PennTex Closed on Sale of Hafer Chapel of the Hills Funeral Home in LaVale

ALLEGANY COUNTY, Md.—Developer PennTex Ventures is closer to starting up a long awaited retail/food strip center on land of a shuttered funeral home in LaVale.

PennTex finalized its purchase of the Hafer Chapel of the Hills Funeral Home at  1302 National Highway on Dec. 16, according to a deed filed with the Allegany County Clerk.

PennTex, through its subsidiary PTV Capital Partners LaVale Route 40, paid $700,000 and also took out a $1.76 million mortgage from First National Bank of Pennsylvania, according to the mortgage filed by the clerk’s office.

The mortgage likely signifies money being spent for improvements to the land to prep it for development. As of Feb. 21, the funeral home still stands and fencing has been going up to secure the area for pending demolition.

It’s been a long time coming just to get to this point. It’s surprising that a sign has been up for months in front of the funeral home advertising a future retail development from PennTex before a deal closed. Maybe it was a way to see if they’d get any prospects to finalize a deal, which isn’t unheard of, but still risky.

Typically what you would see is a deal set in place upon approval of plans by local government.

I last wrote a bit on this property in May 2016 before taking a break from writing on this blog and haven’t followed up since now. (Turns out no one else has either in medialand.)

No leases are popping up for the places yet, and probably won’t until the shell is completed.

—Charles Schelle


Noble Battle Fought in the Small Business Revolution

In December, the City of Frostburg’s Main Street organization FrostburgFirst received word that the city was a semi-finalist for Deluxe Corp.’s Small Business Revolution.

The city didn’t move on, but not for a lack of trying. It’s clear that the other cities had stronger media markets that would be beneficial for the firm running the contest, which included a Hulu Web series. (Winners are to be announced Thursday, Feb. 22.) Still, the Small Business Revolution feature plans to share video on Facebook and maybe even other platforms from Frostburg (as well as other cities who didn’t make it—Marietta, Ohio and Woodland Park, Colo.) during the spring or summer while they prep for filming the new season in the winning town.

On the local level, it helped businesses and organizations and FSU to work together. Heck, this helped me work with other people at FSU even more.

One item I helped with was making a video at commencement that showed the appreciation students have for our businesses. The initial announcement was poor timing for us as students were wrapping up exams and commencement was around the corner. It just forces you to be more inventive.

The reason I’m including this video isn’t about what the students are saying, but instead the packaging. I wanted this to have Frostburg First’s branding.

I received the Illustrator file logo (which was created by a FSU student!) and cleaned it up so I could split the buildings and letters into individual layers. This allowed me to bring it from Photoshop to PremierePro and do the simple motion you see in the intro.  A nice royalty free jingle rounds out the bumper to make it complete. I provided FrostburgFirst will all of the files if they wish to use it for future videos.

Storybook Holiday Creates Magic for Frostburg Business Community

The story about Frostburg State’s economic impact on the community needs to be told. It’s something that’s said in the community about how FSU benefits the community through spending, but it’s important to show that it’s not just from its employees spending money. The university has many programs it provides and produces for the community, creating sales spurred by tourism. Storybook Holiday is just one of many events that you can see how much FSU helps the area.

Originally published: 12/13/2016

When Storybook Holiday is unwrapped each December in Frostburg, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for downtown businesses.storybook

The event, coordinated by Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre, completed its 13th year where an event that inspires reading for children also inspires purchases in local shops and brings out a festive spirit from merchants to make the event successful.

“One of the biggest reasons that CLC Director Bill Bingman and I started this was to get people to come and see why we love this town so much,” said Dr. Barbara Ornstein, associate director of the Children’s Literature Centre. “It’s such a great place for kids but we wanted them to see our little shops, good places and great restaurants.”

Storybook Shopping

Main Street Books is one of the busiest businesses during the event, thanks to the literacy theme. Owner Fred Powell says children and their parents flood the store for a solid three hours, buying up children’s books during the day. The day is his second busiest Saturday of the year behind Small Business Saturday.

“This is the benchmark for the holiday season in Frostburg,” Powell said.

More than 2,000 people – about 700 children and their families – show up to the annual celebration that is tied in to a winter-themed book selected by the Children’s Literature Centre, and includes a visit and interaction with the author or illustrator. Powell credits the more than 250 student and alumni volunteers in making the event so large and successful.

“It wouldn’t have happened without all of these people to do it,” Powell added.

Ornstein and Bingman knew that part of the event’s success means getting the kids to go into the stores with their parents, so they developed a bookmark in which participating businesses give out holiday stickers to fill up the bookmark. After five stickers, children can show their bookmarks to Grammy’s Attic, Lorenzo’s Bakery and McFarland Candies to receive a free treat.

“Even if they don’t buy anything then, they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,’” Ornstein said.

This year, 22 businesses participated as sticker stops and at least 35 businesses donated space or supplies, FrostburgFirst Main Street Manager Jessica Palumbo said.

“It brings a whole new level to the meaning of community that they’re so involved,” said Palumbo, an FSU alumnus.

Community Spirit

The day is not just about sales and exposure, as some businesses donate supplies or food or use their space to make the event successful. Armstrong Insurance Agency closes its office for the Saturday event so the building can serve as elf headquarters for the volunteers. FSU Educational Professions instructor Sarah O’Neal coordinates with local elementary schools to decorate storefronts for the season. She has decorated Main Street Books’ storefront for the last 11 years. Volunteer groups make wreaths for the city’s lamp posts, too.

“Thousands of cars drive through here each week, and what a sight to drive through and what a statement to make to have pretty much every business you see as you come through town with their windows decorated,” Palumbo said.

P.S. Hair Designs certainly makes a statement, transforming Peggy Atkinson’s salon into Santa’s House.

Atkinson works up until noon the day before the event, then takes all of her retail products off the shelves and shoves anything that looks like it belongs in a salon into her storage room. All Friday night, her family and friends transform her business into the North Pole. Outside, she has wooden panels painted like Santa’s House, swallowing her storefront.

“I never dreamed when we started this that it would be this magical,” said Atkinson, who goes by Momma Frost during Storybook Holiday. (Her son, Rick Stevenson ’04, volunteered at Storybook Holiday when he was an education major at FSU and has been involved ever since. He has portrayed Jack Frost for many years now.)

Atkinson knows she won’t make a dime on Storybook Holiday, but every smile she sees on kids’ faces is worth it.

“I don’t even do it thinking somebody will come back,” she said. “I do it because we love Storybook Holiday.”

The sparkling atmosphere of Storybook Holiday continues inside City Place, where educational professions majors make snowflakes to hang from the ceiling and other student volunteers acting as Santa’s helpers run activities. Back on Main Street, before the parade begins, students from Mountain City Center for the Arts sing holiday tunes to preview the troupe’s annual Christmastime shows.

“Everywhere you look there’s some reminder that it’s winter and the holidays are coming,” Ornstein said. “Storybook Holiday turns Frostburg into a little winter wonderland.”

Storybook Holiday sponsors also include the city of Frostburg, FrostburgFirst and PNC Bank.

Tourist Elves

The love for the holiday event is turning into a driver for tourism, too. Dorothea Lay and her daughter Toni Lay, 14, of Bethesda, drove up to Frostburg with Toni’s childhood friend Meredith Blanchard, 13, who came from Connecticut. Toni remembered how much she loved the event when they were 5 years old and invited her friend Meredith to help celebrate Toni’s 14th birthday.

“Everyone in Frostburg is so into it, which I love,” Toni said.

The girls fully embraced Storybook Holiday by dressing as elves, helping to hand out bookmarks while walking in the parade and winning the people’s choice award for their lemon bar cookies (dubbed “So a Lemon Walked Into a Bar”) in the cookie contest.

As much as Meredith and Toni enjoyed the event, they got a bigger thrill making the littler kids smile at their elf outfits.

“One little kid came up to me and asked me if I was a real elf,” Toni said. “It was fun seeing all the little kids be so excited about everything.”

It was as if they were keeping an eye on all the little ones for Santa.

“If you gave them a wink, they whispered to their parents, ‘Oh my gosh, the elves just winked at me!’” Meredith said. “It was pretty neat to see them do what I would have done when I was really little.”

Part of why Meredith and Toni could still enjoy Storybook Holiday is because the event has grown to a full-day festival that’s great for all ages. Powell is encouraged by the buy-in of everyone involved with Storybook Holiday, seeing it grow from an event attended by a hundred people to well over 2,000.

“Everybody’s been touched by some sort of success by it,” Powell said. “If nothing else, it just makes you feel good.”

For more information about the Children’s Literature Centre, call 301-687-3133 or visit

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.


Frostburg State University History Professor’s Book Examines Social History of Workplace Smoking

Greg Wood’s book is a fascinating look at how much smoking played a role in labor relations, especially involving unions. I interned in Erie, Pa., during my final semester of college in 2006 and never knew the history of worker’s revolts and workplace spying that led to a bargained smoke break at the former Hammermill Paper Co., plant.

Originally Published: 01/23/2017

woodDid the ability to smoke on the job serve as a barometer on labor relations in the last 100 years?

That question and others are explored by Frostburg State University associate professor of history Dr. Gregory Wood in a new book about the 20th-century tug of war between employer and smoker. “Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace” is an academic book published by Cornell University Press that examines the history of labor strife, government regulation and sentiment about smoking in the workplace in the 20th century. Wood, who is also the Honors Program director at FSU, plans on using the hardcover book as the basis of his HIST 299 Writing and Research in History course in the fall.

The reasons for writing the book run deep with Wood, who described himself as a “heavily addicted workplace smoker” in his teens and 20s.

By age 29, Wood could not touch another cigarette after a decade-plus of lighting up.

“My immune system was compromised,” said Wood, who is now 43. “I was getting really bad sinus and strep throat pretty regularly during the winter months. I really felt that it was definitely time.”

During Wood’s research, he found how much smoking was at the center of labor feuds at the former Hammermill Paper Co. plant in Erie, Pa., during the early 1900s – to the point that cigarette breaks were negotiated in exchange for wages and labor peace. He recognized those workers’ feelings well as a young smoker.

“Workplace rules that stood between me and my cigarettes were deeply resented at the time,” Wood said.

Like most smokers, Wood would have to leave his work to go smoke, experiencing withdrawals, and it eventually affected his leisure, too.

“At times, it was so bad I couldn’t sit through a movie in a movie theater. It was hard for me to go two hours without smoking,” Wood said. “I remember sitting through the movie ‘Titanic,’ which is extraordinarily long and absolutely nic-fitting.”

Wood wants readers to understand addiction as a common occurrence in workplace social history as well as to follow the rise and fall of smoking at work.

“The golden age of smoking in the workplace was very brief,” Wood said. “Probably during the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, but for most of the decades of the 20th century, smoking was largely prohibited and forbidden very strenuously by employers.”

Even in the early part of the 20th century, industrial employers were “vehemently anti-smoking,” including Hammermill and Ford Motor Co., Wood added. Eventually, smoking became the addiction of choice at the workplace.

“If the working class of the 19th century was drinking its way through the 19th century, workers in the 20th century would smoke their way into the new century,” Wood said.

Today in the 21st century, smoking bans and the repeal of existing bans continue to be debated in communities across the country. Similar workplace battles rage on with the advent of smokeless cigarettes and vaping.

“It struck me that nicotine has outlasted its historical source, which is tobacco,” Wood said. “Nicotine and nicotine addiction will long survive after tobacco is gone into the ashtray of history.”

“Clearing the Air” is available for purchase through Cornell University Press and online booksellers.

Wood is available for interviews about his research on smoking in the workplace, its effects on unionization, social effects of smoking bans and the role of tobacco in American life by calling 301-687-4998 or emailing

Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Highlighting Frostburg State University’s role as a leader in Appalachia is a priority of our current administration. The university provides opportunities that aren’t as easily accessible to many schools in our area, to the point that schools from over an hour away will drive to FSU so students can experience college-level laboratories and equipment along with our state-of-the-art Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium.

This is a standard release, getting an alumnus who took one of his classes on a tour as nice touch but I’m pretty happy with the photo of a demonstration by academic laboratory manager Blaire Knouse.

Originally published: 02/16/2017

Frostburg State University’s Growing STEM Outreach a Resource for Appalachian Schools

Frostburg State University is becoming a growing resource for science, technology, education and mathematics – STEM – education for public schools in Appalachia through a growing outreach program.

The program has matured over the years, originating with school visits with science experiments and portable telescopes from the FSU Planetarium. Today, students from as far as Gambrills, Md., and Aurora, W.Va., are taking field trips to FSU’s facilities for a day of engagement and inspiration in STEM fields.

During a recent visit, Mountain Ridge High School students saw how elements respond to fire and other interactions in the Bayer MaterialSciences Chemistry Laboratory. Other classes have made their own scented lotions in a laboratory and younger groups have tested the physics of flight using their own paper airplanes.

The outreach program grew from 1,300 students visiting in the 2014-2015 academic year, to 1,600 in 2015-2016 – an 18 percent increase – and is on pace to eclipse that mark this academic year, said Dr. William Seddon, FSU professor of biology and STEM outreach coordinator. The bulk of the schools visiting are from rural areas of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland, with the intention of expanding to more schools in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The visit is free – all schools need to do is provide transportation and contact Seddon to schedule a field trip.

“We’re offering a free field trip and some of these schools around here don’t have a lot of resources,” Seddon said, adding the importance to provide access to higher education opportunities in rural areas.

The experiences are tailored to each grade in school, whether it’s explaining basic concepts, completing interactive experiments and demonstrations or inspiring students for potential careers and majors in STEM fields, Seddon said. Fourth through sixth grades are a critical time when students decide whether they like STEM subjects and activities and whether they will pursue that interest in school and in life.

“The idea is to get them to understand that science is fun – it certainly is interesting but it can be fun,” Seddon said.

FSU’s quality STEM facilities have equipment not found in high schools, providing students, their parents and teachers their first time being exposed to high-tech equipment.

“Some of the teachers may never have been here, so we get the teachers exposed to the university,” Seddon said. ”We have kids who are coming here who never set foot on this campus.”

David Buskirk is a fifth-grade teacher at Cash Valley Elementary School in Cumberland and recently took his students to FSU for a STEM day focusing on careers. As an alumnus who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FSU, he knows the value of FSU’s facilities and faculty. The visit helps Buskirk meet the new Next Generation Science Standards by having students do collaborative and project-based learning in FSU laboratories.

“I think it’s amazing in our small area that we have a university like Frostburg State that is easily accessible for public school teachers and students to use,” Buskirk said. “Not many communities in a rural area have an opportunity like that.”

The program extends beyond the 20 faculty and staff members shaping the experience. FSU College of Education students are also developing new lesson plans for the Natural History Museum at FSU to keep the experiences fresh, Seddon added. The Natural History Museum houses animal specimens from all over the world.

Student organizations are all helping out with the programs, too, including Student Members of the American Chemical Society, National Society for Black Engineers, TriBeta Biology Honor Society and more.

Teachers choose experiences from topics in biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, geography and earth science, mathematics and computer science/information technology. Field trips can also include touring the Natural History Museum, the state-of-the-art FSU Multimedia Learning Center and Planetarium, plus the Sustainable Energy Research Facility.

School groups interested in scheduling a STEM experience to FSU should contact Seddon at 301-687-4707 or

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit or Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

FSU is committed to making all of its programs, services and activities accessible to persons with disabilities. To request accommodations through the ADA Compliance Office, call 301-687-4102 or use a Voice Relay Operator at 1-800-735-2258.


Happy Halloween

Sometimes I still get to write a slice of life story that still meets our marketing messages.

Here’s a fun Halloween story I wrote on how Frostburg State Recreation and Parks Management majors were in charge of the city’s Halloween Party. I also shot and edited a video, wrote the script and had our intern Emily Michael do the voiceover.


Frostburg State Students Treat Children to Halloween Tricks With Annual Town Party

Someone has to be responsible for keeping little goblins occupied during Halloween.

Frostburg State University recreation and parks management majors take on that duty by organizing the Halloween Party at City Place in Frostburg, giving the students practical hands-on experience while providing local children some spooky fun.

This year, students Rashaan Rhoden and Jeremy Pearson led the effort organizing the party, held Thursday, Oct. 27, working with the City of Frostburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“They have their parade and they have their trick or treating, but this is something a bit more special where they get their haunted house experience and be a little frightened,” said Pearson, a Boonsboro resident who also earned his associate’s degree in Adventure Sports from Garrett College.

Finding ways to keep kids entertained with some not-as-frightening Halloween activities gave Rhoden leadership opportunities that brought him out of his shell. He said that the Recreation Leadership and Program Planning courses within his major aided his growth.

“When I tell my mom I’m helping directing a program for the City of Frostburg, she’s so happy for me because I wasn’t like that when I first came here. I liked to stay to myself,” Rhoden said. “That’s the whole point of being in Recreation and Parks: You get out of your comfort zone. That’s why I love the teachers in it. Planning programs like this makes me happy. I recommend it for anybody.” Continue reading Happy Halloween

Repurposing Snapchat Videos

I’m taking a concerted effort this semester to build our Snapchat account at Frostburg State University. Our first student-led Takeover Tuesday was a tremendous success with about 70 new followers in a day and more views than we had before.

I saved and exported the video to Premiere Pro and did this video below to help continue build audiences while still giving prospective students something to feel inspired by.

FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

5d5e96a1-9b8f-4510-85a23030e6fe41f4_mediumBy Charles Schelle

Eugenia Asare is helping the nation’s top scientists find answers about anthrax before she earns her bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University.

The health sciences major from Gaithersburg is working with world-renowned experts at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., to help solve unanswered questions about anthrax by seeing what happens when a harmless protein found in the potential biological weapon is mutated.

“Research like this seems to be something you do at a Harvard or Yale, but to come from Frostburg and to be able to represent my school at NIH, it really is encouraging,” said Asare, who enters her senior year in the fall. “I hope a lot more Frostburg students can be able to do this as well.”

Asare completed an internship at NIH in summer 2015 then continued independent study research at FSU with related experiments in a student-safe system involving a different bacterial species. Continue reading FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

A Fitting Relationship: ‘Healthy’ Partnership a Benefit to Business, FSU Students and Grads

As appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Profile magazine. Republished in the Cumberland Times-News

By Charles Schelle

Amy Schwab Owens has built her life and business around helping others.

Her LaVale gym, Life Fitness Management, not only helps her clients find a path to better lives, but she and her co-owners are doing the same by building relationships with Frostburg State University students, faculty and staff.

“The students that I have that come out of the program know their stuff. They’re impressive,” said Schwab Owens, a 2002 FSU master’s graduate. “They can back up what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, which is really key when you’re working with somebody in this field.”

Schwab Owens, along with co-owners Brenda Owens, Greg Dull and Dr. Stephen Owens, Class of 1971, have made FSU an important part of their business and fitness community through offering internships, field trips and partnering with various FSU departments.

Thirteen of 15 Life Fitness Management employees have a degree from FSU. Also, Dull attended FSU for several years, and Stephen Owens, Schwab Owens’ husband, is a professor emeritus from FSU’s Department of Computer Science. Continue reading A Fitting Relationship: ‘Healthy’ Partnership a Benefit to Business, FSU Students and Grads

Oak Ridge Mills Inching Along in South Hagerstown

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 11.00.54 PMHAGERSTOWN, Md. — A proposed retail and restaurant shopping center in South Hagerstown by Bowman Development is starting to show some movement.

Oak Ridge Mills, located just north of the Sheetz at the South Potomac Street and Oak Ridge Drive intersection, has filed for a grading permit to move dirt, according to Hagerstown city officials.

However, no building permits for any stores, banks or retail spaces have been filed, according to city staff. An updated site plan would still need to be submitted as well.

The project at 1362 S. Potomac St., had its 2008 site plan renewed on July 8, 2015, according to city documents, but that’s just to keep from doing additional paperwork if they decide to change.

It is somewhat risky for developers to show and advertise space before they receive regulatory approvals. Some developments do show prospective spaces to see if they can land an anchor or at least commitments from a couple of tenants to attract others and go through getting the necessary approvals to start construction.

Still, cities could see something where there isn’t enough parking, so square footage is reduced, or a drive-thru isn’t going to work in a certain space.

With that said, the site plan you see above in this post could change drastically or stay close to the sketch. Either way, the city and other agencies haven’t signed off on that plan.

The rumor mill around Hagerstown has pegged a Cheesecake Factory here. Right now, nothing corroborates that rumor. No building permits. Nothing identifying that business on site plans. No company announcement. No job listings for Hagerstown.

Still, I don’t see Cheesecake Factory—if it would ever come to Hagerstown—going at that intersection. It’s in an odd spot near schools, a Sheetz that needs its exterior updated and the neighboring South View Townhomes wouldn’t fit within its upscale casual image.

It would need to be further south, but if anyone knows of a Cheesecake Factory in the same shopping center as a Walmart let me know, but I don’t think there is.

— Charles Schelle | @ImYourChuck