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News & Press: MSS News

The Ralph Hanks Donnelly Memorial EDM Calibration Baseline Dedication

Friday, March 30, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Robert L. Banzhoff Jr., L.S.
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Some time ago the Appalachian Chapter of the Maryland Society of Surveyors, upon realizing that the EDM Calibration Baseline at Washington County Regional Airport had essentially become unusable, began looking for a new spot to place a similar baseline. The criteria for such a facility made it a tough search. To qualify a location would have to be accessible, straight, open and relatively flat for a long distance, not to mention unlikely to be developed or suddenly “grow” any interfering structures.

Eventually it became apparent that such a spot existed at Hancock along the Western Maryland Rail Trail, along the former Western Maryland Railroad track near the site of the Hancock Station, now a public parking lot.

The Rail Trail exists under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of the State of Maryland. The Chapter approached the DNR with a proposal to install the baseline on the trail, and after some wrangling, permission was secured.


The work started in earnest in May of 2009 when Alan Zube’s class of engineering students from Washington County Technical High School joined with surveyors from MSS at the site to dig the holes, pour the concrete bases, and set the disks according to standards provided by NGS, the National Geodetic Survey (a division of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.)

At some point the Chapter decided to make the baseline a memorial to Ralph Hanks Donnelly, a former chapter member and a Society luminary.

Once placed, the monuments needed to endure at least one freeze-thaw cycle before any measurements could be made.


In the intervening years, interest ebbed and flowed; getting the personnel and equipment organized and mobilized was difficult, but the Chapter’s continuing interest kept things moving forward.

NGS personnel performed two days of ultra-precise, accurate measurements. Folks from MSHA, the Maryland State Highway Administration, ran precise levels across the monuments and are in the process of blue-booking them to make them publicly accessible benchmarks.

In 2018 Rob Kundrick, Appalachian Chapter Chair, decided to open the baseline and have the dedication ceremony in conjunction with National Surveyors Week, March 18-24. On Friday, March 23, the ceremony took place.

The original plan called for several speakers and the dedication to be held outside on the baseline, and then to move inside for refreshments and a social gathering. Fourteen inches of snow fell in the days immediately prior to the event, forcing Plan B to be implemented. The whole occasion took place indoors, directly off the baseline in the social hall of the Hancock Presbyterian Church, where Pastor Terry informed us that at least half of her church elders knew the Donnellys.

The most reliable count of attendees puts the total at 59, with at least one and possibly two latecomers. The room was bright and cheery, and small enough to make the proceedings feel intimate.

The program started at 1:05 p.m. with Bob Banzhoff acknowledging National Surveyors Week, outlining the sequence of events to follow, and noting the speakers. He then introduced Hancock mayor Dr. Ralph Salvagno as the first speaker.

Dr. Salvagno related some of the history of Hancock, including how the Cohill family rose to prominence after planting much of the surrounding countryside with fruit orchards. When Ralph Donnelly came to town, he met Adele Cohill and they married in 1935. When Ralph passed away in 2003 they had been married for 68 years. He covered Ralph’s wartime record, his local historical knowledge and his civic involvements.

We all knew Ralph as a colleague or as a fellow historian, but the next speaker knew Ralph as a grandson. Dr. R. Hank Donnelly spoke very warmly about a caring grandfather who was very actively involved in his life. He came with well-practiced prepared remarks and spoke very well, but still emotion crept into his voice here and there. He clearly treasured the time spent with his grandfather. He proclaimed that he believed that Ralph would be tickled to be honored by having the baseline dedicated to his memory, and lest we think he might have been speaking about someone other than the Ralph we all knew, he allayed any such fears by stating that “He (Ralph) would still be looking over your shoulder to make sure you were doing it right!”

Next up was the Honorable Kelly M. Schulz, former member of the Maryland House of Representatives and current Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR). First off, on behalf of Governor Larry Hogan she presented a proclamation declaring Surveyors Week in Maryland to MSS President Rena Butler. This presentation is highlighted in another article elsewhere in this edition of the newsletter.

She then spoke about the role of the DLLR and its responsibility to protect the public by judicious regulation. The room was still and quiet as she very sensitively related the need for involved citizen volunteers to advise and assist DLLR in its work, and commended Ralph Donnelly for his work there. When Ralph was 80 years old he was appointed to the Maryland Board for Professional Land Surveyors (the Board) by then Governor William Donald Schaefer. He served two (2) five year terms, retiring from the Board at 90 years of age. The secretary made sure to recognize Ralph’s very special commitment to his chosen profession.

Afterwards, Washington County Commissioner Jeff Cline presented a Proclamation from the Commissioners to MSS President Rena Butler calling for celebration of Surveyors Week in Washington County.

Then came time for the actual dedication. Bob Banzhoff called Dr. Donnelly and his son, Eric, forward for the dedication ceremony. The Chapter commissioned a 12 inch commemorative disk to be set slightly west of the zero baseline station, a picture of which accompanies this article. It will be open to the sky and will become a GPS reference station and a monument to be counted with the GPS on Benchmarks program to help configure the next geoid model. Having Eric and his dad hold the disk, he led the group in a recitation of the dedication.

The Ralph Hanks Donnelly Memorial EDM Calibration Baseline Dedication was recited and made by all present at the ceremony:

(As repeated after the Master of Ceremonies, Bob Banzhoff):

“We, the assembled here today do hereby commission this calibration baseline to the public use and declare it open for business.

We also dedicate it to the memory of Ralph Hanks Donnelly, outstanding local citizen and Maryland Surveyor of note. “

The dedication was followed by three (3) cheers of “Hip-Hip Hooray!”

The business of the day having been concluded, light refreshments were served and consumed, old friendships were renewed, new friendships were made, stories about Ralph were told and swapped, conversations were had with the Donnelly family, and basically a good time was had by all.

The tone of the event was gentle, light and sprinkled with humor, and a tribute was made to a much deserving person – Ralph Hanks Donnelly.

For a booklet written by the secretary of the Appalachian Chapter, R. Wayne Twigg, describing the baseline in much more detail, please click here.

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