Memorial Garden at the Center for Families of the Fallen
The Memorial Garden at the Center for Families of the Fallen at Dover Air Force Base
The Garden: Concept to Reality
Inspired by an article about the new Center for Families of the Fallen (the CFF) at Dover Air Force Base in 2010, Alice Witterholt, then President of the Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs (DFGC), came upon the idea of installing a private garden for the families who come to Dover to participate in the dignified transfer of their loved ones.
She presented the idea to the DFGC Board who had the courage to say “yes” to the biggest project ever undertaken in the organization’s history.
While waiting for a response from the Secretary of the Air Force to our offer to “gift” a garden at the CFF, DFGC set about preparing to make the garden a reality.
Fortunately, DFGC was able to engage Rodney Robinson, a Delaware Landscape Architect, nationally recognized for his work in public places. In what was a small barren patch of poor earth with bad drainage next to a parking lot, he envisioned a small, intimate, lush, and private outdoor space for grieving families.
Delaware Garden Clubs got to work to raise money for this garden, often in very creative and inspired ways. Renee Blaschke, President of the National Garden Clubs, Inc., at the time, was a great supporter of the project. Sister garden clubs in lots of places very generously supported the project along with many individuals. The Longwood Foundation and the Crystal Foundation awarded DFGC sizeable grants for the project. Many contractors and suppliers for the garden project gave deep discounts or didn’t charge at all for their services.
As funds were being raised, DFGC worked closely with very dedicated, professional and accommodating base personnel to prepare the site and install the garden. We learned a lot about working alongside our military and they were very tolerant of us.
The enthusiasm with which people embraced this project was humbling and gratifying. Many gifts were accompanied by letters with stories that touched our hearts. Here are a few examples:
After canvasing his neighborhood for contributions, one man wrote that he
“hoped someday a family member would walk through the garden and feel
comforted, and he could know that he had a part in it.” We believe this is
the core desire that motivated all who were privileged to work to provide
An elderly woman wrote that as a teenager in WWII, she worked for the
telegraph office in her town. She rode her bicycle to people’s homes to
deliver telegrams that their loved one had died in the war. She was pleased
to be able to support the garden.
One garden club held an event to honor Gold Star Mothers, showed the
movie “Taking Chance,” and invited guests to contribute to a fund to
support the garden if they wanted to.
Many, many generous people had a hand in making this garden possible. Those who coordinated the efforts remain eternally grateful to each supporter and in awe of the project’s success.
On May 31, 2011, less than a year and a half after the idea had come to Alice,
the garden was dedicated and “gifted to the Air Force.” The elegant and
somber event was held under a pristine white tent in the commissary parking
lot. Among the150 or so guests were many dignitaries both civilian and military.
Speakers for the event were U.S. Senator Chris Coons, U.S. Congressman
John Carney, Col. Tom Joyce, Commander of AFMAO, Alice Witterholt, DFGC
President, Renee Blaschke, President of the National Garden Clubs who
awarded a citation from the organization, and State Representative Bradford
Bennett who presented a proclamation from the State of Delaware.
The DFGC installed a Blue Star Memorial Marker in the garden. The National
Garden Clubs, Inc. has promoted placing Blue Star markers on our country’s
highways and byways to pay tribute to the men and women who have served,
are now serving, and will serve in our Armed Forces. It is most appropriate to
have such a marker in this garden.
DFGC Commitment to Maintaining the Garden
A garden is an organic space and needs proper maintenance to thrive. This was such an important project that Regina Brown, who followed Alice as President of DFGC, made it her President’s Project as well. During her administration, we arranged with the base for DFGC to use the additional money we raised to care for and maintain the garden. The garden has blossomed into a lovely, secluded haven for the families of our fallen heroes. We remain deeply grateful for each gift that made this garden and its care possible.
A Rare and Relished Opportunity
The garden is a private space intended for use by the families who come to
Dover to participate in the dignified transfer of their loved one. However, the
DFGC Board and Delaware Garden Club Presidents were treated to a rare
opportunity to visit the garden in July 2016.
Visitors were honored to be welcomed by Cory Larson, Chief of Operations
Support for AFMAO and our base contact for the garden for several years
now. He, in turn, introduced Col. Dawn Lancaster, the new AFMAO
Commander, who shared a bit about how she came to be the AFMAO
commander and her deep commitment to this very important mission.
Then Christin Michaud from Public Affairs gave us a lengthy and very
informative orientation about how AFMAO functions. We visited the operations center where all news outlets are constantly monitored for breaking news of events where AFMAO might be called on to help. We were also able to see the room where uniforms are made for the fallen if the family so desires.
We were met at the garden by Rodney Robinson, the Landscape Architect who designed the garden. From his thoughtful introductory comments, to his answers to each question, it was obvious he had an intimate knowledge of every aspect of the garden and remains committed to seeing it thrive.
All 22 members of Delaware Garden Clubs who attended were moved by the experience and made even more proud of our small role in supporting the families.
A special thank you to Ken Arni and Robert Pilkington, professional photographers.
Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs
(Memo: Memorial Garden)
P.O. Box 4643
Wilmington, DE 19807