throw the
first handful of dirt on the Centennial Time Capsule. And how pleased and proud
would be her father, Fred W. Besley, if he could look down on this ceremony.
The time capsule contains the following message:
Burial of the Centennial time
capsule was deferred to July 31, 2007, to coincide with the 100th
birthday of Helen (“Holly”) Besley Overington, the surviving child
of Maryland’s first State Forester, Fred Wilson Besley. Mrs.
Overington was born in the year that her father recorded the deed
for the first public forest land in Maryland. Since her wonderful
life spanned all but the first few months of forestry and parks’
first century, it seemed appropriate to mark her Centennial with
burial of the Maryland Forestry and Parks Centennial time capsule.
Address by Bob Webster, Western Region
Manager Forestry Service, Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources
It is an honor to represent the Maryland Forest Service on the
occasion that formally closes the first 100 years of the Maryland Forest
Service and all it has accomplished and symbolically begins the next 100
years of forest conservation achievements. It is also an honor to be sharing
the program with Helen Besley Overington, the daughter of Fred W. Besley,
Maryland’s legendary first state forester. Helen celebrates her 100th
birthday today. As the daughter of Fred W. Besley, Helen was an “eyewitness”
to the very beginnings of Forest Conservation in Maryland, traveling with
her family around the State of Maryland on occasions when her father
conducted forest conservation work that included:
Measuring champion trees –“the roots of the big Tree
Champion contest are planted in Maryland.”
Assisting in conducting lantern slide programs. This
initiated the very beginnings of environmental education in Maryland;
Serving as a campsite host at Patapsco State Park -
introducing outdoor recreation on state forest reserves for the first
time to many Baltimore area residents and Maryland citizens.
Participating in winter recreational activities (including
attempting to Ski) on Maryland’s first public lands recreational ski
resort at New Germany State park in the early 1940’s.
Pioneering outdoor recreation in Maryland and was one of
the early members of the Mountain Club of Maryland.
An article that appeared last week in The Record Herald was
brought to my attention. The article was titled “A Wonderful Life” and
recognized Helen Overington’s many incredible achievements on the occasion
of her 100th birthday anniversary. It reminded me of the 1940’s movie “It’s
A Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart, who played the character of George
Bailey. In one scene, George Bailey has a chance to see what the town of
Bedford Falls would have been like had he not lived. It wasn’t very pretty.
Just think what the landscape of Maryland might have looked like had Helen’s
father not been Maryland’s first State Forester and walked “every cowpath” –
as he would say -through all of Maryland’s existing forested landscape.
Maryland would look much different – it would most certainly have fewer
State Forests, fewer State parks, and fewer forests on private lands.
In the beginning of 1907, the year Helen Overington was born,
outdoor recreation did not exist on state public lands, because there were
no state public lands in Maryland. Today more than 11 million people visit
Maryland’s state parks and state forests each year to enjoy all aspects of
outdoor recreation. It was 1907, that Mr. Besley filed the deed for the
Garrett Brothers generous land donation in Garrett County that created
Maryland’s first state forest reserve. Today, one hundred years later, the
Department of Natural Resources now manages some 500,000 acres. All in all,
today there are 47 State Parks, 5 major State Forests, 2 Marinas, and
several Natural Resource Management Areas.
It is my understanding that Fred Besley was an avid baseball
fan, and it is interesting that we are celebrating the closing of our
Forestry and Parks Centennial year and Helen Overington’s 100th birthday on
the same week that Cal Ripken was inducted into the baseball hall of fame at
Cooperstown. I believe if there were a Hall of Fame for natural resource
professionals, Fred Besley would be there along side Gifford Pinchot, Aldo
Leopold, and Benton Mackaye (the forester who founded the Appalachian Trail
system which transects Gambrill State Park) .
To be inducted into a Hall of Fame, one must have made
significant enduring contributions which I believe Fred W. Besley also
exhibited: Some of the character traits common to all "Hall of Famers"
include the following:
A visionary who pursues the vision through Persistence and Perseverance
A team leader as well as a team player
Long careers with remarkable and enduring accomplishments
The ability to inspire others to higher achievement
Able to come through and hit in the clutch during periods
of great adversity
In closing, thank you Helen Overington, Kirk Rodgers, and the
extended Fred Besley family for all your generosity, support and many
contributions that have given the Forestry and Parks Centennial events a
very personal touch throughout this past year. And of Course, Helen, we all
wish you a very happy birthday. Thank you for your example, your positive
outlook on life, and being such a wonderful role model that inspires us all!
Kirk P. Rodgers, grandson of Fred W. Besley and member of the State Forest
and Park Service Centennial Committee
Bob Webster, Western Regional Forester, Forestry Service, Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources
Helen's five children watch as DNR's Mark Maas, Assistant Park Manager for Cunningham Falls and Gambrill State Parks, assists Helen Besley Overington with her ceremonial Centennial duties.
Helen Besley Overington (seated beside her daughter Peggy Weller) received a citation from Maryland State Governor Martin O'Malley to mark her life's accomplishments on the occasion
of her 100th birthday.
Helen Besley Overington admires 100 lit candles on her birthday cake. He grandchildren were on hand to help her blow them out. Standing just behind Helen is Kirk P. Rodgers, grandson
of Fred W. Besley and author of this article. Photo by Francis "Champ" Zumbrun.
Mr. & Mrs. Jim Garrett, grandson of Robert Garrett, one of two brothers who donated what was to become the first public land in the state of Maryland. Fred W. Besley registered the deed to the first state forest land
in April of 1907 at the County Court House in Garrett County.
The final Centennial Plaque, which will be placed above the Centennial Time Capsule.