By Peter Davis
When Albert Einstein was asked by the New York State Education Department about what schools should emphasize, he responded: “in teaching history, there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgment.” The genius was right: We need role models to look both back and up to. As citizens, we need civic heroes to remind us how much can be achieved when we embody our communal values in the way we live our lives.
I, for one, was greatly influenced by my exposure to the work of Annette Mills and Dave Eckert, Falls Church civic heroes of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I remember as a kid hearing about and benefiting from their seminal help in so many tremendous Falls Church projects: the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, Watch Night, the Blues festival, the recycling program, their Tripps and Four Mile Run stream advocacy, the neighborhood tree program, Operation Earthwatch, and much more. Because I was exposed to their work, I was inspired to get more involved in Falls Church civic life in the hopes of being a tenth as civic as the couple who Tom Whipple once called, “F.C.’s Dynamic Duo.”
We cannot let the example of Falls Church civic heroes like Annette and Dave be lost to history. Our grandchildren should be exposed to the stories of citizens like Jessie Thackery, E.B. Henderson, Howard Herman and others. This is why I am calling upon our community to come together to create a permanent home for our Little City’s civic heroes: a Falls Church Hall of Fame. Just like how the mission of the Baseball Hall of Fame is to “preserve the sport’s history, honor excellence within the game and make a connection between the generations of people who enjoy baseball,” the Falls Church Hall of Fame’s mission will be to: “preserve the city’s history, honor excellence in civic action and character and make a connection between the generations of people who call Falls Church home.”
Many might wonder: Where should we put it? Here’s a Falls Churchish idea: let’s put it throughout Cherry Hill Park! Each inductee could be featured on a natural stone or wooden plaque placed elegantly at the foot of the large pines and oaks along the perimeter of the park. Anyone passing through could take a walk through Falls Church’s history and be inspired by the women and men who made our Little City the great place it is today. Perhaps we could even call it “The Falls Church Park of Fame!” Plus, each plaque could correspond to a page with much more information on each civic hero on a Falls Church Hall of Fame website.
Each year – perhaps on Memorial Day – there could be an annual induction ceremony, where the new plaque is unveiled and the inductee voted in that year (or the descendents or representatives of posthumous inductees) could give a speech to the community, sharing wisdom gained from her or his years of civic endeavors in Falls Church.
A Falls Church Hall of Fame would work to counteract three disheartening trends. First, it would put resources behind bulking up the status of the virtues we value – community-mindedness, devotion, passion, grit, action and creativity – in contrast to an age that doles fame out ever more frequently to those in possession of false virtues: money, power, looks, and passing hipness. Second, it would stand as a reminder that everything in society today exists because someone at some time decided to make it happen, in contrast to the ever-growing view among people in my young generation that “it is what it is.” Once you stop believing “it is what it is” and you start remembering that, as John Dewey wrote, “the public has no hands except those of individual human beings,” you start seeing that you, too – just like the civic heroes in the park – can be the “hands of the public” and make something happen in town! Finally, a Hall of Fame in a park would be a funky landmark in our Little City’s portfolio, helping keep Falls Church unique and place-conscious in the face of placeless Northern Virginia sprawl.
I hope we can come together to build this common home for our civic heroes’ legacies. Given that the proposal necessitates the use of a public park, the first step to make this dream a reality is to encourage the Parks and Recreation department to come behind this project. The second is to form or find a community organization to house the project. Finally, we will need to raise the funds necessary for the creation, installation and maintenance of the Hall of Fame plaques. If you are interested in helping with any part of this project, please contact FCHallOfFame@gmail.com.
Peter Davis is a founder of CommonPlace America and lead organzier for CommonPlace Falls Church.