I discovered this morning that The Wilkes School at Grace and Saint Peter’s, where I worked from 1985-2003, will close its doors forever this Spring, felled by the coronavirus pandemic, years of declining enrollment, and a massive backlog of repairs needed to shore up their aging facilities. I have mixed feelings about this, and there’s probably a blog post in it, but I’m not ready yet.
I learned this news while reading an obituary in the Baltimore Sun for Downing Kay, “likely Maryland’s oldest resident.” I recognized the name immediately because the Grande Dame of Grace and Saint Peter’s School, first grade teacher Mrs. Nona Porter, used to visit her former colleague regularly and spoke fondly of her. A piece on the school’s website notes that they played Scrabble together.
The obituary, written beautifully by Christina Tkacik, recognizes earlier interviews of Mrs. Kay by Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks for his podcast Roughly Speaking in 2018. Ms. Tkacik is described by the Sun as:
...The Baltimore Sun's dining reporter, both reviewing restaurants and reporting on developments in the area's food scene. She first joined The Sun newsroom in 2016 as social media coordinator and later worked on the paper's metro desk.
I’m not quite sure when she started writing obituaries, long the territory of Jacques Kelly and Fred Rasmussen. I do know that the ones she has written are so good that you truly wish you had known the person and you often want to send her a thank you note. (I have, actually.)
If you’d like to talk to Ms. Tkacik about this piece or her many hats at the Sun, you can’t. She has been furloughed along with other Sun employees as a “cost cutting measure” by the newspaper’s corporate owners. Not a new story, but more of the same: the large entities that buy up media outlets continue to give huge bonuses to those at the top and bleed the actual newspapers dry to do it.
This morning I read two obituaries in one. Recognition for a life well lived, and acknowledgement of the passing of a school founded in 1946 and would now be no more. Any day now could bring a different sort of obituary: word that the Baltimore Sun will publish its last issue and its will voice be silenced. Who will write that obituary?
“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"
Employees and community leaders have launched an initiative to restore local ownership of the Sun. You can go to their website, Save Our Sun, to learn more and sign their petition, which seeks to “return The Baltimore Sun to local ownership under a nonprofit model.” The petition will be delivered to the Board of Directors at Tribune Publishing. Follow them on Twitter @saveoursun and share their petition far and wide.
The Baltimore Sun has been telling local stories since May 17th, 1837. Exactly 183 years today. Just this month the paper won the Pulitzer for local reporting for its work on reporting the story of Catherine Pugh and the Healthy Holly book scandal. Without the Sun, who tells those stories? Who investigates, researches, collects information, organizes, analyzes, and persists in order to keep citizens informed?
There are many things we can’t do right now because of the pandemic. This we can do: Save Our Sun. Sign it, share it, talk about it, write about it.
Persist. Journalists like Tkacik, Rodricks, Kelly, Rasmussen, and so many others are counting on us to step up for them and the vital work they do in our communities.