Block party highlights military museum project
By TIFFANY REPECKI, TREPECKI@breezenewspapers.com
Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation marked its one-year anniversary with a block party Saturday outside of its new office in the downtown area.
The Southwest Florida Museum/Library Headquarters, at 4826 Candia St., will serve as the command center for the organization as it garners support and funding for the military museum and library. Ralph Santillo, president and founder of organization, said the office space was provided free.
Jerry Furio, owner of Paesano’s Italian Market, owns the space. During an informal get-together, Furio voiced his support for the project and offered the office as a “campaign headquarters” for the foundation, Santillo said.
“So we could operate downtown and be close to what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation is working toward building the museum and library at the former Sweetbay Supermarket building on Cape Coral Parkway East. The facility would feature a Hall of Honors, Armed Forces exhibits and interactive displays, a military ballroom and a mess hall, along with counseling services and classes aimed at job and career education.
The idea for the project was a result of the community’s reaction to the foundation and its services. As it helped veterans, some would donate pieces of uniforms or medals or military mementos for the organization to display at its office, Santillo said. Local residents also began to drop off items.
“So, as we started to grow, we found there was a good interest in the museum part,” he said.
The organization also learned that there are 70,000 veterans in Lee County, with 10,000 in Cape Coral alone, and no designated site for them to meet. A few military clubs have been using the foundation’s original headquarters, off of Del Prado Boulevard South, as the venue to meet and hold their meetings.
Susan Ratzel said her husband, who is a member of Vietnam Brotherhood G Company, meets with his group at the Del Prado headquarters. Ratzel was in attendance Saturday at the block party to show support for the foundation.
“Because we know the people and wanted to donate some money,” she said.
“They’re doing a great job,” Ratzel said. “There are a lot of veterans here.”
“It just was like a light bulb blowing up,” Santillo said.
“Why aren’t we honoring all of these vets?” he added.
So the project to build a museum and library began to take form. According to Santillo, the foundation is still in negotiations, but he expects something on paper soon. The project is anticipated to take about a year or more to finish.
If all goes as planned, Santillo hopes to get desks in the building — phase I — by early October. By June 2011, he would like to have a major portion of the facility completed for a D-Day celebration. The anticipated completion date is December 2011, with a possible opening on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
“With $2 million we can complete the whole project and purchase the building,” Santillo said.
The block party Saturday featured live music and food. All proceeds raised during the event went to the foundation and the large-scale project at hand.
Santillo said the response from the community has been positive.
“I guess the surprise is the amount of support that you know is there and then it hits you in the face,” he said.
Cape residents Phil Fella and Susan Salem also were present Saturday. Fella said they were in attendance to find out what was going on. Salem said it was the first time they had heard of the proposed military museum and library.
“We’re excited about it,” she said. “It’s going to open up the community.”
Fella also voiced support for the project.
“It’s always good to let people know what went on in history and to honor those that took part in that history,” he said.
According to Santillo, the foundation will host a golf tournament Oct. 15 at Palmetto-Pine Country Club to raise more money for the museum and library.
There is room for approximately 144 golfers and a few dozen had registered by Saturday. Sign up by calling 541-8704. The deadline to register is Oct. 8
“This is real history,” he said of the community’s veterans. “These people are not going to be here forever.”
Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation is always seeking volunteers. With the creation of the museum and library, support from local businesses down to artists who could draw military murals on the walls would be appreciated.
The foundation provides assistance in many areas, including job placement, housing paperwork, military records and counseling. For more information or to volunteer, contact Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation at 541-8704.