An Interview with Gertrude Makell, President of the Galesville Community Center
There’s a lot happening in Galesville these days, from ballfield commemorations to public genealogy workshops. Hope Stewart of Four Rivers talked with Gertrude Makell, President of the Galesville Community Center and a Four Rivers Heritage Area Board member, about this South County town and her efforts to preserve its history.
The Galesville Community Center went from being uninhabitable to a beautiful center. Tell me about this process?
The Galesville Community Center is located in one of the few remaining Rosenwald Schools in Anne Arundel County (schools built for African American children during segregation), so we knew its story was an important part of our community’s past and a history worth preserving. In 2003, we reorganized the community center organization with new officers and started meeting at Ebenezer AME Church. We made our building’s preservation a priority, but first we needed funding. Jack Smith from Galesville Heritage Society (who sadly passed away recently) provided the first $500 to help us form a 501c3. Community Development gave us funding to stabilize the structure, a grant from Preservation Maryland helped us obtain an architect, and then we received a Maryland State Bond Bill of $200,000 with matching funds from Anne Arundel County. We were ready to go!
You also played a big role in reviving the history of the Hot Sox. How did that come about?
For anyone who doesn’t know, the Hot Sox were Galesville’s sandlot team that played from the 1910s until the 1980s. In 2015 we received grants from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority and the Smithsonian to feature the Hot Sox as part of the Smithsonian’s travelling exhibit, “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America.” It was timely because we also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Hot Sox’s formation the same year. We held a community day where former players came out and held an exhibition game to help us all relive those happy times. Now with a new bond bill from Anne Arundel County, we’re hoping to dedicate parts of a renovated field to former players, including John Makell who was the first African American Director of Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation. In order to keep the Hot Sox tradition alive we still sometimes do Sunday fish fries in the old tradition as a way to bring everyone together with good food and good company.
You’ve done so much for the community, do you have any plans to take a step back and relax?
I’d love to! But the progress we’ve made is too important, we need to keep our momentum going while waiting for our next generation of community leaders to emerge. There is still so much history to preserve and stories to tell even with all we’ve accomplished. It’s my hope that someone eager, energetic, and committed will be willing to take over, but it’s a lot to ask of someone. Being an advocate, always making sure our community is represented and at the table when important decisions are being made, it can be very tiring and time consuming.
Now you’ve started doing genealogy workshops at the Galesville Community Center. Why do you think they’ve been so successful?
We started the genealogy workshops for Maryland Day this year with the theme “Discovering, Documenting, Preserving, Sharing and Celebrating Family Histories of Galesville.” We realized people just want to know more about their family histories. No matter how much they explore there is always more to learn. A special outcome of this research is how many Galesville residents have uncovered a shared past. It really gives them a deeper appreciation of their community, friends, and neighbors after discovering how closely we are all linked together.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Galesville?
There is just something special about our town. To many people it really epitomizes the idea of community. We have so much going on! We love hosting groups and visitors. Since our special educational focus is on youth and senior citizens, we’ll be starting a mentorship program with the senior students at Southern High School. We’re also working on a book about African American sites in Galesville from the 19th and 20th century which will include the Ebenezer AME Church, Wilson House (the home of a freed slave who was one of the first black men to own land in Galesville), and of course the Rosenwald School. And soon we’ll be part of the Frederick Douglass celebration. So come down and visit us!
Are you interested in genealogical research or exploring your personal history in South County? Don’t miss the upcoming “Family Tree Friday” workshops at Galesville Community Center coming up on September 8 and 22. Click here: GCC Workshop Flyer September 2017 — for the flier and more information.