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Max Jones

November 21, 2010

MAX JONES: Friends ready for next big step at Pyle historic site

TERRE HAUTE — The campaign to preserve the legacy of World War II journalist Ernie Pyle in his hometown of Dana passed a milestone last week. Indiana’s Natural Resources Commission voted to end the state’s involvement in the Pyle historic site and turn it over to the Friends of Ernie Pyle organization.

By year’s end, the Department of Natural Resources will deed the property and contents of the site’s buildings to the local group, which has been working toward this goal since it received news of the state’s intentions last December.

The DNR’s decision to close the site and begin the process of “de-accession” — a bureaucratic term that means removing a property from the state’s system of parks and historic sites — came as a bitter disappointment to the Friends group, which for decades existed as a support group for the Dana Historic Site. So many of the good things that happened at the Pyle birth home and museum through the years came about in large part because of the local volunteers.

The museum was made possible by the Friends group, which raised several hundred thousand dollars during the 1990s to expand the site and create permanent historical exhibits inside. The museum enhanced the site as a tourist destination, which previously consisted only of the Pyle birth home.

Although strong as a support group, the Friends of Ernie Pyle was not prepared to become the sole operator of the site. Fortunately, the state allowed the Friends extra time to re-organize, expand its board and ultimately decide to accept ownership and control of the site.

Despite pressures of the past year, the Friends has now positioned itself to move forward with its mission of preserving in Dana the legacy of native son Ernie Pyle, the most famous war correspondent in American history.

In the interest of disclosure, I accepted an invitation from the Friends last summer to become part of its expanded board. Since then, I’ve been privileged to become acquainted and work with the core group of five who are advancing this cause. They are Cynthia Myers, Phil Hess, Joanie Rumple, and Kerry and Norton Newcomb.

As one of eight new members of the expanded 13-member board, I am constantly inspired by their dedication to the Pyle historic site. It’s been a hard year, but they’ve handled it with grace and class.

When the Friends of Ernie Pyle takes ownership in January, it will assume control of all operations at the site. More importantly, it will begin the task of developing a nationwide campaign to raise funds to ensure the site will remain viable in the future.

Already, the Friends has developed a partnership with the Hoosier State Press Association, which represents the state’s newspaper industry. Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, has taken a personal interest in helping the organization, and represented it at last week’s Natural Resources Commission meeting in Indianapolis.

In addition to HSPA’s support, the Friends hopes to form alliances with veterans organizations, the Scripps Foundation (which contributed greatly to the current site), the Ernie Pyle School of Journalism at Indiana University, and journalistic groups across the country.

Even though the Friends will be looking for key support outside of the area, it should be noted that local support is strong in Vermillion and surrounding counties. Various units of Vermillion County government have pledged to do whatever they can to help keep the site healthy and in operation. That says a lot about the commitment local leaders and residents have to Pyle’s legacy and the historic site.

The next year will be critical for the future of the site. There is much to be done. Stay tuned.

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