Maryland Humanities Council’s 2015 Chautauqua Living History Series Features Sports Legends

June 3, 2015

The Maryland Humanities Council (MHC), in conjunction with local partners, will present the 21st annual summer Chautauqua series in six Maryland counties from July 5 through July 15.

Free and open to the public, live local musical and theatrical acts open each show.  Living history performances by actors/scholars are followed by question and answer sessions, which spark spirited conversation and provide educational family fun. Audiences will hear from the voices of the fastest woman in the world, Wilma Rudolph; the Great Bambino, Babe Ruth; and the world’s greatest athlete, Jim Thorpe.

Chautauqua performances will take place at Garrett College in McHenry, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, the College of Southern Maryland in La Plata (as part of their Twilight Performance Series), Montgomery College in Germantown, the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville, the Cecil County Public Library’s Elkton Branch, and Cecil College in Elkton Station.

Chautauqua is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Talbot County Arts Council, the Citizens of Baltimore County, First Energy Foundation, Delmarva Power and the following on behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum: the Talbot County Arts Council, Karen and Langley Shook, St. Michaels Art League, and St. Michaels Running Festival. Partner supporters include the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival, Garrett College, the Community College of Baltimore County, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the College of Southern Maryland, Montgomery College, Cecil County Public Library, and Cecil College Elkton Station.

Featured Historical Figures

Babe Ruth (1895-1948) was an American baseball player who is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. Born George Herman Ruth in Baltimore, Maryland, Ruth had a troubled childhood which ultimately led to his being sent at the age of seven to a reformatory and orphanage, St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Ruth earned a reputation as a phenomenal pitcher and power hitter for the school’s baseball team and when he was nineteen he was offered a contract by Jack Dunn, owner of the Baltimore Orioles. After one year with Baltimore and five years with the Boston Red Sox, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees with whom he would begin his record-breaking career. As dominant player, he changed the nature of baseball with his power hitting and long home runs, earning such nicknames as “The King of Swing” or “The Sultan of Swat.” In his fourteen years as a Yankee, Ruth led the team to seven pennants and four World Series titles, and when he retired from the Boston Braves in 1935, he held 56 major league records, some of which still stand today. At the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, Babe Ruth was one of the first five inductees.

Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) was an African American athlete who was the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. Born the 20th out of 22 children in Tennessee, Rudolph suffered from infantile paralysis caused by polio which left her with a twisted leg and foot. She also suffered through double pneumonia, scarlet fever measles, mumps and whooping cough, all before her seventh birthday. Although she wore a leg brace and orthopedic shoe until the age of nine, Rudolph quickly displayed natural athletic ability once they were removed. Discovered in high school by women’s track and field pioneer coach, Ed Temple, Rudolph made a record-breaking appearance at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where she was deemed “the fastest woman in the world.” After retiring in 1962, Rudolph began a multi-faceted career as an educator, coach, and as a U.N. goodwill ambassador to French West Africa.

Jim Thorpe (1888-1953) was one of the most versatile athletes in sports. Born and raised on a Sac and Fox Nation reservation in Oklahoma, Thorpe was of mixed Native American and European ancestry. While a student at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, he excelled at every sport in which he competed – track and field, football, baseball, lacrosse, and ballroom dancing. Although Thorpe won great distinction in football, his talent for track and field earned him two gold medals at the 1912 Summer Olympics in decathlon and pentathlon, two events that allowed him to display his versatility. When awarding Thorpe his medals, King Gustav V of Sweden is reported to have said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Despite this accomplishment, Thorpe’s medals were stripped from him by the International Olympic Commission (IOC) when it was revealed that he was once paid as a semi-professional baseball player in violation of Olympic rules at that time which only allowed amateurs to compete. Thorpe would go on to play professionally in various baseball, basketball, and football leagues until the Great Depression, when he was unable to find steady employment. Even though the last years of his life were troubled, Thorpe’s legacy was restored in 1983 when his Olympic awards were reinstated by the IOC.

About the Performers/Scholars

Gene Worthington (Babe Ruth) has performed in community and professional theater for over thirty years. He brings his passion for baseball history to the stage with his presentation of Babe Ruth and appears as Teddy Roosevelt in both living history presentations and through a full-length play, Bully. His performance of frontiersman Simon Kenton recreates American frontier history. Worthington has served as the Artistic Director of the Historic Fayette Theater in Fayetteville, West Virginia, for the past 20 years, and his voice is featured as the narrator in the National Park Service’s interactive exhibit at the Thurmond, West Virginia railroad station. He is retired from the Fayette County School system after thirty years of teaching and serving as an administrator.

Gwendolyn Briley-Strand (Wilma Rudolph) has been delighting audiences on stage, television, and in movie theatres for over thirty years. Known for her portrayals of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks, she has appeared at the White House, the Smithsonian, and the Kennedy Center, as well as museums, schools, and cultural organizations. Briley-Strand has performed at Maryland Humanities Council Chautauquas as Harriet Tubman in 2000 and 2011 and as Rosa Parks in 2008, and she served a member of the MHC Speakers Bureau. She has toured her one woman show Harriet Tubman: The Chosen One nationally and internationally for twenty three years. She is a graduate of Fordham University

Mark Megehee (Jim Thorpe) is retired after thirty years of government service, including work at the Department of the Army (museums) and also with the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. He has worked at Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum, Fort Sill, Oklahoma; the Frontier Army Museum, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Noncommissioned Officer Museum at Fort Bliss, Texas; and the Air Defense Artillery Museum at Fort Bliss, Texas.  Megehee is a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, and he grew up around Oklahoma City, spending time on tribal land near Stroud and Shawnee, Oklahoma.  His grandmother was full-blood Sac and Fox and his grandfather was Irish.  Megehee has a bachelor’s degree in theology, and he earned a master’s in history from the University of Oklahoma.  His awards have included the Order of Saint Barbara and the Army Civilian Achievement Medal.

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