Dennis Walsh still hears the laughter of his old classmates at Catonsville’s St. Mark School in Catonsville. The sound is as fresh as the occasional disciplinary yell he received from the Schools Sisters of Notre Dame who taught him.
Now the school’s building manager, the 57-year-old sat in its library Nov. 20, barely able to contain his excitement as he felt something else familiar permeating the walls of the 119-year-old school: a desire to help the less fortunate.
Mr. Walsh, retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and a current parishioner of St. Joseph in Sykesville, led a Toys for Tots collection at St. Mark this fall which resulted in approximately 2,000 unwrapped, new toys donated by the students and their families.
“It warms my heart,” Mr. Walsh said of the impressive donations from the St. Mark community, which overflowed a box in the main hallway. “Kids love contributing, throwing some in a box knowing it’s going to someone else. You can’t buy that.”
The Marine Corps’ non-profit program gathers toys from October through December to brighten the Christmas season of needy children in surrounding communities. Staff Sergeant Jason Irwin, Lance Corporal Daniel Reyes and Sergeant Steven Foster came to the school to collect the massive donations and present a letter of appreciation.
“It’s always a surprise, to see people gathering together to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish,” Sergeant Foster said. “For me I never expect a number. I want as much as possible to get to as many kids as possible.”
Mr. Walsh swelled with pride as he saw his military brethren in uniform.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” he said with a smile.
A number of St. Mark’s students gathered with the administration, including principal Mary Jo Warthen, in the school’s front lobby to greet the Marines as they arrived for the 10 a.m. collection.
“I’m new to the position and I’m just overwhelmed by the generosity of this parish and school,” Ms. Warthen said. “I think it impresses on a child that it’s something another child will get. It makes it real because a lot of times they’ll bring something in only if they’re going to get something in return.
“They received nothing, but they felt really good about what they have done.”
The Marines take donations like St. Mark’s to their distribution centers, where they work with local churches to ensure that poor children receive toys on Christmas.
Mr. Walsh was in the Marines for 24 years and attained the rank of Chief Warrant Officer during his service. He worked with the Toys for Tots program while on active duty during the 1980s and 1990s and has done it for another nine years privately at his home and American Legion Post 223 in Sykesville.
Seventh-grader Liz-Ann Inglisa said Mr. Walsh provides a daily example for St. Mark students.
“He keeps the school running nice and clean,” she said. “It’s good that he’s giving back.”