Anne Husted Burleigh wrote a wise little book called Journey Up the River. One of her vignettes is about a play Thornton Wilder wrote that I think about when I think of the Germanna Foundation: The Christmas Dinner.
The theme of the bond of succeeding generations is depicted as a long banquet, a continual Christmas dinner. Family members (like our trustees, staff, advisors, volunteers, and donors) come in, talk, enjoy each other’s company, and grow old. One by one, a character grows quiet, rises and exits just as another character enters the stage and takes the empty place at the table.
Every character is unique. Each has been selected by The Author to complement the others at the table, to play a role that only he or she can play, and then exit as a cue for someone else to enter, take a seat at the table, and fulfill a unique role. Without this circle of movement, from one life to the next, there would be a break in the unfolding plot of the play.
In my time at the Germanna Foundation table, I have met some real characters, and count among them my best friends who shaped me into the man I am. One of my friends was Russell Hitt, who has just taken leave from his place at the table.
Do you know the one about the old German farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her? Well, I’m glad I got to tell Russell how much he meant to me while he was at the table. Advice and outlook on life that Russell and Joan have given my wife Marie and me over the last twenty years are shared at the dinner table, and are influencing the lives of my two children.
Two years ago, I led a modernization effort with the Germanna Foundation Board of Trustees to approve a strategic plan to sharpen our focus on the great objects of our mission and to put in place a plan to constantly refresh new actors coming to the table through succession planning.
As part of that strategic plan, a new president would step in on November 7th, 2020, and my time as president for the last twelve years will have come to a close. According to plan, a new president was recruited and selected: Keith Hoffman. We have the strongest board and staff we have ever had, and thanks to our member households, our finances are sound.
The Germanna Foundation is in good, capable hands with the new president, my friend, colleague (and my 8th cousin once removed!) Keith Hoffman. Keith is a level-headed, strategic thinker who always seeks out the best advice to put into action. He has a vision for the Germanna Foundation to be self-sustaining for hundreds of years by reaching out to the local community, those dedicated to the history of the American idea, and descendants who want to share in the stewardship of the site where their American story began. Given his experience for handling billions of dollars of investments for a Federal agency, the Germanna Foundation has the capacity to grow by leaps and bounds.
Russell Hitt was troubled by the course our country is taking, symbolized by the vandalism of public monuments and the headquarters of historical societies. But Russell remained optimistic that the work of the Foundation would see us through these turbulent times and into one marked by grace and forgiveness of one another and the deeds of our ancestors.
I recently found a fitting 1941 quote from John Dos Passos, but Russell died before I could share it with him: “In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present and get us past that idiot delusion of the exceptional Now that blocks good thinking.” That, friends, is our mission to our countrymen — let’s invite them in, to sit at the table of the Germanna Foundation.
I thank you for the many years of support and kindnesses you have extended to me, my family, and the Germanna Foundation. I am grateful you are at the table.
I’m not going anywhere, however. I am still a member of the Board of Trustees and look forward to playing an active role in supporting the Foundation, and as usual, I have many new ideas on how to do this — they just need volunteers and money to succeed! If you also have ideas on ways to expand the activities and reach of the Foundation, please contact me through the staff.
J. Marc Wheat
Germanna Foundation Board of Trustees Note:
The Germanna Foundation has been so fortunate to have Marc Wheat as a leader. He joined the Board of Trustees in 1997, succeeding Sarah Aylor Lewis.
Marc became the fourth president of the Germanna Foundation in 2008 and under his term, he built up the Foundation to reflect its future status as the steward of a national historic landmark, true to the history of the country we love.
Through his leadership and persistent diligence, he acquired the 62-acre Fort Germanna / Enchanted Castle archaeological site for the Germanna Foundation, established the Germanna Foundation archaeology program, and initiated the drive for the Hitt Archaeology Center, among many other things.
He helped expand the reach and ties of Germanna locally, nationwide and even worldwide, making the history of Fort Germanna and its colonists known to a wider audience. Marc enhanced communications with its members via the website, printed newsletters, email news, direct mail, and social media.
The Germanna Foundation as it is today is a testament to Marc’s innovations, ideas and leadership. We greatly appreciate and honor his work and we are glad he will continue to be a part of the Foundation as a trustee.
With Keith Hoffman moving from Treasurer to President, Trustee Stephen Chanko, a Certified Public Accountant, will now be the new Treasurer of the Foundation. The terms of two board members, Ann Baise and Raymond “Skip” Poole, have ended. Through their terms, they have contributed greatly to the activities and betterment of the Foundation in a variety of ways, not least in the work related to the acquisition of the Fort Germanna site, fine-tuning our finances, building up the endowment fund, and creating some surprises for future Germanna kids who will open up the Germanna time capsule in 2068.
New to the board is Brantley Carter Bolling Knowles, who is currently President General of the Colonial Dames of America and who oversaw the archaeological site of Alexander Spotwood’s Fort Christanna, and Linda “Sunny” Reynolds, a business owner and former elected official who is active in the Fauquier County community. We welcome Brantley and Sunny and look forward to working with them.
For biographies of the Board of Trustees, see:
Biographies of the Council of Advisors: