Our Final Centennial Note
Address by Kirk P. Rodgers, Grandson of Fred W. Besley
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.
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.
Watch Helen Blow Out 100 Candles
Address by Bob Webster, Western Region
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:
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:
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
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