Daughters of the American Revolution: Preserving history for the future of Okaloosa County

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FORT WALTON BEACH — If you pay attention to Okaloosa County Commission meetings from time to time, you may hear Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel mention her participation in a group called the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) at various times throughout the year.

Most recently, Daughters of the American Revolution was in the public eye due to a commendation bestowed upon the county after the approval of the monuments that currently sit in the Womens Veterans Memorial on Okaloosa Island.

Which raised the question: What does the Daughters of the American Revoution do for the residents of Okaloosa County? The answer is more than you think.

To learn more about the organization and how if affects the community, the Northwest Florida Daily News had the opportunity to sit down with Okaloosa County Commissioner and Choctawhatchee Bay Chapter Parliamentarian Carolyn Ketchel, Registar Sherry Vieth and Chapter Regent lija Eldridge.

What is the Daughters of the American Revolution?

Daughters of the American Revolution was founded as the country entered a crossroads in the mid to late 19th century. The country was still recovering from an era of national reconstruction following the Civil War. Strides were then made as a new and inclusive social ideology was sweeping across the nation.

For women, they were mostly excluded from these changes. That was the catalyst for the Womens Suffrage Movement to gain momentum as the 1800s came to a close.

By 1889, the country was celebrating the centennial anniversary of the inauguration of President George Washinton. Americans at that time were exploring new ways to honor the past, all while taking pride in being an American.

On July 13, 1890, the Sons of the American Revolution, which was founded a year earlier, denied the inclusion of women into the group. This led Mary Smith Lockwood to publish a story of Hannah White Arnett in The Washington Post. That article ended with a simple question: "Where will the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution place Hannah Arnett?"

A week later, William O. McDowell, the great-grandson of Arnett, published an article in The Washington Post that offered to help form a society that is now known as the Daughters of the American Revolution. The first meeting was held on Aug. 9, 1890, with the first chapter beginning on Oct. 11, 1890.

Since its inception, DAR has welcomed more than 1 million women to the organization. DAR recognizes 3,000 chapters that reside in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. along with international chapters as well.

Their mission involves three pillars that make up their primary mission statement: to carry on the memory of the men and women who helped America achieve its independence; to carry on the call to action that was delivered by President George Washington in his farewell address to ensure education of our nation's history; and to maintain and develop true patriotism and love of country for future generations.

Joining an exclusive club

While the organization allows women of all races, religion and ethnic backgrounds to join, there is only one condition prospective members have to meet in order to join: They must prove they are the descendant of a patriot from the American Revolution. That proof is verified through historical records that document that person's birth, death or marriage.

For Veith, she is the descendant of Samuel Tate. Tate was a shipbuilder from Ireland who came to America in 1763. During the war, Tate served as a private.

Her involvement started when she retired from retail when she lived in Virginia. As she went berry picking with her daughter, she told her that her grandmother's family is from around the area. This led to her son-in-law recommending her to join DAR.

Commissioner Ketchel is a descendant of two patriots from the American Revolution: Nicholas Bieber and Daniel Stover from Pennsylvania. According to Ketchel, Bieber was a private who fought alongside George Washington during the Battle of Delaware, while Stover aided American forces during the war.

Also in her family tree is President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who is a third cousin to Ketchel.

Ketchel was inspired to join the organization after seeing the statue of the "Madonna of the Trail," which is a set of 12 identical statues along the National Old Trails Road that represent the spirit of the pioneer woman in the United States. Each statute was commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

"I walked into this statue when I was about 28 years old and thought this is the most beautiful statue I've ever seen," said Ketchel. "The statue was compelling, and I thought I could be a member because my aunt was a member for 70 years. I thought, 'Someday, I'm going to do this.' "

After years of being a member, Ketchel calls the organization her "happy place."

Eldridge is a descendant of Philip Paul Yoakum and Michael Harness. Yoakum provided goods and services to members in conflict while Harness served as a captain. Harness also built a fort in his namesake and it was garrisoned by Washington during the French and Indian War.

Her involvement with DAR began with her aunt. At the time, Eldridge lived in Ohio. Her aunt conducted lineage research on her family. This led her mom to join the organization, which then led to her involvement. When she moved to Okaloosa County, she looked for a local chapter and has been a member ever since.

Impacts on Okaloosa County

The Choctawhatchee Bay Chapter was founded on April. 22, 1967 and currently has 250 members who are currently active in the organization.

"We are busting at the seams," said Ketchel.

According to Commissioner Ketchel, the chapter is currently the third largest chapter in the state, behind Orlando and Tampa. She attributes that size to the patriotism shown in the community and the contributing military population in the area.

While many may not know of the impact the chapter has made over the past 56 years, residents across Okaloosa County have certainly seen them.

As you walk through the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, a videoboard can be seen that tells the story of 30 to 40 veterans whose stories are preserved forever thanks to the organization. Those veterans include Medal of Honor recipient USAF Col. George "Bud" Day and Walt Richardson. Sr, who was one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airman.

After conducting those interviews, DAR sent their stories to be preserved at the Library of Congress.

"It's wonderful that women want to give back in this way and have taken up so many good causes," Ketchel added.

Other impacts include the statue of Margaret Corbin at the Womens Veterans Memorial on Okaloosa Island and a patriot garden that sits outside of the Okaloosa County Administration Building in Shalimar.

On a personal level, the organization also sends Christmas cards to veterans living at the Air Force Enlisted Village and paired with the Sons of the American Revoution to conduct a cemetery restoration project to the small cemeteries that dot the vast landscape of the Eglin Air Force Base range complex.

As the chapter has become more involved in the community, the interest in membership has become so grand that a second chapter in Okaloosa County was formed in Destin. Founded in 2014, the Destin chapter currently has 100 active members and growing.

Want to join?

As with any group or organization, most people join to find a sense of belonging and community. According to Commissioner Ketchel, DAR is no different.

"I think most people would say to you the reason they're a daughter is for friends," she said. "We're close and a lot of us here are transplants."

The thing all members have in common is love of country and a dedication to keeping our history alive. To get started, go to www.cbcdar.com learn more about their contact information. To join, all you need is your birth certificate and your parent's birth or death certificate to get started; the organization will find your patriot for free.

The Choctawhatchee Bay Chapter meets monthly, with each month offering something different. In November, the chapter discussed new beginnings at the Indian Temple Mound, which had Fort Walton Beach City Manager Jeff Peters and a representative from the mound speak to the organization.

On Dec. 14, DAR will host J. Lenora Bresler as she performs "Dickens of a Christmas." The event begins at 11 a.m. and will be held at Fort Walton Beach Yacht Club. The Christmas event is open to the public.

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Choctawhatchee Bay Chapter carries our past while inspiring the future