Curator General Introduction

Written by: Janet Whittington, Curator General
September 3, 2019

Sometimes, when I am traveling, I see a group of lovely young women sitting together, perhaps in an airport or a hotel lobby.  I always wish that I could just go over, interrupt, and talk them into joining the DAR, because they are missing out on an amazing source of joy and friendship. If I were going to try to convince them, which of my hundreds of DAR stories would I share?

I joined the DAR in 1985.  Before my twins were born, I had been working at the VA Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi, in special hematology.  It was an exciting time in genetics; but by the time a distant cousin called out of the blue, I had been home alone with toddlers for two years. My cousin had arranged a visit to a local DAR chapter for me. I went, and the Annandale Chapter ladies acted as if they were glad to have me. We are always told that the best way to retain a new member is to get her busy, and it certainly was true for me.  My first big DAR job was to organize a “city-wide” celebration for the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Since our village had only 3,000 citizens, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but the National Guard brought helicopters and real Humvees for the kids to climb on; I had a giant Constitution printed on heavy cloth for the folks to “ratify;” and Federal Judge Grady Jolly came and spoke to the crowd. The town loved it, and I was hooked on DAR.  

It wasn’t that long before I was Paging at state conference, and even got to Page once at Continental Congress.  Take a look at the page picture with Mrs. Fleck from 1989.  There are three members of the new VanBuren Executive Board in that photo—me, Cyndy Sweeney, and Pamela Wright.   I wonder how many other future state regents are in this picture?  I’m pretty sure I see Liz Hodgkiss of Maine.  

One is never expecting it when DAR changes your life. On a visit to Lucedale, Mississippi, the Declaration of Independence Chapter gave me a Phaeleanopsis for a travel gift; a dozen years later, raising orchids has become a hobby. On a visit to Michigan, Mary Ellen Byrne gave me a Petoski stone, and now my husband and I look for fossils everywhere we travel. On a visit to Massachusetts, Anne Urbaczsewski stopped me in my tracks when she asked me, “When the British marched on the night of the 18th of April, exactly where were they going?”  I had thought I knew a good bit about Revolutionary War History, but I would never just skim over the facts again.

Amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experiences?  The DAR has served up a few to me! I was at the West Virginia State Conference when the awesome Shirley Gilkeson was State Regent. A whole line of tornadoes came through, knocking down so many trees that all traffic in and out was completely blocked, which reduced a seven-story hotel to candle power. There wasn’t even toast; we ate cold white bread slices for breakfast.  Watching Shirley take care of her WV Daughters taught me lessons in leadership I could learn in no other place.

Another amazing experience that only the DAR could give was the privilege of visiting the U.S.S. Mississippi nuclear submarine when it docked at Groton, Connecticut, after its shakedown voyage. MSSDAR had created a special gift for this newest boat (Submarines are boats, not ships.  They sink ships.), and I was invited to present it to the crew in person.  I have long been a submarine “buff” and seeing its nuclear warhead deck, at-depth deployment compartment and hot rack accommodations in person was a total thrill.  Our submariners make huge sacrifices for their country; they are truly special young people.

All the exciting things I have experienced in my DAR life have been great, but the main reason why I love the DAR is the women I have met and with whom I have worked. Through the DAR I have known some of the most incredible women on the planet, and I could never have met them any other way. 

In closing, I know positively that my Yazoo Chapter makes life better in our little Delta community; that MSSDAR, with its ties to Rosalie Mansion and the Natchez Trace Parkway, makes life better in Mississippi; and that NSDAR improves life in this nation in too many ways to even begin to try to make a list. I am grateful for the gifts the DAR has given me -- I just wish I could get all those girls at the airport to join us.  

 

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