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DAR: Carrying the torch of patriotism and service
Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), founded in 1890 and incorporated by an act of Congress in 1896, proudly carries the torch of patriotism and service to our country.

This is a volunteer service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history and securing America’s future through better education for children. Locally, the Sarah Platt Decker Chapter is active in all aspects of the organization. Members in Pagosa Springs, Bayfield and Durango annually sponsor or participate in a wide variety of local and national activities and events. This busy group of ladies works hard and enjoys the role their organization plays in promoting patriotism, historic preservation and education.

With the start of a new school year, it is only natural that the first of many upcoming activities centers around local youth and education. Pagosa Springs students in grades five through eight are invited to submit entries in the DAR’s American History Essay Contest. More than 4,000 schools annually participate in this contest, with nearly 66,000 entries submitted. Medals and certificates recognizing class participation are awarded to students and outstanding teachers. Student awards will be made at each grade level. Teachers will be receiving information about this contest shortly.

The DAR (locally, statewide and nationally) also sponsors an annual Good Citizen Award program for graduating seniors. The selected student is chosen on the basis of his or her all-around abilities, achievements and character traits. He or she is academically well qualified, active in both school and community activities, and shows strong character and good citizenship. The local winning representative goes to Durango to participate in the contest on a district level. From that point, the winner moves on to the state competition. Colorado’s most notable good citizens are not always from large cities. Pagosa’s Allison Laverty recently won local and district competitions and moved on to take top Colorado honors as well.

Last fall and winter, several women were spotted at any number of meetings or activities, busily knitting away. Chances are good that these were some local DAR members. They were knitting all wool helmet liners and scarves that were ultimately delivered to servicemen in Afghanistan. The locals donated 35 helmet liners and six scarves that were welcomed by the servicemen who were outside in the harsh elements of that area. The DAR further supports servicemen and women in many other ways. They send many signed greeting cards. (They welcome names and addresses of servicemen and women that you know would like to receive mail from home.) They donate phone cards to wounded soldiers in regional medical centers so they can phone their loved ones. Along with the phone cards they include care packages that are delivered to “the chaplain’s closet” at the medical centers where they can be distributed, as needed. It is often two or three weeks before any personal belongings catch up with these patients. The care packages often include such items as sweat suits, socks, personal hygiene items, candy and playing cards.

The chapter members enjoyed being able to interact with the Wounded Warriors who visited Pagosa Springs this summer. They hosted a dinner for some in that group at the Toner Ranch, home of two local DAR members, Cynthia and Dottie Toner. The guests were entertained with local cowboy poetry while they feasted on the traditional “ranch barbecue” provided by the DAR members. The chapter also participated in other Wounded Warrior activities throughout the week.

Each year, on Flag Day, the group sponsors a flag retirement ceremony at the Animas Museum in Durango, as a part of the Flag Day ceremonies there. If you have an American flag that is wearing out and that could stand to be replaced, watch for news of next year’s ceremony. This event is always announced in advance. The ladies also work with the Boy Scouts and assist with some of their flag ceremonies.

The group always loves a parade. They can be seen in Durango and/or Pagosa Springs parades on July 4. For Constitution Week they always have an informative display in the front area of Ruby Sisson Library for everyone to enjoy.

Nationally, the patriotic support of our nation by the DAR is almost endless. A visit to the headquarters of the National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution in Washington D.C. will help one to understand the broad scope of the organization. The gift of a beaded handbag in 1890 marked the modest beginning of this extensive museum. Today, the collection has grown from a single bag to over 30,000 historical relics that reflect the decorative and fine arts in America from 1700 to 1850. Additionally, the Americana Collection, started in 1940, includes more historical memorabilia that focuses on Colonial America. The items on display in this particular collection change periodically to reflect different themes. If you are planning to visit Washington D.C. make this museum one of your “must see” destinations. It is located at 1776 D Street NW. Further information can be obtained by calling (202) 879-3241. The museum is handicap accessible. Self-guided, group and individual tours are available.

The DAR Library, also housed at the DAR headquarters in Washington D.C., is one of America’s premier genealogical research centers. If you can imagine, from its modest beginnings of 600 books, this library has grown into a specialized collection of more than 185,000 volumes, 300,000 files and 65,000 microforms. The library is used not only by DAR members and prospective members, but by all family researchers. There are vast sources of information housed in the library, including an online catalog, reference assistance and various search services. Information about the library and available services can be found at www.dar.org/library. E-mail inquiries can be directed to library@dar.org.

The group supports additional historical preservation through financial donations to commemoratives and memorials, including the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C., Women in Military Service to America in Arlington, Va., and displays in the United States Capitol Building. Donations have been made for the marking of various historical trails across the United States and to the Valley Forge Memorial Bell Tower in Valley Forge, Pa.

In addition to the aforementioned local emphasis on education, the DAR nationally supports Quilt Camp, Colonial Camp and Indian Youth of America summer camp programs. Adult programs in literacy promotion and lineage research are offered. Scholarships in a number of areas are also available to qualified students. Over $1 million is given annually by the DAR to support six schools founded to provide educational opportunities that would otherwise by unavailable to the populations they serve. These schools provide a variety of special needs programs that address problems such as attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, adult literacy and children in family crisis. Sizeable financial contributions are also made to provide financial assistance to Native American students.

This might be an organization you would like to become a part of. The local chapter always welcomes new members. Any woman 18 years or older, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background and who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible for membership. There is a common misconception that the ancestor had to have actually fought in the Revolutionary War. This is not true. To be a patriot of the war, that ancestor could have participated or shown support for the troops in many ways, including but not limited to, manufacturing or repairing arms, making uniforms, shoeing horses for soldiers, providing meals or medical attention or other means of support of the armed forces. Tracing your lineage becomes relatively simple and very interesting. Local and national DAR volunteers are willing to provide guidance and assist you with your first step into the world of genealogy. There is also a very active local genealogy society here that meets monthly.

The local DAR chapter meets the third Saturday of the month, September through May, from 10 to 11:45 a.m., at the La Plata Senior Citizens Center in Durango. There is always carpooling available. The 2008-2010 chapter regent, Sandy Howe, lives in Pagosa Springs and will be happy to provide more information or answer questions you might have. She can be contacted at mimihowe@hotmail.com. The general contact for the Sarah Platt Decker Chapter information is www.coloradodar.org/chapters and the national Web site is www.dar.org.