Christine A. Rowett
For a man with his own impressive record of service, William
Donald Schaefer is quick to dole out praise.
Of his driver, a man who has worked for the former mayor and governor for two years, Schaefer recently said, "That guy can do anything."
He speaks of Marion Pines, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies with whom he works closely, with deep respect and a bit of awe.
And he is equally respectful toward the student interns he is working with this semester. "The three are very bright and very different," Schaefer said. "And they're all self-motivated. They're smart kids."
But these days, Schaefer is perhaps most impressed with the business people and leaders in the Hampden area of Baltimore.
In his role as a visiting fellow at IPS, he developed the Homewood Business Revitalization Project, which involves Hopkins students and merchants in the area. Last month the project was kicked off with "It's Happening in Hampden," a walking tour of the neighborhood followed by a luncheon.
Since then, project members have met weekly to discuss strategies, goals and hopes for the area. So far, suggestions have included improvements to the curbs, sidewalks and lighting.
"When I came to Hopkins, one of the purposes was to bring the world of academia and the business community closer together," Schaefer said. "I see Hampden really prospering. Hopkins could be a real help there, not in telling them what to do, but in helping them with the resources that they have."
At the beginning of the HBRP, three student interns were awarded positions in working with the group. Seniors Alexandra Spessot and Jamie Boston and graduate student Kanta-yanee Whitt were asked by Schaefer for their assessments of the neighborhood and what improvements would benefit it.
All concluded that in order to entice more shoppers-- including Hopkins students--merchants could offer incentives such as discounts and taste-testing events. Spessot also noted that parking and excess trash were problems in Hampden.
"We have a lot of goals," Spessot said. "We're looking to have some visible results, changes in getting transportation there and marketing."
Spessot is quick to stress--as is Schaefer--that the university is working in conjunction with Hampden business people, not around them.
"Hopkins is taking a supporting role rather than a leading role in this project," she said. "Hopkins is a powerful entity, but we can be a powerful assistant."
Alice Ann Finnerty is president of the Hampden Merchants Association and another object of Schaefer's respect. "She's a very smart, aggressive visionary," he said.
Finnerty has owned The Turnover Shop, a second-hand and antiques store, since 1978. In that time, she said, merchants and community members have tried to work together to improve the area, not always with positive results.
"Lots of times egos get in the way of success," she said.
Schaefer's presence has had a positive influence.
"We can learn from the past and his vision for the future," Finnerty said. "Pride in this community can be renewed in a very real way. That pride is important and has been validated by Gov. Schaefer. That has meant a lot. Everyone has been able to work together here and put the egos aside."
Pines was instrumental in merging the efforts of Schaefer, Hampden merchants and Hopkins students.
"We have this wonderful resource in our midst," she said of Schaefer. "He thinks it's wonderful that the university is getting involved in the communities. And this is a way for students to connect with him."
Schaefer has definite ideas for improvement.
"If you have a dirty neighborhood, people live in a dirty neighborhood. If you have a clean neighborhood, people are proud of it," he said. "The people out here don't want dirt. They don't want a trashy area. These are good people."
He is encouraged by the positive reaction and cooperation he has found among Hampden business people, and credits Finnerty as a leader.
"So long as Alice Ann is there, it'll go well," he said. "I'm more enthused over Hampden, I guess, than any other business area."
Rotting benches, peeling paint and shoddy storefront signs should be eliminated and replaced, Schaefer said, to enhance the character of the area without changing it. The students have already discussed ways to get some of the work done, including offering children at the Hampden Family Center prizes for cleaning store windows.
Spessot said it's a privilege to be able to discuss such plans with Schaefer, an indisputable icon in this city.
"Initially, it was very intimidating," Spessot said. "He has an overwhelming presence."
Now, however, she calls him the "spirit" of the HBRP and says that listening to the former governor speak has been inspiring. He recently began hosting "Suppers with Schaefer" at IPS, where he shares insights on his life and career in politics and Baltimore.
"He'll just talk about random events in his life and keep you mesmerized," Spessot said. "That's a gift, I think. And it's a really good experience to hear how just one person made a difference."
Schaefer admits he was somewhat intimidated himself when he started his career in academia last year.
"It was a new venture for me," he said. "When I was mayor and governor, I could say to student interns, 'OK, go do this.' Now, I can't tell them. I can suggest things, but I can't tell them.
"There's a real knack to teaching," the former public servant added. "Anybody can talk, but teaching, that's something different. I don't have that knack yet. But I'm learning."
Go back to Previous Page