By Kathy Bryant
After serving for 37 years as director of the College Park Department of Planning & Community Development, Terry Schum is retiring — and is thinking about pursuing her lifelong interest in drawing and painting. And just as she explored numerous facets of life in College Park all these years, Schum plans to rediscover her neighborhood near Rock Creek Park, in Northwest D.C.
March 2023 was Schum’s last month working for the city. Miriam Bader became director of planning and development on April 1.
Schum minored in studio art in college and used to work in watercolor, chalk and collage, but she hasn’t created art since then. “Maybe I will carry around a sketchbook,” she said, adding, “Everybody in my family carries a sketchbook and is an artist of sorts. My husband has thousands of drawings.”
Her mother was an artist and created oil and watercolor portraits, and her husband, Dhiru Thadani, has received some local renown for his drawings; he recently published 26 of them in Washington Drawings: Abe to Zoo. “For Christmas, it was a bestseller,” Schum said.
Over the years, Schum has enjoyed the flexibility that being city planner gave her. Admittedly not a morning person, she worked many late hours with the city council and frequently testified at evening meetings at both city and county levels.
Schum joined the City of College Park in February 1986 as economic development coordinator. “There was no planning department,” she pointed out. Her main job was to work with local businesses and revitalize downtown College Park. “Of course the job grew over time,” she noted.
Schum was absolutely sure she was going to lose her job early on because one of her first tasks was to improve the city’s playgrounds, half of which were owned by the city, with the other half owned by Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning. “All were in terrible shape,” she said. “I hired a consultant who inspected them, cited violations and proposed improvements. The city council didn’t like me saying in public they were below standard, so they wanted to kill the manager.”
Schum’s job grew significantly over the years, and she invested her skills and experience in planning for many facets of the city’s character and wellbeing, from complex transportation issues to comprehensive action plans that will sustain the city over time.
“How am I going to disengage from these things?” she asked, laughing. “There’s always another grant to explore and project to do. That’s what’s made it interesting and rewarding
Schum officially retired on March 31. “I am excited,” she said, noting that her initial goals are to sleep in and take long walks. “I have an old house, too, and it needs repairs,” she added.
Schum regrets that she will not be in the city to see a number of projects finalized, including the renovation of Duvall Field, the Hollywood Streetscape Project and the Route 1 revitalization effort.
Schum was born in the District and grew up in Silver Spring. She married soon after starting to work for the city. Her daughter Adrienne married an Indian and lives in India, where she works in urban agriculture and urban farming. Her son Dylan lives near Joshua Creek State Park in California, and he teaches art in an elementary school. Both children often accompanied Schum when she came to her office in College Park.
Following her passions for history and archaeology, Schum majored in urban geography at the University of Maryland. “I was always interested in cities and urban development,” she said. She earned a masters in urban planning at Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore. She landed in College Park after connecting with Jack Callahan, who at the time ran College Park’s Lakeland urban renewal plan, at a seminar.
Schum was happy to see the new city hall come to fruition. “It was so hard to get a consensus because it’s a small city,” she said.
Schum is proudest of her work on the city’s comprehensive plan. “It was a three-year effort, working citywide with the community, bringing everyone together and asking them to think of the city as a whole and the city’s future. I’m happiest about the collaboration of people I got to work with to bring together and learn from,” she said.
She said her legacy “really is a more mature College Park. I think most parts of the city have improved during my watch, from the residential neighborhoods to the commercial areas.” She added that the city “has grown its tax base as a result of the redevelopment and can now afford to reinvest in city improvements.”
Schum emphasized that the work she did was always a collaborative effort with good people over the years.
“The city has come a long way during my time here, and there’s still more to be done,” she reflected. “That’s why my successor will still have opportunities and challenges to work with going forward.”