22 December 2021
I appreciate the Board’s confidence in electing me as Chair of the Friends of Andersonville. I feel humbled by their action and hope that I can live up to the challenge. The reason I feel humbled is that those who served in this position previously were visionary leaders who inspired me by their love for Andersonville.
Bill Arcuri served as Chair during most of the last year. I came to know Bill when he came to the park in May and gave an inspiring talk about his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Before Bill, Jim Covington served as Chair for over 10 years. Jim’s passion for Andersonville culminated in this year’s Wreaths Across America event where a wreath was provided for every grave, which was over 20,000 in the Cemetery. Jim partnered with Bennett Trucking and so many others providing 1,000 volunteers to place the wreaths on the graves. John Bates served as Chair during a time when the Andersonville Trust grew so that the Traveling Exhibit could be produced and send the Andersonville story on the road to other museums. Mark Stibitz brought his background as a passionate living historian to our organization. Many of you may remember the late Carl Runge who first had the idea of an endowment fund to provide long term support for the park. Carl (another former POW) was there raising money for the Andersonville Trust when few thought the idea had any chance of succeeding. Lang Sheffield even testified before Congress on behalf of the Friends of Andersonville telling how our community supports this special site and convinced the Congress to expand our park’s boundary. Bill and Nancy Fornes were the first leaders of the Friends back in the late 1980’s when our group was established. Bill was a POW in the Korean War. Others who were not the President or Chair that have been there for decades supporting our group have been Melanie Grace, Wayne Waddell and Randy Jones. I’ve probably left some folks out since so many have demonstrated their passion for the site through support of the Friends.
Our little group has big potential. The Andersonville Trust has over $2.7 million in the corpus and has provided over one million dollars of support for the park since 1996. Our membership stands at over 200 and we’re all cover the country. We will continue our core mission of providing support for Andersonville National Historic Site mainly for funding enhancements that the National Park Service cannot provide. The primary areas of support will focus on resource stewardship, visitor services and education.
To those who built the foundation of the Friends of Andersonville, I salute you and offer a heartfelt thank you.