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Ceremony and concert link Marylanders to living cultural traditions

September 24, 2015Press Release

BALTIMORE (September 24, 2015) - Maryland Traditions, the Folklife Program of the Maryland State Arts Council, today announced the ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Award recipients for 2015.

The ALTA recognizes outstanding stewards of living traditions in Maryland. Three recipients will be feted at a December 5, 2015 awards ceremony and concert at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center on the Montgomery College Takoma Park - Silver Spring campus.

ALTA awards are given annually to an individual or group, a place and a tradition that embody and help to safeguard Maryland's living cultural heritage. The 2015 ALTAAward recipients are Captain Kermit "Robert Lee" Travers (Person), St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (Place), and Marbles Game of the Greater Cumberland Region (Tradition).

"Maryland is home to a wide range of cultural and artistic traditions that are passed from generation to generation," said First Lady Yumi Hogan. "The ALTA Awards celebrate our state's rich cultural diversity and the people who ensure our unique traditions are preserved, documented and shared throughout our communities."

To reserve tickets to the ALTA Awards Ceremony at Cultural Arts Center, call the box office at (240) 567-5775. The event is free of charge.

2015 ALTA Award Recipients

PERSON: Fifty-five years ago, Captain Kermit "Robert Lee" Travers (Dorchester County) believed that "I ain't going to be Captain; it's a lot of headaches - you've got everything depending on you."

At the time, he was already an experienced deckhand on the oyster-dredging vessel,The Lady Katie. Unaware of what destiny held in store for him, Captain Travers, now 78, is reputedly the only surviving African-American skipjack captain active within the Chesapeake Bay Region. Historically, only a handful of African-American men ever achieved that status and even less owned an iconic flagship of Maryland's oyster harvesting skipjack fleet.

In the poor, segregated backwater neighborhoods of Dorchester County, Captain Kermit grew up along Blackwater Road aside the water marshes and creek edges of the Honga, Blackwater and Choptank rivers. In 1952, he stepped on his uncle's 32 feet tonging boat, Leona Marie, to learn and work.

Later, during his tenure on The Lady Katie, Captain Travers apprenticed as a "captain in training" with Captain Eugene Wheatley and Captain George Powley. He also filled in as a deck hand in a variety of tasks required on skipjacks.

In the winter of 1969, it was on the H. M. Krentz where he piloted as a fully qualified skipjack Captain and became responsible for his crew, the oyster catch that paid the crew, and maintained the upkeep of the ship.

With his quiet dignity and unassuming demeanor, Captain Kermit Travers is fully cognizant of the waning tradition of the African American mariners on the Chesapeake.  This is especially true of black men who against many odds became captains of the last wind-powered oyster harvesting vessels in existence today.

Among his contemporaries, the respected Captain Kermit holds a seat of honor among every skipjack captain. For this reason, he is sought after for his wisdom and knowledge gained from decades as a mariner and cultural practitioner of African-American folkways. 

PLACE: Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (Baltimore City) is the main anchor for Greek culture in East Baltimore. Although there are four Greek Orthodox Parishes in the Baltimore region, and only two churches in the city, St. Nicholas, believed the most traditional, conducts its services in both Greek and English.

The parish focuses on serving the Greektown neighborhood community, especially its youth, and has become a gathering place for the broader Greek community of the Baltimore region, particularly during the Easter and Christmas religious holidays. According to Father Michael Pastrikos, "If it wasn't for the church, there would be no Greektown."

Built in the 1950s, the church serves a growing Greek community and solidifies the neighborhood as the main center for Greek businesses, nightlife, and community affairs. Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is a fundamental part of the Greektown community, and represents an important hub for the Greek culture of Baltimore through its religious services, the Greek Independence Day Parade, and the St. Nicholas Greek Folk Festival, the largest Greek festival in Maryland, taking place over three days each June.

The event will feature a special concert by Winfield Parker, who has enjoyed a long and storied career as a rhythm and blues, soul and gospel singer and musician. Winfield has performed with Little Richard, appeared as a featured artist with The Temptations, James Brown, Etta James, and Carla Thomas, and as a gospel singer in productions with The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Vicki Winans, and the Jackson Southernaires. He is a role model and mentor to generations of R&B, soul and gospel singers and musicians in Maryland and beyond.

TRADITION: The Marbles Game of the Greater Cumberland Region (Allegany County) is a source of deep community pride. With a tournament hosted by the City Park dating back nearly a century, the game, still taught in the public schools, is played in schoolyards across Cumberland. Tournament play begins in the schools, with winners given the opportunity to compete against each other using the long-standing marbles rings in Cumberland's Constitution Park. With the public watching, friendly school rivalries unfold and champions go on to compete at a national level. Since 1971, Cumberland has produced nine National Marbles Champions.

About the ALTA Award

The ALTA Award, created in 2007, honors the work of Dr. Alta Schrock (1911-2001). Dr. Schrock, a native of Garrett County, taught biology at Frostburg State University. She was the force behind The Spruce Forest Artisan Village, Penn Alps, The Journal of the Alleghenies and the Springs Festival, to name a few of her achievements in cultural conservation. 

The annual award goes to an individual or group, a place, and a tradition embodying and preserving Maryland's cultural heritage. A Person is chosen based on their demonstration of the highest standards of excellence in such areas as research, documentation, presentation, entrepreneurship, artistry, stewardship and community impact. Place honors those keeping traditions alive and are meaningful gathering places or sites of enduring memories or endangered traditions. Tradition recognizes those that connect communities to cultural heritage in ways that exemplify the distinctive spirit of Maryland and may include events, occupations, knowledge, cultural scenes, and organizations.

Photo courtesy


Media Contact: 

Michelle Stefano, 
Acting Director, Maryland Traditions
Jill Zarend-Kubatko,
Communications Manager