About Us

Honoring the perseverance of Thomas Kennedy - Religious Liberty and Inclusion

MISSION:

The Thomas Kennedy Center is dedicated to celebrating Hagerstown-Washington County's state legislator Thomas Kennedy’s tireless efforts to overcome anti-Semitism and to advance religious liberty and inclusiveness in 19th century Maryland. Prior to Thomas Kennedy's introduction of the Jew Bill in 1818 and his persistent and hard-fought advocacy that led to its successful passage in 1826, Jews and other non-Christians were excluded from holding public office according to Maryland's Constitution. Thomas Kennedy’s courageous stance against anti-Semitism and religious discrimination is a legacy that we seek to teach today and to extend his efforts to overcome differences that exist among us in race, ethnicity, nationality, religion and gender orientation. 


Initially, the Thomas Kennedy Center, as a not-for-profit/non-profit entity, has installed a world-class sculpture in a memorial park and plaza. The location is in the East Baltimore Street green space, which is a City of Hagerstown park, across the street from the Congregation B'nai Abraham.

The Thomas Kennedy Center in Hagerstown will be a cultural and educational attraction for visitors from throughout Maryland and beyond. As an educational focal point for students, the new Thomas Kennedy Center will be a public-private partnership, and example of civic cooperation.

The new Thomas Kennedy Memorial park itself is a natural enhancement and extension to Hagerstown's downtown, and is located in Hagerstown's Arts and Entertainment district.

Ari Plost is the former Rabbi for Congregation B'nai Abraham in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was his original idea to plan for a statue honoring Thomas Kennedy, and was his and the Thomas Kennedy Center's board of directors plan for exploring plans for an educational center. The thought for honoring the legacy of Thomas Kennedy started wit the memorial park, and was dedicated in 2019 to the ideals of religious freedom and tolerance.

Sculptor

Antonio Tobias Mendez (Toby), a Washington County native and resident and internationally known artist, was selected as the sculptor for the Kennedy project. Among Mendez’s works are statues of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the grounds of the Maryland State House in Annapolis and six Hall of Fame Orioles baseball players at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Antonio Tobias (Toby) Mendez, Sculptor - 1963

Is a Maryland based sculptor with over 30 years of sculpture experience creating significant public art. Born in Denver, Colorado in 1963.

Toby apprenticed under the Academy Award winning makeup sculptor John Chambers (credited with films such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, Mission Impossible and The Planet of the Apes Series). Chambers encouraged Toby to seek a formal education in order to develop his technique and aesthetic. Toby entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago receiving his BFA. In 1988, He set up his studio in the Maryland/DC area where he actively sculpts both private and public commissions. Mendez primarily focuses on the figure, combining a classical figurative approach with a more contemporary eye for site design. In addition to creating lasting legacies through public art, Toby continues to create personal works for acquisition by private collectors. He has created over 30 major public works including; Thurgood Marshall Memorial for the State of Maryland; The Baltimore Orioles Legends, Six heroic Scale bronze figures of the Hall of Fame Players for Camden Yards Ballpark in Baltimore, Maryland and Three bronze panels for the United States Navy Memorial in Washington DC.


Thomas Kennedy Center Board of Directors and Staff

(Board President) Monda Sagalkin; B.A. Mount Holyoke College, MSW Catholic University. Former President of the League of Women Voters, Director of Antietam Counseling and EAP. Monda was the original President and was the first donor, and was instrumental in founding the Thomas Kennedy Center. She had also served as the President of Congregation B’nai Abraham. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Congregation Beth Sholom. She is active in various nonprofits, including serving as The President of Bosom Buddies. She continues as a part-time teacher, and discussion group leader.

Barb Schwab (Vice President); former school administrator at Congregation B'nai Abraham. 

(Board Treasurer) Steve Hummel; Hagerstown Junior College, University of Maryland Banking School, Interests/Expertise: Senior VP The Columbia Bank, various non-profits and community leadership roles.

(Board Secretary) Evelyn Williams; Education: BsEd Auburn University, MLA McDaniel College; Retired Educator, Washington County Public Schools; Interest: Community service and voter education.

(Board Member) Robert B. Garver; Master of Business Administration in Management, Frostburg State University; Bachelor of Science Degree in Geographic Sciences, minor Psychology, Eastern Kentucky University; Leadership Washington County; Expertise/Interests: Economic Development and Business Enhancement, Community Planning, Urban Renewal, Marketing, Grants and Grant Administration.

(Founder and Advisor) Rabbi Ari Plost; Education: Swarthmore College, Honors, Xavier University-  Masters Hebrew Union College; Ordination; President Hagerstown Area Religious Council, Member Ethics Commission of Hagerstown; former member of the Commission of Social Action for the Union of Reform Judaism, Current Member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis;  hobbies: swimming at the Y, raising two kids and living on a small farm with five horses, three cats and two dogs; Founder of the Thomas Kennedy Center. 

(Board Member) Leon Seidman; CEO of Playful Pet Products in Hagerstown. Largest maker and distributor of catnip in the US. Leon is known world-wide as “The King of Catnip.” He is the Past President of the Board of Directors of Congregation B’nai Abraham. Born in Baltimore, BS University of Maryland, and a graduate of Milford Mill HS.

(Board Member) Arthur Wineburg; Education: B.A. Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; M.A. (Economics) University of Minnesota; J.D. George Washington University School of Law. Professional Career: Economist, Federal Reserve Bank, Minneapolis, MN.; Systems Analyst, Institute of Defense Analysis, Arlington, VA.; Legal Practice, Partner (retired) Akin, Gump, Straus and Feld (specializing in patent litigation); Director of Unfair Imports Office, U.S. International Trade Commission; Adjunct Professor of Law, George Mason University. Currently retired and living in Florida, having served on Boards of civic organizations and Lecturer, Life Long Learning, Shepherd University.

(Board Member) Dr. Memoona Afridi; Born in Peshawar, Pakistan. Obtained medical degree M.B.B.S ( Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) from Khyber Medical College, Peshawar University, Peshawar, Pakistan. Resides in Hagerstown for the last 20 years; has two wonderful boys who are in college and aspiring to pursue careers in medical field. She is involved in different kinds of volunteer activities at her children's schools, and in the community including distribution of food at the local shelter (REACH) for homeless. Active in local interfaith efforts. Active as a member of the local Muslim community, and is concerned about safeguarding the constitutional rights of citizens of all faiths and belief systems including the Muslims.

(Board Member) Lori Jo Slavick is the Current President of Congregation B'nai Abraham. She is a Physician Associate at Franklin Family Services. Mrs. Slavick is a graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy Physician Assistant Program. She is a Past President of the Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants. (AFPPA) and currently serves as Treasurer for AFPNP.  Mrs. Slavick feels compelled to help the indigent population, who are the most in need of medical services. She is excited to be part of the Thomas Kennedy Center, and to help guide the organization to teach about diversity. She has led numerous workshops on depression, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, computers, and thoroughly enjoys mentoring PA students. She was also the speaker-coordinator for the AFPPA conferences, and has written grant applications for funding support.  In 2002, she received the William Montgomery Community Service Award. In 2003, she lobbied with the Michigan Academy of Physician Assistants to make elected officials more aware of the PA profession and its positive contribution to the health care system. 


(Volunteer) Thomas B. Riford; Education: BS Cornell University, Board Member of numerous local and state-wide non-profits. Awarded the Distinguished Volunteer Award for the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2014. Decorated Marine Corps Veteran, winner of the Chamber of Commerce 2004 Business Volunteer of the Year Award and 1989 CBS Radio News Reporter of the year.  In 2009, Tom accepted, on behalf of the Hagerstown-Washington County CVB, the Maryland Cultural Heritage Tourism Award from Maryland Office of Tourism Development.  Awarded the top tourism marketing award from the State of Maryland, in November of 2013.  Awarded the 2013 Washington County John Frye Historical Preservation Award of Advocacy.  Long-serving President of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. Long-time President of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Active on several nonprofit boards of directors. Former radio news anchor on WJEJ and current Assistant Secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce for Tourism, Marketing, and Communications. In 2019, for his lifetime of charitable and nonprofit work, Riford was presented with an Order of Chivalry, and named Knight Commander in the Order of Prince Danilo.