My Columbia Wizard of Oz Experience – by Karen Bradley

My family moved to Columbia from Rockville, in Montgomery county, the summer before I entered the 3rd grade in 1976. I had previously attended a strict private Catholic school where we had to wear grey plaid uniforms and the only things hanging on the walls were math charts and the alphabet. It was very drab, boring, lifeless, and lacking in joy. Both my neighborhood and school were mostly white. I didn’t realize just how monochromatic and dull my world was until we moved to Columbia.

I immediately loved our new house and neighborhood in Owen Brown – it was prettier, cleaner, and more colorful. No power lines in the sky meant we could fly a kite and see the pretty sky unobstructed. The tot lot right behind our house was the best thing ever and then behind that was Dasher’s horse farm and my sisters and I loved being able to see and pet the horses.

Lake Elkhorn quickly became a favorite destination for walking, bike riding, fishing, and turtle watching. I would ride my bike around that lake so many times through the years that I memorized every turn, bump, crack, and crevice of the bike path around it. We had nothing like that back in Rockville. When my Mom told me that I was going to attend public school and could wear whatever I wanted, I jumped for joy. We went school clothes shopping and I made sure to pick out clothes of every color in the rainbow. And then school started. I walked into the “Pod” (a foreign and new concept for me then) and was immediately in awe of all the colors. The walls were painted bright colors with colorful and educational posters everywhere. The kids and teachers were of all different colors and everyone was very friendly.

My first school friend was of a different race from me – Angie was friendly and smiley with bright yellow ribbons in her hair and greeted me immediately as the “new kid” (Dasher Green Elementary had opened the year before so many of the kids already new each other). She showed me the ropes… where to put my lunch, taught me what a “tote tray” was, showed me where the bathroom was, etc. It wasn’t long before we were having sleepovers at each other’s houses.

I was instantly in love with my new school and home. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Like her, I had left a drab, grey, world and landed in this bright new colorful place like the scene when she opens the door and finds herself in munchkinland. I actually thought for a moment that I might discover a yellow brick road one day while riding my bike on one of Columbia’s many bike paths. In my 7 year old mind, I had hit the jackpot and found Emerald City and Mr. Rouse was the Wizard.

To top it all off, I had the best teacher a kid could ask for in Miss Jones. She was the cherry on top of this Columbia Sundae…. all this and a Fairy Godmother for a teacher too? This is awesome! I am eternally grateful to Mr. Rouse for realizing his dream and building this community and to my parents for having the wisdom to move our family there. Thankfully we stayed in Columbia long enough for me make life-long friends and graduate from Hammond High School in 1987.

I feel blessed to have met some truly good people in Columbia, many of whom I am still in contact with to this day. Mr. Rouse was right about the need to create an environment to “grow people” and some of the highest quality humans I have ever known are the people I met when I was seven years old in Columbia….and they still are. Glinda was right, “there’s no place like home”.

MD