The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 25, 2022 1:00 am

DAR chapter marks 120 years

Group shares love of history, nation's roots

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

The Daughters of the American Revolution's local Mary Penrose Wayne chapter is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.

Not many groups in Fort Wayne have lasted longer or provided more consistent service to the community. And although the relevance of the group, named for the wife of the city's namesake, Gen. Anthony Wayne, has been questioned over the years, members say that misses the point of what the group is all about, which is to make sure everyone else remembers the relevance of those who made sacrifices for the country.

Past local regent Linda Stafford has been a DAR member since 2004 and a history buff since 10th grade, leaning into stories learned largely from her grandmother and her grandmother's sister.

“They had records of family gatherings all the way back to the 1800s, and they always talked about Revolutionary War patriots,” said Stafford, a retired nurse. “I always loved history, and I just thought it was kind of neat because I love the idea of my country and what we had to do to get our country, what we had to go through.”

She was fortunate her ancestors survived, including one who fought at Valley Forge. Because she knew it was something her grandmother would have loved, Stafford made sure her mother became a DAR member the year before she passed.

There are many similar stories.

There are 185,000 DAR members across the world, including about 5,000 in 85 Indiana chapters. Every northeast Indiana county has a chapter, and there are 171 members in the Allen County branch, including about 30 who regularly attend meetings. Part of those meetings includes regularly inducting new members.

DAR would love to attract younger members interested in history, fellowship and volunteering. However, prospective new members must be able to trace their lineage to someone who served during the American Revolution, though not necessarily on the battlefield.

And DAR members are willing to help prospective members explore their roots. Volunteers help out at the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Department on the first Wednesday of every month by appointment.

“Sometimes that's easy and sometimes it's not,” said Martha Barnhart, a local member since 1992 and a former national organization board member. “You have to have proof. Very rarely do we have to turn someone away. Usually, we are able to come up with something from appropriate documentation, sometimes with the help of our genealogists.”

They also don't give up easily.

“It's a challenge, like finding a piece to a puzzle, and it makes people happy,” said 40-year member Katie Bloom, 92, who has held various local and statewide DAR offices. Bloom, who has seven children and worked at Parkview Hospital, was pushed to sign up by her husband and now loves attending every meeting.

The group's three major functions are supporting veterans, preserving history and educating the public. There are no politics involved or allowed because that might distract from the mission, and there's plenty to do regarding those areas.

“The more active we become in doing these things, the more dedicated we become to the organization,” Barnhart said. “It's also fun, and you make friends. That's the unspoken part.”

But perhaps the group's favorite activity is reminding everyone what has been sacrificed to build and preserve this nation.

“We don't want to rewrite history, but we are promoting patriotism, historical preservation and education,” Barnhart said. “We have something very special that we need to hold onto. And that's relevant in today's world.”

Getting involved

A few examples of favorite functions of the local Mary Penrose Wayne chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year:

Seeing veterans off and on Honor Flights when they occur.

Helping to preserve a collection of American Revolution relics that was started when the group was formed in 1902 and has bounced from display at the Allen County Courthouse to the Swinney Homestead and now at The History Center.

Supporting the Veterans National Memorial Shrine & Museum on O'Day Road, including providing a $150,000 bequest from Jeanette Sterling to build a new chapel.

Sponsoring a chair at Parkview Field to honor and remember Prisoners of War.

Providing money for scholarships recognizing area high school seniors as good citizens and a History Teacher of the Year Award.

Purchasing supplies to participate in placing Wreaths Across America at Lindenwood Cemetery to mark the graves of veterans.

Paying for the placement of historical markers regarding revolutionary events around the community.

Sending care packages two or three times annually to those serving in the military.

Visiting patients at the local VA hospital, as well as distributing snacks and Christmas stockings.

Collecting at least 250 cards to send quarterly to military members. The group helped set a Guinness Book of World Records mark by collecting more than 100,000 individual notes in one week, which were sent to active servicemen and women.

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time for newly naturalized U.S. citizens during Allen County Courthouse ceremonies.

Providing children information for school projects.

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