Growing up during the Great Depression, future husband and wife Lee and Sylvia Marston each learned two things: the value of a dollar and the importance of giving back.
“A full man’s wage was $1 a day and he worked from 7:00am to 5:30pm with a half-hour off for lunch,” said Lee, a preacher’s son who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. “You gave 10 percent of your income to church and 5 percent you saved.”
Sylvia, a native of North Carolina, doesn’t remember much about the Great Depression, but she does recall the sacrifices people made.
“We were rationed on butter, rationed on gas,” Sylvia said. “We didn’t suffer.”
Those childhoods offered glimpses into the struggles of their fellow humans, planting a seed of philanthropy for Lee and Sylvia Marston, who will be honored at this year’s annual Severna Park Community Center fundraising gala on April 13 at Chartwell Golf & Country Club.
The evening will feature live music from The Shatners, dinner, drinks, a silent and live auction, and a tribute to the Linstead couple, which has made a big impact on Severna Park and the surrounding area.
That influence can be traced back about 50 years, shortly after Lee and Sylvia met on a blind date in 1960 while watching the Virginia football team play Navy. The two married in 1961, lived briefly in Baltimore County and then bought the family property where Lee had spent part of his childhood with his grandparents fishing and crabbing on the Severn River.
Lee had worked out west as a salesman for Armstrong Flooring before rejoining J.J. Haines in 1960. But upon Lee’s return to Anne Arundel County, the Severn was not the same river he remembered. It was muddy. Underwater grasses were sparse and the river appeared to be void of blue crabs.
Lee became the first treasurer of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the 1960s and eventually recruited newspaper publisher Philip Merrill to join the board. Nearly 70 years later, as an emeritus board member, Lee is most proud of “the fact that we’re starting to save the bay. A lot of people thought we couldn’t do it.”
Meanwhile, Lee and Sylvia raised four children, never losing sight of their values and passion for volunteering.
A physical education teacher, Sylvia coached Green Hornets squads in soccer, basketball, lacrosse and field hockey. She also organized food for Habitat for Humanity.
For the last 10 years, Sylvia has worked with Serving People Across Neighborhoods (SPAN) as an interviewer.
“People come in and we determine if they would be eligible for money they need for turnoff notices or eviction,” Sylvia said. “I felt like I needed another volunteer job. Habitat became computerized and they didn’t need volunteers as much.”
Lee is a former commissioner of Troop 855 at St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Episcopal Church, which was built on land donated by his grandmother in 1954. He was appointed to the board of trustees of Anne Arundel Health System Inc. in the ‘90s, and he was part of a fundraising committee to replace the old Anne Arundel Medical Center.
“The hospital was bursting,” Lee said. “You see [the old building] now and wonder, ‘How was that ever a hospital?’”
Lee also teamed with Skip Carr and Nancy Pascal to get a pool built at the Severna Park YMCA, which is now the Severna Park Community Center.
The Marstons have seven grandkids, and they expect many of their family members to be in attendance during the gala. While both of them look forward to an evening with family and friends, they have mixed feelings about the honor. Giving back was always just something they were taught to do.
“It’s humbling, Sylvia said. “I don’t like being in the spotlight.”
Lee said, “We always figured other people deserved it more than we did.”