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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Todd wins Berlin Award

BERLIN — Joel Todd, this year’s Berlin Award Winner, started choking up a little when he realized the party was for him. Unlike most Citizen of the Year awards, the Berlin Award is run something like a surprise party. The person to be honored never knows the party is for them until part way through the presentation speech.
Todd was gently duped into coming to the party because it was let slip that his wife, Anita, would be the honoree so as it became clear one of the town’s oldest and most prestigious awards was to go to him the recognition came with a lot of emotion. The Berlin Award, especially for a native son, is a huge deal.
In his opening remarks, Berlin Mayor Gee Williams placed the evening’s events historically, pointing out that the previous honorees were among the most civic-minded people who have made their home in the region. The fact that the Berlin Award is sponsored by the Berlin Lions Club is no accident.
The club distinguishes itself not as much in the quality of its service — the area has no shortage of organizations committed to improving life on the Eastern Shore — but in the literal volume of its accomplishments. The Berlin Lions accomplish all of their civic benevolence nearly in secret, preferring the satisfaction of doing good over the accolades those acts tend to bring with them.
To that end, the persons they tend to honor have those same qualities. To a person, The Berlin Award winners of the last 43 years have been those who have kept their focus on civic duty, leaving the recognition aspect of service to the side for the purpose of being better able to accomplish good.
Williams also spoke about Berlin’s specifically intense growth over the past decade, pointing out that the 2010 census had the town’s population increasing by more than half, from 3,000 to more than 4,500 since the 2000 count.
The population boom has created a particular opportunity, Williams said. While national public discourse has been wracked by a lack of sincerity, Berlin has remained a group of people able and willing for the most part to work together to move the town forward. He called for a greater focus on amicable disagreements based on mutual sincerity.
“Let’s just all be ourselves,” he said.
Sen. Jim Mathias, the evening’s guest speaker who also presented Todd with a commendation from the Maryland General Assembly, touched on the positive tensions of the area’s growth in his remarks. He spoke about the Berlin downtown evolution wherein the last two decades have seen a boarded up and mostly empty Main Street blossom into a thriving economic center that supports the arts and business equally.
Mathias pointed to the balance as the direct result of businesses, non-profits, and enthusiastic private residents working together to create a better future for the town without losing touch with the past that made it unique. He cited as an example that Rayne’s Reef was nearly unchanged but that Atlantic General Hospital has become a full care medical center in the last decade alone.
“We talk about creating jobs and that kind of stuff,” he said. “You’re doing it here. Everything that is right in America we can find in Berlin.”
President of the Worcester County Board of Commissioners Bud Church, who postponed his honeymoon to make the presentation, presented Todd with a Proclamation by the County Commissioners citing him for his hard work and service.
The award was presented Todd by Ellen Lang, a childhood friend of his and a former member of the Berlin Town Council. Another aspect that sets The Berlin Award apart is that it is also part gentle roast. In Todd’s case the speakers generally went for the hair — Todd has little — but some of Lang’s teasing remarks were also particularly revelatory about the journey the honoree made from his boyhood in Berlin to his position as one of the greatest forces for both criminal and social justice locally over the last decade.
Lang revealed a deep dark secret she’s been tending about Todd for more than 40 years and revealed it much to the delight of those in attendance. The ardent Democrat was a rabid Nixon supporter who named his pet rabbit Agnew.
The easy and mostly inaccurate Republican/Democrat distinction wasn’t particularly ironic. The irony came out more in the comparative ways Todd and the Nixon administration viewed justice and fairness.
Setting aside clearly defined political commitments when it came to both the fair and the just was one of Todd’s best skills as he worked his way to the top of Worcester County’s justice and political hierarchies to become the Maryland State’s Attorney for the county.
Among his most salient accomplishments outside the courtroom during his tenure in that position were the establishment of the CRICKET Center and the mediation process.
The CRICKET Center was created to address the difficulties — both legal and practical — of the multiple interviews abused children used to have to endure before testifying. The center was set up in such a way that all the law enforcement officials could witness the interviews and ask questions without having to be in the same room with the victim. The idea was to take some of the anxiety out of a child’s harrowing experience.
The mediation program he started in the county was established to help keep the courts clear by having disputes between parties settled in mediation rather than in court. It significantly reduced the county’s court cost while turning a combative process into one wherein both opposing parties could feel as if justice was served.
Todd was similarly lauded for his community service, particularly and absent the previous irony for his bagpipe playing.
Todd plays often at funerals for fallen service people — from soldiers to firemen — as well at any happy occasion, such as parades, that requires his services.
He has also been active in many social and civic groups throughout his life on the Eastern Shore.