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What's Up Magazine

An Eastern Shore Visionary: Ann White

Jan 20, 2015 01:23PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By James Houck | Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.

In the ever-changing landscape and fabric of our communities, there are sparks of genius that have lasting influence—dynamic individuals who’ve built success and made it stick, for public good and for, hopefully, generations to come.

Ann White is one such trailblazer in the community. She has demonstrated civic leadership and a passion to better our slice of heaven on the Shore. She is, perhaps, best known throughout Easton and Talbot County as the woman who helps make the annual Waterfowl Festival tick. Held each November since 1971 to coincide with the opening of goose hunting season, the festival has no doubt grown from that first brainchild, which featured just several duck carving exhibits, into a weekend-long extravaganza with said exhibits and art displays, master classes, photography, children’s activities, swap shopping, calling contests, dock dogs, fishing and hunting demos, fundraising tie-ins, and oh-so-much more. The annual economic impact of the festival is ball-parked at $6 million and, collectively, the “organization’s benefits to conservation have grown from initial proceeds of $7,500 donated to Ducks Unlimited to a total of more than $5 million in conservation grants to hundreds of projects by more than fifty organizations,” according to Waterfowl Festival, Inc.

And Ann White has been instrumental in making it all happen for the better part of three decades in numerous capacities: as a member of the Board of Directors; as festival administrator; as marketing consultant; and as a lead volunteer, which she continues today. But this blue-eyed gal originally from New York City has packed in much more than waterfowl wisdom into her 75 years. When we begin to dive into her past, she opens up with ease and an infectious smile, recalling her childhood; the foundation upon which this dynamo was built.

“I grew up in what I consider the ‘Ozzie and Harriett’ age,” Ann begins. “We moved to Scarsdale when I was very young and led the typical suburban lifestyle. My Dad commuted to New York City each day, my Mom stayed home to nurture and guide her two children. My brother and I received our elementary and high school education in the Scarsdale public school system, considered then and now as one of the best school systems in the nation. I suppose there were the usual dramas of growing up, but my memories are of wonderful parents who worked hard and were intimately involved with their children’s academic, sports, and social activities. They had high expectations for each of us and they led by example and with love. This sounds too perfect to be true, but I think I was very fortunate to grow up in a time when the U.S. was just emerging from WWII, during which period our country was enjoying peace and prosperity.”

Ann would attend Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, earning a BA in 1961. And it’s here, or rather near here, that she met husband Richard, who was earning a law degree from Washington & Lee University in nearby Lexington. The two would settle in Natural Bridge, Virginia, for a spell, where Ann taught 4th grade. Eventually it was Baltimore they would call home, as Richard landed with a city law firm. That law firm would call upon Richard to open a secondary branch in Easton, Maryland, and so the couple packed up once more and relocated. The year was 1974 and they haven’t looked back since.

“I was not a ‘country girl’ but soon learned to love it. I have seen Easton grow from a small country town into a vibrant cosmopolitan area. We have benefited from the influx of people, like my husband and I, who were looking for a more relaxed lifestyle, yet were driven to work hard and contribute to their community. Easton is now a model for the idea that you can have it all—restaurants, cultural institutions, sports activities abound, yet a peaceful morning watching the geese settle on the river can be enjoyed in your own backyard.”

For Ann, having it all also meant giving back. And in the years since that serendipitous move to Easton, she has immersed herself in the community as a volunteer (“My ‘real’ career has been volunteerism,” she says), initially with her daughter Tricia’s school activities and then broader endeavors, which have included: chairing The Country School’s Annual Auction and it’s Parents Association; co-chairing the Talbot County YMCA Youth Tennis League; serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the Academy Art Museum; and as a board member of the Talbot County Harbor Club, the Talbot Country Club 18 Hole Women’s Golf, and Talbot County Garden Club. (Golf and gardening are two of Ann’s favorite activities.)

Of course, just as the geese always flock home to the Shore, so too does the story of Ann White to the Waterfowl Festival. Her contributions to the festival’s development have been mighty and all encompassing—from overseeing land purchase and construction of festival facilities to increasing exhibits and exhibitors to software programming to increasing the volunteer force to increasing both revenue and appropriations to conservation organizations and to developing print, television, and radio advertising campaigns.

She’s done it all and she’s not done yet. As we were collaborating for this article, Ann was in the middle of festival week preparations (“I will be in the office every day until next Wednesday when we start setting up our venues,” she tells me, hurriedly, when I first reach her).

In 1995, Ann was inducted into the Waterfowl Festival Hall of Fame. Think about that for a moment. Twenty years ago, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. And Ann is still passionately volunteering each and every year since. Though the Hall is quite an honor, Ann says that the opportunity to work and interact with so many interesting people from all walks of life is the highest.

“I love meeting and getting to know people. People come in so many different shapes and sizes, with a myriad of talents. Learning to work with many different people with many different personalities has been a challenge that I have enjoyed and grown from. There is a great sense of accomplishment for all involved when a task is completed successfully.”