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Joe Letts, longtime firefighter, sheriff's deputy, and Santa Claus, dead at 76

CHARLESTOWN — Many children in Cecil County may not have recognized Joe Letts by his sheriff’s deputy uniform, or his firefighter gear, but they did recognize him as Santa Claus.

Even outside of official North East or Charlestown Fire Company events, Letts would arrive at a neighbor’s house, wearing a white beard and red suit, to talk to children – often if their parents had said they were misbehaving.

“Joe went to the house, talked to Will (the child), and gave him a lesson so he would behave,” Diane Letts, Letts’ wife of 33 years, said. “After we left, Will told his father ‘Santa doesn’t come in a sleigh, he comes in a little brown foreign car.’”

Letts would often use his connections in the community to his advantage when performing as Santa. Once he told a child that Santa Claus knew he wasn’t wearing glasses in school, because of a tip from the child’s father.

Even Letts’ daughter, Susan Waltzer, saved her father’s phone number as Santa when her children were little.

“My youngest son didn’t know until yesterday that he was Santa Claus,” Waltzer said. “He said he never could understand how Santa Claus always knew his name.”

Letts died on Monday, November 22, 2021 at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del. He was 76.

Children in Letts’ neighborhood in Charlestown also got a taste of his fun-loving personality. Letts would go out on his deck and do a crazy dance for the kids, who began to imitate him.

Letts would tease one neighborhood kid looking for minnows by saying “be careful of the sharks.” That child gifted a poster of a shark to Diane.

Joe Letts served as a police officer in North East before working for the Cecil County Sheriff’s office, where he stayed for 35 years until he retired. Letts’ nickname within the Department was “Big Joe.”

“Generations of deputies have heard the stories about Big Joe keeping the county safe from a time when Deputies used their own cars to Patrol to the modern era,” the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook.

Letts’ family said he was the consummate community police officer. On “mischief night” – the night before Halloween – in Charlestown, he would allow children to have one bar of soap and one roll of toilet paper, controlling the chaos.

“He said for some people, if you go in and arrest them, as opposed to giving them a warning, you’re taking money out of their family’s living,” Diane said. “But a warning did just as good.”

Diane said the one offense that would set Letts off, was child abuse.

“He hated child abusers,” Diane said. “If he had a bad day, it had to do with a child abuser.”

Letts joined law enforcement after serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Letts served two tours in Vietnam, Diane said his experience growing up around the North East River made him a natural for the Navy.

Letts struggled with his hearing after the war, inspiring his granddaughter to become an audiologist.

“I work with people like him every single day, and I see a lot of him in my patients,” granddaughter Baylee Engelhardt said. “He never let it bother him.”

Englehardt said Letts was her constant hunting partner, and was always the life of the party, even joining the young people at her wedding in dancing the “Cupid Shuffle.”

Outside of his work in law enforcement, Letts was a lifelong member of the Charlestown Fire Company, North East Fire Company and VFW Post 6027 of North East. Letts was named to the Hall of Fame for Harford-Cecil Volunteer Fireman’s Association. Letts also served as a Town Commissioner in Charlestown for 21 years.

Survivors include his wife Diane Letts; his children: Joseph G. Letts, Jr. of Elkton, MD, Amy Letts of FL, Susan Waltzer of Dover, DE; stepdaughter: Dawn Maichle Wilson of Perryville, MD; sister: Edythe Simmons of NC; 9 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild with 1 more on the way.

Visitation will be held on Friday, November 26, 2021 from 2:00 pm until 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm at Crouch Funeral Home, P.A., 127 South Main Street, North East, MD. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, beginning at 11:00 am., at the same location. Interment will follow in Charlestown Cemetery, Charlestown, MD.

Christmas Camp offers a creative day off for students

RISING SUN — It was a flurry of fun at The Art Den’s Christmas Camp on Wednesday as campers worked on four different holiday projects.

Chriztie Elliott and Bri Weidner, owners of the studio on South Queen Street in Rising Sun, hosted two sold out sessions of 6- to 12-year-old artists. Each created a gingerbread house from a terra cotta pot, painted a wooden wall ornament, glazed a snowman mug and used clay to create a coil Christmas tree.

“We try to do one whenever Cecil County Public Schools are off,” Elliott said. The next session is scheduled for Dec. 23. Tuition for the half day camp is $50 per person.

“I was here for the Halloween Camp,” said Gabrielle Reinhart, 10, from Port Deposit. “I liked it a lot. That’s why I really wanted to do this.”

Jackson Felts, 10, from Rising Sun, said his favorite art form is drawing.

“But I liked painting this ornament,” he said of his creation.

Anna Coarse is also a veteran of The Art Den programs.

“I went to Art Camp in the summer and paint nights,” Coarse, 11, from Conowingo, said. Her very first paint night several years ago, featuring an owl, was successful.

“Somebody wanted to buy it but I said, ‘No,’” said Coarse.

Her younger sister Grace Coarse, was intently working on decorating her gingerbread house.

“I am going to put on Christmas lights and some Christmas decorations,” the 8-year-old artist said confidently.

At another table, Isabel Kibler knew what she wanted on her house.

“Definitely a door with a handle,” said Kibler, 7, from Rising Sun, adding, “and some decorations.”

In spite of being constantly busy throughout the 3 hour classes, Elliott said she enjoys these camp studio sessions.

“The kids that come here are so great. They are chill but they work hard,” she said.

Elliott noted that she is also trying to put together a similar program for adults.

Look for registration to post soon at https://www.theartdenllc.com/ for the Dec. 23 camp.

PREVIEW: Perryville gears up for MPSAA semis at Mountain Ridge

It’s the long and winding road to a championship for Perryville Friday that has the third-seeded Panthers and their fans pining to get their turkey and pecan pie to go as they hit the road to No. 2 Mountain Ridge for the MPSSAA Class 1A semi-finals.

“They are a very tough team, they run a spread offense,” Sandora said. “It is something we saw against Bohemia Manor and Patterson Mill.”

Mountain Ridge, the Allegheny Conference champions, defeated Forest Park, 55-20.

The Miners are in the midst of a 10-1 season, the first 10-win campaign in school history. Their spread offense can go to the air at will but last week, Mountain Ridge pounded the run game at Forest Park to the tune of 304 yards and a whopping seven rushing scores.

Sandora and the Panthers will be looking to make it to the a state finals berth the eluded them in 2019 when they lost in the semi-final round.

If the Panthers (7-4) are to advance, it could be on the arm of quarterback Zach Clarke and his favorite target as of late, wide receiver Daniel Tserkis.

Tserkis has come alive with his routes in the playoffs and his leadership has been a key to Perryville outscoring playoff opponents 38-17.

The long bus ride to Mountain Ridge will be something unique for a group of Panthers whom are yet to play a game away from northeast Maryland. Sandra is making sure his players stay focused on their task.

“You can never take anything for granted and just have to take it one game at a time,” Sandora said. “We just have to give our best effort and see what happens.”

Connor Bouchelle says hello to Barbie Barker during the blood drive on Friday.

'Cops on Rooftops' in Elkton raises $3K for Special Olympics

ELKTON — The Cops on Rooftops fundraiser for Cecil County Special Olympics roared back Friday in Elkton, after a one-year layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Maryland State Police Cpl. Michael Cox, one of the longtime planners of the annual event.

“It was a good turnout and people were very generous,” Cox said, summarizing the 11-hour-long charity event at the Chick-fil-A in the 1100 block of East Pulaski Highway (Route 40).

Law enforcement officers with police agencies in Cecil County collected $3,256 from patrons during the event, Cox said. In addition to donations, he added, the tally reflects money made from the sale of 2021 Special Olympics Torch Run commemorative T-shirts on the premises. To collect donations, law enforcement officers with buckets were positioned along the restaurant’s drive-thru lanes.

The list of participating police agencies included the Maryland State Police, Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, Elkton Police Department and North East Police Department, he noted. Approximately 15 law enforcement officers and their family members participated, some of whom spent a limited amount of time atop the Chick-fil-A roof, according to Cox.

Every June, the Maryland Special Olympics Summer Games is held at Towson University, where more than 2,000 Special Olympians from throughout the state, including Cecil County, compete in track and field events and other summer games.

Cecil County Cops on Rooftops is one of two majdor fundraisers held to support that event.

The other annual fundraiser planned by law enforcement officers in Cecil County is the Special Olympics Torch Run, which is a 10-mile trek (running, jogging and walking) from Elkton to North East. The most recent Torch Run, which was held nearly six months ago, raised nearly $3,000 for the cause, according to Cox.

Pierson’s Grove School performed double duty as a Sunday School location for Elkton Presbyterian Church, seen herein 1909.

Ezra Suter, a 15-year-old Elkton High School sophomore, waves to approaching motorists Wednesday while collecting toys and money in front of the Toys for Tots Building in the Big Elk Mall. Her fellow Toys for Tots volunteers can be seen in the background.