Think about it a moment: What are your most precious childhood memories? I bet you have stories to tell and experiences to share. As a boy, I went to the dock daily during the summer to bail out my little skiff, coil her lines and take her on a short row for crabbing or fishing. I would lie down on her bottom, peer over the gunwale and imagine I was on the high seas, though I was only floating in a small tributary to the Tred Avon River.
I grew up on Plaindealing Creek, not far from Bellevue, where my family and friends spent endless summers fishing and crabbing. My little skiff was to me as a bicycle was to most kids. I started sailing log canoes during junior high. I began at the bottom—literally—in the bilge as a bailer, a lowly job that aspiring log canoe sailors still must endure in apprenticeship. During the summers of my high school and college years, I followed the water as a commercial crabber manning a trot line.
As I look back on my connections with the Bay, it seems inevitable that the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum would play a central role in my life. My family has deep Eastern Shore roots and many of my ancestors “followed the water.” The first John Valliant arrived in Talbot County in the late 1600s.
My great-grandfather W. H. Valliant owned a seafood and produce packinghouse in Bellevue and schooners that took his products to market in Baltimore. There’s a 1964 Star Democrat photo of me (pictured top ) as a child presenting a modest gift from the students of St. Michaels Elementary School to trustee Gus Van Lennep in honor of the Museum’s founding in 1965. That gift was my first museum fundraising experience. It was followed many years later in working with the Museum’s trustees, members and friends to raise more than $18 million as part of our $16.3 Million Campaign for Preserving the Heritage of the Bay.
What was it that called me back to the Shore after attending Louisiana State University, where I met my wife, Lise? Family and friends. The Bay. The close community of Eastern Shore folk. The proud, fierce, independent watermen and their boats—log canoes, skipjacks, bugeyes, oyster sloops, workboats with drake tail or tumblehome sterns. Fishing and crabbing and sailing. And birding, to which I was introduced by my grandparents, and enjoyed through my long friendship with the late Dick Kleen, my history teacher at St. Michaels High School.
I was hired at the Museum by Jim Holt, our first full-time executive director. When Jim retired in 1987, I succeeded him and for nearly 20 years devoted my life to the Museum, eventually as President. Each year I worked with staff and trustees to develop the theme and core messages for our annual fund drive, the critical fundraising initiative that supports all aspects of the Museum’s operations.
Several years ago, the Museum’s Boatyard staff came up with the brilliant idea of starting a program that would allow visitors to try building simple wooden boats. Thus was born the successful Apprentice For A Day program, better known as AFAD. It was not a fad! The program continues now and gives visitors, including families with children, authentic maritime experiences. But we needed financial support to get the program off the ground—or, should we say, in the water.
Institutions like ours collect and preserve and exhibit important items. In our case we attempt to relate objects—books, photos, paintings, decoys, tools and many other artifacts—to visitors so they will savor the past and present culture of the Bay. While our region is always undergoing change, our role is to ensure that future generations of children will learn to appreciate the Bay in the intimate way I did as a child—“messing about in boats.”
You can read all you want and explore everything in our collection. But nothing creates a deeper or more lasting bond to the Bay than by going out on it, ideally in a small boat—a kayak, sailboat or rowing skiff. And our rental vessels are not just your usual “Clorox bottles” but classic wooden boats, many of them built in our own Boat Shop through AFAD.
Our Museum gives the next generation authentic experiences that will last a lifetime—and inspires them to respect and protect the Bay and its bounty.
Why do I love the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and why do Lise and I support it? Because it gathers in one place “all things Chesapeake”—from the cry of ospreys nesting in old trees and pilings in the spring, to the melancholy call of geese in the fall. The salt air, pine needles and seaweed at low tide. The uniquely delicate tastes of clams, oysters, rockfish—and steamed crabs, washed down with iced tea or a cold beer.
I fell in love with the Bay long ago. Lise did as well. We are still in love with it (and each other). Yet I attribute whatever success I had at the Museum to the support of our trustees, the dedicated work of our staff and the extraordinary generosity of our members. We are calling out to you to help us fulfill our dream of becoming the best maritime museum in the world. And yes, we can do this, if you help.
The Bay needs us and we need you.
See you at the Museum!
John R. Valliant
President, The Grayce B. Kerr Fund
Former President, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Dear CBMM Supporter,
When I think about what makes the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum a world-class maritime museum, a key fact comes to mind…
CBMM is the only museum in the world dedicated to offering an authentic experience exploring the history, environment, and people of the entire Chesapeake Bay.
Often, when one hears the word “museum,” it conjures up an image of a hushed group, shuffling quietly through an air-conditioned building, berated by “do not touch signs,” peering at sacred objects behind a layer of protective glass. Here at CBMM, your museum is alive. Guests walk on campus and feel and experience the authenticity of this place, where they can become part of this living, breathing entity that celebrates the Chesapeake Bay.
You can put your hands on every part of it—crawl through the belly of the skipjack E.C. Collier, feel the smooth varnish on a newly-constructed sailing craft in the Boatyard, or watch a crab picker crack open Maryland blue crabs and talk about life in the packing houses. If you have never been out on the water before, you can take a cruise on our 1920 buyboat Winnie Estelle, or rent a small craft and learn how to paddle or sail.
These types of truly immersive experiences are only possible through your Annual Fund generosity. And with your help, we have big plans in mind.
At CBMM we recognize the social responsibility we have to help strengthen our community—this is a new approach we are taking very seriously. We will double the attendance of our K-12 programs from 3,500 to 7,000 students per year, offering an active learning experience around the Bay’s history and its ecology and people, creating a generation that will help to shape the future of the largest estuary in the United States.
In addition, a new 6th grade initiative is underway, developed with our community partners—the YMCA of the Chesapeake, Academy Art Museum, and Miles River Yacht Club Foundation. This fall we will offer to local 6th graders a free boatbuilding program in which participants can build relationships with CBMM shipwrights and educators, learn basic woodworking techniques in a practical fashion, and build critical math skills needed to construct their boat (and to help get into college!). This annual program will continue to evolve and expand, offering programming through the 12th grade.
Our collaborative 6th grade program and our goal of doubling K-12 student attendance are just a few reasons why we need your help to achieve this year’s Annual Fund goal of $710,000. And there are more…
Annually, we bring more than 70,000 guests closer to the Bay through their experiences here at the Museum. That’s an impressive number in itself, but we must keep reaching out and welcoming folks from all over the eastern seaboard and beyond to visit the Museum and experience the Chesapeake Bay in a way that they can’t experience anywhere else.
With your help, the Museum can bring a strong sense of place to every guest, a concept I keep close to my heart. Growing up in New Zealand we live by the phrase, “tangata whenua”—“people of the land,” a concept that aptly applies here as we strive to connect our visitors to the Chesapeake Bay.
Your Annual Fund support will help make all of this possible. Together, we will continue to grow the Museum’s programs and the number of lives we are able to touch. And especially in our 50th year, I thank you for helping to ensure that our next 50 years are off to an excellent start.
I invite you to climb aboard by making an online donation now! With your help, we will together raise $710,000 for this year’s Annual Fund, and you will see the difference your donation makes.
Kristen L. Greenaway