Although Memorial Day didn’t become an official United States holiday until 1971, this day of remembrance is rooted in traditions that go back more than a thousand years. The first well documented public tribute to those who died in battle was given in 431 B.C. Pericles, the fabled “first citizen” of democratic Athens, offered a stirring tribute to those who perished in the Peloponnesian War. His skills as an orator were literally the stuff of Greek legend as his speech that day is said to be his time’s equivalent of Abraham Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address.
One of the first known gatherings organized by ordinary citizens to commemorate those who died in service to the United States occurred in May 1865. More than a thousand recently freed slaves stepped forward to consecrate a new burial site for Union soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina.
My late father, Bernaldo Daniel Bicoy, was a decorated veteran of World War II and Korean, having been awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. While he always took pause on Memorial Day to honor his comrades in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, he also used the occasion to remember those who gave in other ways and were no longer with us.
Dad always wanted us to remember that the blessings of today are a direct result of the gifts and sacrifices of those who came before us. In addition to his fellow soldiers, my father would recall the teacher that believed in him as a child, the friend that stood by his side, and the mentor who guided his path in early adulthood. All of these good people had long since left the world, but Dad would take a moment on Memorial Day to celebrate and thank all of those who contributed to the life he felt privileged to enjoy. I heard echoes of my father’s teachings recently when I was signing letters on behalf of the Door County Community Foundation, awarding grants to numerous local charities.
It’s easy to remember those who directly and knowingly gave in some way to help create the wonderful life I have. Like my father, I can remember teachers, friends, and mentors now gone who played an enormous role in my life. Yet while signing that stack of grant award letters for the community foundation, I thought about all the people whose lives would soon be touched by generous souls they would never personally know.
The late Ruth Barker left a remarkable gift in her estate plans that enabled the Community Foundation to create the Ruth and Hartley Barker Memorial Fund. This permanent endowment generates income which the Community Foundation’s Board of Directors awards in the Barkers’ names to Door County charities.
For instance, Write On, Door County was a recent recipient of one of those grants. Money from the Ruth and Hartley Barker Memorial Fund were used to help bring one of the country’s most admired poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, to offer workshops for Door County students.
Similarly, a few years back a loving daughter from far beyond our peninsula created the Bernice and Gene Hawkins Charitable Fund at the community foundation to remember and celebrate her parents love for Door County. Some of the income from this fund was recently used to help install a handicap lift at the Namur Belgian Heritage Center.
The Clifford and Clara Herlache Heritage Foundation at the Community Foundation was originally started by the former Baylake Bank and members of the Herlache family to carry on this generous couple’s tradition of preserving the history and culture of Door County. The fund awarded a recent grant to Crossroads at Big Creek to expand the archaeological dig at the preserve so students and interested residents can explore the distant history of our land.
An estate gift from Martha Cherry allowed the community foundation to create the Martha Cherry Human Service Fund. Not too long ago a grant was given in her name to Feed and Clothe My People to provide nutritious snacks to more than 300 low-income children in Door County.
Several years ago, the late Andy Lawrence celebrated the memory of his loving wife by setting up the Elizabeth “Betty” Lawrence Human Services Fund at the Community Foundation. Moneys from this fund were recently awarded to the Door County Medical Center to provide free dental care to children and adults in our community.
Literally tens of thousands of people will be touched in some way by just the five grants listed in this column. During the last year the complete family of charitable funds at the community foundation awarded 717 grants totaling $1,662,693. Imagine the collective impact of all this wonderful generosity to our community.
Yet what often amazes me the most are people like the Barkers, the Hawkins, the Herlaches, and countless others who so selflessly gave without any knowledge of whom their gift would help. Their affection for Door County was so overflowing that they gave not just to a specific person or particular organization, but rather to sustain and advance the place they love.
As my father taught me, let us all take a moment to remember, celebrate, and thank those who may no longer with us but contributed meaningfully to the life we are privileged to enjoy on our beautiful little peninsula.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on June 2, 2017.