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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Russ Currey: Educator, Artist, Political Activist

George Wenschhof

Russ Currey
The time flew by as I sat down recently to interview long time local Democratic activist Russ Currey.
A youthful looking 74, the father of five, has been an educator, artist and actively involved in the Democratic Party for years. He showed no signs of slowing down and had plenty of interesting stories to share with me.
He was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia and began teaching art in elementary school in Ohio where his interest in politics began in earnest.  It seemed budget battles years ago resulted in schools being closed for 6 months at a time in his school district in Ohio.
During Spring Break when he was in Ohio, he decided to begin a job search and visited Virginia, Delaware and Harford County Maryland, before settling on Frederick County, Maryland.
Russ said he immediately knew Frederick County was where he wanted to be when on his way to interview for a teaching position, he drove on Route 70 west and upon reaching the Mt. Airy area, he saw the beautiful mountain views.
He began teaching at newly opened Linganore High School in 1963 and moved to Creagerstown. After, several moves that included Walkersville, he would end up in Middletown, where he resides today, with a property that would also house his pottery studio.
His art background and love for pottery led to his starting a pottery studio and subsequently participating in craft shows for forty years.  His involvement in politics led to him being commissioned to produce a pottery piece for all of the newly elected governors one year.  The piece depicted Jacksons Mill, West Virginia; famous for being where Civil War confederate General Stonewall Jackson was raised.
Of the many stories he shared with me, it was fascinating to hear how he has shaken hands with three Presidents of the United States in his lifetime.
He recalled shaking hands with Jimmy Carter three days before he was elected in 1976.  He had taken his family to a planned rally at the square in Alexandria, Virginia.  They had gotten up early to stand in line with hopes to see Carter.  Shortly, after they arrived, a local political activist approached them and asked if they would help blow up balloons for the rally.  The incentive was they would receive a standing spot in the front behind the rope line.  They readily agreed and as luck would have it, after they earned their front row spots, Carter walked by and shook their hands.
Shaking hands with President Lyndon Johnson took a little more planning on his part.  At the time Johnson was president, Currey lived in Creagerstown in northern Frederick County and it wasn’t hard to know when the president was at nearby Camp David; the presidential retreat located in the Catoctin Mountains.
One Sunday morning, in the winter of 1964, just months following the assasination of President John F. Kennedy, knowing Johnson was at Camp David, Russ drove to Thurmont and went to the churches in town to see if he could catch the president attending a service.  He found the presidential motorcade, slipped behind the rope line and approached the president, only to be stopped by a secret service agent.  After, assuring the agent he only wanted to shake his hand, the agent allowed him to approach President Johnson and shake his hand.  Russ told me his memory was his hand was huge!
President Bill Clinton was the third president Currey shook hands with and this time it was in Frederick, Maryland where he was attending the groundbreaking of a housing development and speaking about his economic plan. Currey said he thought something was up when while eating breakfast at a Frederick restaurant with his daughter, he noticed a swat team and recognized Dee Dee Myers, an adviser to President Clinton. Russ found the staging area, went through a metal detector and once again landed a front row standing position.  He shared with me Clinton was left handed and his fingers were incredibly long. He added, with those fingers, Clinton would have made a great piano player. 
In 1969 as an officer of the Frederick County Teachers Association, Russ remembers teachers going on strike over the budget and having a meeting at the old Armony located in downtown Frederick on Bentz Street. 
This took place, he recalled, even though Maryland law prohibits teachers to strike.  Interestingly, $3 million was found by the end of the day and teachers went back to work the next day.
In 1968, Russ worked on the Goodloe Byron campaign for congress in the Maryland 6th district.  A race Byron would lose to Republican John Glenn Beall before winning the seat in 1970.
Russ Currey spoke fondly of the creation of the United Democrats of Frederick County (UDFC), who just celebrated their 30th anniversary. He remembers Dick Franklin being on the board of directors at that time and today Russ Currey, who is stepping down as president of UDFC, spoke enthusiastically about incoming president Mark Jafari.  He said it was time for younger Democrats to assume leadership positions in the county.
Currey is also not running for reelection to the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee after having served for three terms.  Frederick County Democratic voters will elect 6 men and 6 women to the central committee in the 2014 primary on June 24, 2014.
However, Russ will stay involved by serving on the board of directors of the newly created Western Maryland Democratic political action committee.
Currey was excited about the creation of the western Maryland Democratic Pac and said it was an outgrowth of the Western Maryland Democratic Caucus.  As a Pac, they are able to raise funds and plan to support western Maryland Democratic candidates in the 2014 election. 
The caucus was formed to bring more state attention and state dollars to the western counties of Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegheny and Garrett.
Next year, the caucus will be holding their tenth Western Maryland Summit, a successful event that is held during the month of April, that attracts the Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, and other Democratic elected officials from around the state and western Maryland.
While, he may be stepping down as chair of the UDFC and as a member of the Frederick County Democratic State Central Committee, you can be sure he will stay involved in local Democratic Party politics.
Stay tuned.
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