Sixteen elderly African Americans from Frederick County — all 90 and older — were recognized for their life experiences and accomplishments at the fifth annual Living Treasures Banquet Saturday afternoon.
The African American Resources-Cultural and Heritage Society of Frederick County hosted the banquet at Dutch’s Daughter restaurant in Frederick.
“They are the trailblazers for us who have come behind,” said David Key, the president of AARCH. “They are responsible for all we have done today.”
About 175 people attended the banquet, where they ate a meal and enjoyed gospel and Christmas music performed by the Goldentones, according to AARCH member Joy Onley, who also organized the event.
More than 36 family members and friends of William Hardy, Sr., 96, of Brunswick, came to the banquet.
Hardy, a retired technician for the National Institutes of Health, was grateful to have so many loved ones attend the banquet.
“In my 96 years, I’ve never had a better day,” Hardy said.
Thelma Thomas, 92, of Ijamsville, who worked in labor and delivery at Frederick Memorial Hospital for 25 years, said she enjoyed the banquet because it gave her an opportunity to reminisce about her life and friendships.
“It’s wonderful to hear the stories and see the people who are still here,” Thomas said. “It brings back old memories that you cherish.”
Catherine Sappington of Bartonsville, who is 100 years old, was the oldest person recognized at the banquet.
“It couldn’t be any better. It’s wonderful,” said Sappington, who worked on a farm when she was 13 years old.
She was married for 86 years, until her husband passed away five years ago.
Although she said she does not have a secret to her longevity, she has always been vocal about what she wants to do in her life.
“I pray to God every day that I live a little longer because my work hasn’t been done yet,” Sappington said.
Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine, also a member of AARCH, made some remarks and then deputized each of the Living Treasures honorees, giving each honoree a small police badge.
“One of the things wrong with this country is we do not honor our elders,” Dine said.
“Our Living Treasures held families together, held society together and made Frederick County a better place,” he said.
Dine, who concludes his 10 years of service as Frederick Police Chief on Wednesday to become the chief of U.S. Capitol Police, said that his police department has worked to improve its relationship with many groups, particularly African Americans, during his term.
“I think it’s very very important that we honor our African-American community and all the progress they have made to move this country forward,” Dine said.
AARCH recognized Dine for his dedication to Frederick County citizens by giving him the AARCH Community Service Award at the banquet.
Onley proposed the idea for the Living Treasures recognition five years ago after noticing that AARCH needed to do more for senior citizens in Frederick County.
“We stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and we need to grow our shoulders to carry the weight of those who come after us,” Onley said.
Kay Gant, the vice president of AARCH, said that December is the perfect time to celebrate the lives of older members of the community.
“It’s good this time of year to give thanks and show appreciation for what all these Living Treasures have given us,” Gant said. “It makes our lives better because they’ve been through it all.”
Gant said that AARCH stays in touch with honorees throughout the year and invites them to a reunion in the summer.
When an honoree passes away, AARCH gives a donation to the Frederick County Community Foundation in their memory, Gant said.
Janice King-Coe of Leesburg, Va., came to the banquet to celebrate honoree Hardy.
She said everyone can learn from older people and their life experiences.
“They’re better people. They have more patience, and they have more knowledge of life in general,” King-Coe said. “I have nothing but respect for people in their 90s or 100s.”
Onley hopes to extend AARCH’s work with the Living Treasures honorees so that youth can be involved as well.
“We need to try to do everything we can to encourage and teach the ones who are coming after us,” Onley said.
Hardy said events like the Living Treasures banquet celebrates an accomplishment that few people get to enjoy.
“You don’t get to be 90 too many times,” Hardy said.