(April 20, 2017) Longtime Berlin resident and president of the committee overseeing the Germantown School Community Heritage Center project Barbara Purnell, 74, has won the 2017 Berlin Award presented by the Berlin Lions Club.
The award, recognizing volunteer work in the town, is in its 52nd year. The previous co-winners were Cam and Woody Bunting.
“I was really shocked. It was a great surprise,” Purnell said on Monday. “It was a great honor to receive it.”
Former Berlin Shoe Box owner Jesse Turner, who passed away last month, nominated Purnell. A committee of previous honorees handles the selection process.
In the nomination form, filled out last year, Turner wrote that Purnell was hardworking, loyal, honest, put others before herself and had a strong will to motivate. He cited her activities with the heritage center and with organizing a neighborhood crime watch, working with Eastern Star, and serving on the Worcester County Economic Development Advisory Board.
She is also an active member of the New Bethel United Methodist Church and worked with Assateague Island National Seashore and the Head Start program.
She was honored by the Worcester County Commission for Women during a gala last year and recognized by the Worcester County Commissioners during Black History Month in February.
Turner wrote that Purnell spent countless hours dedicating herself to homelessness and to needy people in the community.
“I knew Jesse very well. He lived around the corner from me and was a part of the Germantown School,” Purnell said. “For him to think of me [in the nomination] is a very humbling experience. I just can’t really describe it.
“To think that he’s gone and can’t see it to fruition – I’m grateful to him,” Purnell said.
The Berlin Award, Purnell said, “seems like something much different” from other honors she has received.
“It’s sort of hard to describe. I didn’t realize that what I have done or what I’m doing means that much to people,” she said. “That’s not what I’m working for actually, but it’s a humbling experience.”
Purnell hopes the honor will help raise the profile of the Germantown School Community Heritage Center, a former African-American-only two-room schoolhouse on Trappe Road. The building was shuttered in1953, converted into a county highway garage facility in 1962 and finally reclaimed as a historic site in 2001.
Purnell has served as president of the Heritage Center committee for more than a decade. She deflected some of the attention surrounding the Berlin Award and said she would share the credit with others that have aided in the restoration effort.
“It has helped to get the word out, but I am not the only one that’s doing it,” she said. “When I’m being honored, I always recognize the group that I’m working with. You can’t do it alone.
“It’s a humbling experience, but I also want them recognized as well and to give them recognition for being there with me and helping to get it done.”
The 2017 Berlin Award will be presented at the Berlin Lions Club on Wednesday, May 10 at 6 p.m. Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor will be the guest speaker.
Tickets cost $25 and may be purchased by calling Bill Burke at 410-641-4207. Checks can be made payable to the Berlin Lions Club and mailed, c/o Bill Burke, to 12 Meadow Street, Berlin, Maryland, 21811.
For more information on the Germantown School Community Heritage Center, visit www.thegermantownschool.org.