“Celebrating Our Past, Creating Our Future.”

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 Ceremony

Gambrill State Park- July 31, 2007

Address by Kirk P. Rodgers, Grandson of Fred W. Besley

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 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.

Here 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.

DNR's Mark Maas assists Helen with her ceremonial duties while her five children look onShe 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.

Helen Besley Overington admires 100 lit candles on her birthday cake. Her grandchildren were on hand to help her blow them out.

The time capsule contains the following message:

Jim Garrett & his wife reading the contents of the Time Capsule 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:

  • Displays greatness
  • 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!

The final Centennial Plaque marking the spot where the Centennial Time Capsule is now buried at Gambrill State Park


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

Photo Captions:

  • 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.