Plans for Cape veterans museum move forward
The Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation has a lot happening right now.
As they prepare to open their museum/memorabilia annex on Candia Street Saturday with a block party, the non-profit veterans group is also zeroing in on final negotiations to turn the former Sweetbay Supermarket into an ambitious mega-complex that will house a full-blown museum and library, ballroom, hall of honor, mess hall, and headquarters for the foundation itself.
More importantly, they’re hoping the museum, when completed, will act as a beacon for the hundreds of thousands of veterans in not only Lee County, but the entire region.
“We want a place where veterans can bring their grandkids, their families, and share a piece of themselves,” said founder Ralph Santillo. “It’s going to be a place for the whole family.”
The Veterans Foundation is somewhat divided at the moment, but only physically.
The foundation headquarters sits on Del Prado Boulevard, while the new annex is downtown, around the corner from Paesano’s, whose owner, Jerry Furio, donated their new annex location.
When, and if, the new museum is completed, they will be unified under one roof, a combination attraction, museum, and outreach center for local veterans.
But to do so, they need the money, and have embarked on several fund-raising and grant-writing efforts to raise the $1.5 million needed to make it all work.
They’ve started “flocking” people’s lawns by placing plastic pink flamingos in front of their houses and then “charging” homeowners to remove them. It’s $15 to move the flamingos, $20 to have someone else’s home “flocked”, and $25 to buy “insurance” so their home will never be flocked again.
Little by little the funds have been adding up, Santillo said, but they still need the community’s help to make it all happen.
“We want the community to start backing this and supporting this,” Santillo said. “This is the community’s project.”
September 11th will mark the Foundation’s one year anniversary.
Santillo said he never expected to see the Foundation to take off as it has, from a single store front of 1,300 square feet to potentially thousands, if the museum comes together as planned.
It wasn’t long after their Del Prado office opened that people in the community began donating their military items; uniforms, artifacts, books, news paper clippings, life vests, helmets, etc.
Santillo said that veterans’ emotional attachments to these items are palpable, but they felt it was important for others to experience the history too.
“Some guys have been holding this stuff for 50 years,” Santillo said. “Now they have a place near their home where they can display it, where they can bring others and show them and say ‘here’s my stuff on the wall.’ It’s a great feeling. It’s marvelous.”
Santillo hopes to move the Foundation’s administrative offices and headquarters into the former Sweetbay location by October.
He said Sweetbay officials were working closely with the foundation to make it work, and that if everything falls into place, a phased system will be used to set up the museum, with hopes of having it all completed by Pearl Harbor Day next year.
If realized, the museum will be highly ambitious, and could provide another anchor to the city’s downtown district.
“It’s perfect for the downtown area,” Santillo said. “It’s a great anchor to start developing this district.”
For more information on the Veterans Foundation visit Veterans-Foundation.com, or call 541-8704.