“Mother and Daddy started a Christmas Eve with music tradition in our home during World War II and we have continued it,” Nan Muntzing confided as she and her husband, Manning, once again invited friends and family for another Christmas Eve gathering at their Potomac home.
The family tradition began in Mt. Hope, W.Va., when Nan was 12. “All my family were musical,” she said. The proverbial acorn has fallen from the tree. Straight down! The 2012 rendition of the musical evening not only included the hostess singing but the Muntzing’s granddaughters, Jade Skok, 11, and guitar-playing Christie Boyden, a University of Virginia student. She accompanied Jade’s solo. Jade has obviously inherited the family’s ability to really belt it out, much to the enjoyment of all in attendance.
There was plenty more entertainment to follow. Marilyn Shockey never fails to amuse her audience with her comical rendition of the 12 days after Christmas. Nan Muntzing sang “Christmas in Killarney,” a request from Jack Kelliher, there with his wife, Nancy, daughter Cathy, and twin granddaughters. He said all of his family came from Killarney.
The musical program continued with Vin Kelly’s rendition of “The Holy Singer,” a.k.a., “Jerusalem.” If Kelly didn’t crack the ceiling with his gorgeous tenor high notes, Courtney Schowalter Casey finished it off with her clear soprano version of “Oh Holy Night.” Courtney, and her husband of six months, Ryan, were down from New York to spend Christmas with her parents, Sally and Michael Schowalter.
Pianist Michael Terence Smyth accompanied all of the performers, including his wife, Alice, who sang a John Denver favorite, and his son and daughter-in-law, Brendon and Stepanie, singing an appropriate duet, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Smythe also played for a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” with such expressive finger work that he could have easily told the story without a word spoken.
Sam Moerman, 99, seated near the performers, surreptitiously directed each performance and never missed a beat. For those within eyesight of him, (the performers were not) it was as entertaining as the show. The gentleman is obviously among those born with music in his bones.
When the audience was invited to join the performers in the singing of carols, Bonnie Nicholson, who years past sang at The Shorham, was among the first to take part. She was at the party with Austin Kiplinger, no slouch of a vocalist, as were others, many of whom harmonized right along with the best of them.
Ray Durante was there, sans wife Dorothy, who was at home sick. If one recognizes the Durante name often appearing lately in print it belongs to their granddaughter, Maggie Rose Durante, who lives in Nashville, has her own band, and has an album coming out in February. “She has sung twice at the Grande Ole Opry, toured all over the country with her band, and most recently sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Steelers-Eagles game in Pittsburgh,” Ray said. Maggie Rose is her professional name. She is the daughter of Lizz and Stephen Durante of Potomac where Maggie Rose grew up and attended Our Lady of Mercy School. She was formerly known as Margaret before professional publicists suggested a change.
Guests, including Marilyn and Harold Dankner, their son Matt, and his wife, Anne, (they are expecting their first child in February); Peter Grey; Alan Beck and his daughter, Laurie; Kay Myers; family members Stuart and Larry Skok, Catherine and Paul Boydon, Elizabeth McKaig and Nancy Sprinkle, plus a host of others, segued from music, to morsels in the dining room, where Nan’s traditional lump crabmeat casserole was a center of attraction. Appetites vied with conversations.
While Leonard Proctor and his son, Leonard, Jr., manned the bar, refreshments there was one thing of which they had no worries. Nan’s mother, back in the 1940s established precedent in Mt. Hope, W.Va. Nan tells the story: “Mt. Hope women were not allowed to have a cocktail at any social gathering. ‘We women are going to start drinking at our own parties,’’’ her mother announced. “Women drinking socially at all parties in Mt. Hope started right then and there,” Nan said.
“Songs of the Season, traditional libations, unruly hounds, bonfire, roast beast and children welcome” were all included on Diana and Bill Conway’s invitation for their annual Christmas time party. They, and more, were all at the Dec. 23, evening gathering.
“We moved here in 1996 and have had a party every year,” Diana Conway recalled. As the years have gone by the guest list has grown to where it seems the front door never closes with their friends, and friends of their three children, coming and going.
It’s a great house in which to party. Old-time Potomac folks remember back in the ’40s when the “Reds” LaMotts lived there (he later became IBM president), followed by the Evening Star editor, Newby Noyes and his family, then followed by Carey and Jack Miller. Jack was named “The Perfect Lawyer” by Washingtonian Magazine. It was the Millers who had the “Come As You Were In Your Wedding Attire” party. Now the Conways have upheld the house’s “y’all come” tradition.
Only recently British actress, Judi Dench, was filmed at the house for the forthcoming production of “Philomena Lee,” the story of a young Irish woman whose son was separated from her at birth, and her search for him. Bill Conway was overheard explaining the story to those who questioned the experience of having such a noted actress spending four days filming in your home, plus a crew of cameramen.
The action didn’t stop there. There was plenty of it at the party. Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews and his wife, Staci, were among the hundred plus guests. He confided he will run for Montgomery County Executive and will “kick-off a grass roots campaign” in January. He was immediately questioned about the soccer field proposal on Brickyard Road, Potomac, to which he replied, “There is no reason to focus on a soccer field in that location.” Had she heard what he said, it would have made the evening for Maria Fusco, chatting with friends in an adjacent room. Fusco has spearheaded a drive to defeat this action from the onset.
Andrews said he is an advocate of artificial turf for soccer fields. “It gives many more hours a week. Grass turf needs to rest and you can’t use it as much,” he advised.
Conversation flowed from politics to prose. Potomac author Bob Jones and his wife, Elaine, were in the crowd. Bob has written a biography of Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, a Spanish American War Naval hero. “I’ve been working on it for 10 years and will have it published in 2013,” he said. Schley was from Frederick, Md.
Conway children were surrounded with friends including those of Will Conway’s: Matt Kogan, Colin Asbury, Luke Shannon. Mark Henry and Zach Weinstein, all of whom graduated with Will from Winston Churchill High School. Will is now a freshman at Brown University, his sister, Katherine, will graduate from Churchill in 2013 and has been accepted at her Dad’s alma mater, Dartmouth College. “It was a great Merry Christmas present when we heard that,” Diana remarked. Their younger daughter, Alexandra, is also a student at Churchill.
WMCCA member Barbara Brown, Elie and Ted Cain, NIH Dr. Fred Gill and his wife, Vee; Ken Hartman, Peggy Dennis, Carol Funger, Debby Rales, Janet and Vernon Ricks, Sara Lee Greenhalgh, Jean Findlay and County Councilman Marc Elrich numbered among the doers and shakers at this gathering where Nancy Dacek, there with husband, Ray, was overheard remarking,” I wouldn’t miss it.”
Former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra once said it’s “déjà vu all over again.” Had he been at the holiday cocktail /dinner party given by Helen Hellmuth, Peggy Cunningham, and Marianne Stohlman at Columbia Country Club he would have nailed it once again.
This trio of hostesses did a repeat performance of the party they gave seven years ago — same time — same place and many of the same people, dining, dancing and partaking of the holiday spirit.
“This is a bunch of old people having a good time,” Helen Hellmuth jokingly remarked. And, did they ever! Among the so called “old people” Helen included herself and her co-hostesses, all of whom in the past few years have traveled together to, among other destinations, India, Egypt, China, and Turkey. “Marianne (Stohlman) and Bea Fuller were more recently in Cambodia and Viet Nam,” Helen recalled.
However, there were a few exceptions to her “old people” reference. They included the sons and daughters of the hostesses, Barbara Stohlman Rice and husband Mike; Tom Cunningham and his wife, Lilo; Chuck Helmuth and his wife, Mary Ann and Chuck’s sister, Patty Hellmuth.
There were many Potomac friends in the crowd, including former Potomac Falls neighbors of Helen’s, Dr. Alan Weintraub and his wife, Betty, who now have a home in Bozman, Md. “We are driving back tonight,” Alan said, as he and Betty prepared to make an early exit.
Joanne and Heman Ward were leaving early the next day for their Vero Beach, Fla. home where Marge Wasilewski, who was sharing a table with Anne Camalier and Pat Bush, also has a home.
Arriving at the club, guests were greeted with a magnificent, floor-to-ceiling, huge Christmas tree, glowing with enough ornaments to deck the National tree display. Ann and Lou Donatelli, Mabel and Griff Holland, Harriet Newbill, Sally and Bill Wallace, JoAnne and Donny West, Dixie Robinson and Stan Holland were among the 120 guests, many of whom partook of the aptly named “Spice of Life” band.