A note from Sandy Arpen
Truly our schoolhouse Grand Opening was one of those emotionally satisfying days that lifted me up in so many ways. After so many years of trying and planning - the schoolhouse was opened for the public. Every individual who spoke delivered a heartfelt and passionate message of what was accomplished by uniting as a community for this schoolhouse. The crowd of 300 people were learning, laughing, singing, and praying together, which was very powerful, to say the least. Honoring Don Yocom and Amy Ver Beek Brown was difficult, but very moving. And, to watch Sister Thomas Joseph cut the ribbon and then see the pride in Sam's Burney's eyes when he rang that bell - well that was exhilarating. And to follow all that up with the wonderful performances of the Philip R. Cousin AME Church Choir and the Don't Miss a Beat kids - well that was pure joy!
All through the day people came up and told me how perfect the ceremony was - how organized, well-orchestrated and smooth it all went. People in attendance all seemed happy and proud and excited to be there. The food was all eaten, the cake was also gone and we had little water left - the treats were clearly enjoyed by everybody.
I also heard as many comments about the "wow" factor of the interpretive exhibits and how amazing the schoolhouse looked inside and outside. People seemed mesmerized by the photos and the stories - and conversations were going on all over the place. I lost track of how many times I actually heard someone say "I just can't believe it."
Well, we all know it takes hundreds of hours of planning and research, pure physical labor and a lot of people to pull off restoring an old building, designing and opening a completely new exhibit and having an celebration event like this. It doesn't just happen. The ceremony was so packed and I was so overwhelmed with my own feelings about this day that I was unable to acknowledge publicly those who actually made it happen over the last 15 months. I'd like to recognize and thank individually some MMHS volunteers and others.
If you see any of these people, please join me in thanking them for putting their hearts and souls into researching, compiling information and designing such a first-class educational exhibit: Karen Droege, Pat Wojciechowski, Sheridan Brown, Gabriele Dempsey, Bruce Vacca, LeAnn Arndt, Joyce Brown, and Jay Smith. The work they accomplished is incredible really...and so valuable, as it is the foundation we must have to tell the stories accurately and interestingly.
The hours of physical labor to restore the building through repairs, plastering and painting was headed up by volunteer Jim Rafferty, who spent many hours working alone, but was often accompanied by others, including Geoff Butler. Don Carter and Chris Bedingfield built the benches. Tracey Arpen, Pat Plumlee, Virginia Barker and Karen Droege spent many hours improving the yard out front and tending to the new landscaping. City employees pressure washed the museum, blew off the roof, painted the railings and had the farmhouse repainted - all to help the park look beautiful for our event.
Those who planned and orchestrated every aspect of the Grand Opening event were: Pat Wojciechowski (Chairperson), Sheridan Brown (designed the beautiful program), Hope Ferrigno and Susan Ford (planned and served all the food items). Hope's daughter, Alanna McAllister, drove all the way from Louisiana with a 30 foot tent to save us money and help with the event and we are extremely grateful to her also.
About 30 of our faithful volunteers (including Boy Scout Troop 473) were organized by Volunteer Coordinator Paula Suhey to man all the buildings, direct traffic, welcome visitors, set up and break down chairs, and pick up garbage. Heather Bailey helped us greatly with publicity.
I'd also like to mention that we are grateful for the friends and family of Don Yocom who donated memorial gifts to MMHS in Don's memory. We were able to use those funds for the beautiful flagpole and 45 star flag which will be raised every time the schoolhouse is open. We were also able to buy the new portable speaker system that we used for this event and will use for many more events in the future, including Third Thursday Lectures. It saved us Saturday, as the entire crowd was able to hear.
Lastly, thank you to all businesses, organizations and private individuals who supported this effort in any way including: MMHS Board of Directors, Mandarin Community Club, Sisters of St. Joseph, The City of Jacksonville, Councilman Matt Schellenberg, Thomas and Susan Ford, Allan and Rosemary McCorkle, Betty Taylor, MMHS members and donors, R.G. White Construction, McCall Service, First Coast Scaffolding, Randy Roumillat, Emily and Larry Lisska,The Rotary Club of Mandarin, Rotary District 6970, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the Knights of Columbus St. Johns River Council #10850, Publix on San Jose, Winn-Dixie on San Jose, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Starbucks on San Jose, Panera on St. Augusine Rd, Hagan Ace Hardware and McDonalds of Jacksonville, Dan Scanlan and all the speakers and performers at the event.
I extend my personal gratitude and that for all in attendance on the 30th and in the future. Your generosity of time, talent and treasure is great. Thank you.