To understand Freedoms Foundation’s decades-long bond with AMVETS and AMVETS National Ladies Auxiliary, look no further than the lines echoed in the preambles of the two veterans groups’ constitutions:
“To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States; to safeguard the principles of freedom, liberty and justice for all; to promote the cause of peace and good will among nations; to maintain inviolate the freedom of our country; to preserve the fundamentals of democracy …”
Those words embody the heart and soul of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, in every award presentation, every class and seminar on campus and around the country, and every volunteer hour spent by chapter members raising scholarship money for students.
“The longtime relationship stems from the fact that the National Ladies Auxiliary is dedicated to serving our communities, state and nation,” said Auxiliary National President Marvell Ruppel. “The Mission Statement of Freedoms Foundation – to educate about American rights and responsibilities, honor civic virtue and get involved – is a mutually like-minded goal synonymous with Ladies Auxiliary.”
AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk agrees. “We’re here not just to help veterans, but also young people who are going to be the leaders of this country,” he said. “When they leave Freedoms Foundation, they know who they are. They understand our nation’s history and how we became the United States that exists today.”
The support of AMVETS and National Ladies Auxiliary has touched every part of the 72-acre campus, from more than 200 sidewalk bricks at the entrance of the Medal of Honor Grove to renovations and upkeep of every building on campus to the carillon, one of scores AMVETS National Service Foundation has erected around the world as living memorials to the nation’s deceased veterans. The carillon was rededicated in 2012, the same year that Gary L. Fry, then AMVETS National Commander, raised nearly $70,000 for campus improvements from departments and individuals around the country.
“This has been one of our most important partnerships because they support us in two hugely important ways,” said Jason L.S. Raia, Freedoms Foundation’s Executive Vice President. “First, they directly support the educational mission by sponsoring a full Spirit of America program, year after year for more than 30 years. And second, they have all these mini-capital campaigns, raising money for classrooms, building lobbies, bathrooms and, this year, light posts.”
Since the 1980s, AMVETS has sponsored an annual Spirit of America Youth Leadership program at Freedoms Foundation, usually involving at least a hundred students and 20 adult chaperones. AMVETS’s Department of California alone often will send about 40 students.
Polk was part of the group that visited the Valley Forge campus in 2015. “That was a very good year,” said Polk, who was then the AMVETS National Second Vice Commander. “We had about 115 students, and it was the first time ever that we had a student from all 50 states. I sat in on the classes and was very impressed with the speakers the Foundation lined up. I wish we could send every high school kid in the United States there.”
The National Auxiliary’s roots run even deeper. In 1954, Beatrice “Betty” Russell was the first Auxiliary National President to serve on Freedoms Foundation’s Award Jury. In return, Foundation President Kenneth D. Wells was a guest speaker that year at the Auxiliary’s National Convention. “We recognized early on that Freedoms Foundation and the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary shared a mutual mission,” Ruppel said.
“Two factors play deeply into our relationship and future support,” Ruppel said. “First is the presence of Freedoms Foundation at our meetings, trainings, and their overall willingness to meet with Auxiliaries throughout the country. That presence builds personal relationships. Second is the recognition by Freedoms Foundation, through their inclusion in literature, media and even plaques on campus, that we are a valued partner.”
For AMVETS and the National Auxiliary, the Freedoms Foundation campus is every bit as important as the mission of the organization.
“Certainly Freedoms Foundation helps educate our young people,” said Carol King, the Auxiliary’s National Executive Director. “but it also reminds adults of how we got to where we are. Everywhere you walk – the chapel, the buildings, the dorms, the Grove – there’s a piece of history. I just love the place.”
Since 1985, the Auxiliary, national and at the state level, has contributed more than $430,000 to the Foundation, for storm windows, draperies, air conditioning, and general renovations to the Hamilton, Franklin and Knox Buildings, with almost a tenth of that amount dedicated to the Medal of Honor Grove. Since 2012, the Auxiliary’s already generous annual support has doubled, allowing for a transformation of the Martha Washington Building: a new classroom, new furniture and technology for the classroom, upgraded bathrooms, carpeting and lighting for the lobby. The Franklin and Hamilton lobbies have been renovated as well.
Raia credits Ruppel with the boost in support in recent years. “When Marvell came on board, leading the Auxiliary’s National Americanism Project, she came to us and said, ‘What do you need?’ That really started this upward trend. She essentially doubled the support.
“Marvell epitomizes the AMVETS National Ladies Auxiliary and their desire to help,” Raia added. “They want to know how they can make a difference. That’s one of the great things about the Auxiliary — and also about AMVETS.”
Next up, raising $30,000 to replace about 45 lamp posts throughout the campus, and then, no doubt, continuing to find ways to ensure this mutually beneficial relationship thrives.
“My hope is that the relationship will continue to evolve,” said Ruppel. “I would like to see increased financial support to Freedoms Foundation by the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary over the years to come. I would also like to see increased participation on the part of all the AMVETS family in attending the Auxiliary-sponsored Americanism Conference.”
Again, Polk concurs. “This program has been great for our organization, and for the students we send there, and we’re going to continue it as long as we can,” he said. “We’re in support of Freedoms Foundation.”