Groundbreaking Scheduled for July 25 5pm, Governor Hogan to Attend

July 18, 2018

Media Release

Thomas Kennedy Park – Official Groundbreaking Ceremony July 25 5pm

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan will join with City Officials, Members of the Washington County Delegation to Annapolis, and the Thomas Kennedy Center;

July 25th 5pm Event Planned for Memorial Park honoring Maryland lawmaker who fought for Jewish rights

(Hagerstown, MD) -- The Thomas Kennedy Center and the City of Hagerstown are hosting an official groundbreaking ceremony at 50 E. Baltimore Street, at the site of the new Thomas Kennedy Park.  The ceremony will include keynote remarks from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey, II, Washington County Commissioner Terry Baker, Maryland State Senator Andrew Serafini, and Maryland Delegate Paul Corderman.

From Hagerstown, Thomas Kennedy was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and fought for equal rights for every Marylander. The public art sculpture and memorial park are being constructed to honor Thomas Kennedy (1776-1832).

Kennedy is buried at Hagerstown’s historic Rose Hill Cemetery. First elected in 1817, he is best known as author and tireless proponent of “The Jew Bill,” which allowed Jews the right to hold public office in Maryland. The final version of Kennedy's bill was passed, after an eight-year struggle, and allowed Jews the right to hold public office. A devout Presbyterian, Kennedy often said that he never met a Jew during his life. The bill became law in 1826.

Kennedy was a patriot, a poet, a publisher (of the Hagerstown Mail newspaper), a Maryland Delegate, and also a Maryland Senator. He passed away while in office, from the cholera epidemic. Today, the highest award given in the Maryland House of Delegates is “The Thomas Kennedy Award.”  The Speaker’s Society of the Maryland House of Delegates, comprising all past and present members of that branch of the state legislature, has presented a Thomas Kennedy Award since 1995. The society gives this award annually to recognize a former member of the House of Delegates “for his or her personal courage and dedication to the principles of liberty and freedom.” It is considered the greatest honor a Maryland legislator can receive.

Thomas Kennedy said: “Let us then pass this bill, let us pass it unanimously. We will never repent it, even on a dying pillow. It will comfort us to think that we have done at least one good act in our lives, that we have been instrumental in establishing religious freedom in Maryland, that we have broken the yoke of superstition and prejudice and let the oppressed go free, and that we have caused happiness to many an anxious heart.”

For Thomas Kennedy, religion was "a question which rests, or ought to rest, between man and his Creator alone.” Although there were few Jews in the United States and very few in Maryland, he said, "If there was only one - to that one, we ought to do justice."

The Thomas Kennedy Memorial Park will be located across the street from Congregation B’nai Abraham, which is at 53 East Baltimore Street in downtown Hagerstown. The plaza will be on a site where a pair of blighted buildings was recently demolished. The small public park, to be built with both private and public funds, will feature the 10-foot high bronze sculpture of Thomas Kennedy as well as educational inscriptions about the life, legacy and contributions of the Maryland lawmaker, poet, publisher, and patriot. In time, the Thomas Kennedy Center will serve as a cultural and educational attraction for visitors from throughout Maryland and beyond. As an educational focal point for students, the Thomas Kennedy Center will be a public-private partnership. The proposed educational center will help tell the story of Thomas Kennedy, and his values, along with sharing the values that the Thomas Kennedy Award recipients represent. A nonprofit was established in 2017 to make the memorial park and Thomas Kennedy Center a reality.

The original idea for the statue was conceived by Rabbi Ari Plost and Congregation B'nai Abraham's President, Monda Sagalkin. Tom Riford is the Executive Director of the non-profit, charitable organization. The Hagerstown City Council passed the proposal to provide space for the park and sculpture as well as some financial and in-kind assistance (more than $100,000 total). Washington County also assisted with $2,000. The State of Maryland's legislature has approved a total of $300,000 in capital grant funding (for reimbursement for costs). The total project costs well over than $400,000. Grants, private donations, and in-kind services have also helped the project.

The world-renowned sculptor Toby Mendez has designed what has been called a beautiful rendering of Thomas Kennedy. Governor Hogan viewed sculpture model, and said "It is a most wonderful likeness of a great human being, a great Marylander."

For more information about the project, see: .

About: Antonio Tobias (Toby) Mendez, Sculptor

Toby Mendez is a Maryland-based sculptor with over 30 years of sculpture experience creating significant public art. Toby was 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, D.C.