Herald-Whig View

Friends of Athens farewell is a bittersweet one

Posted: Aug. 10, 2017 11:15 am

FOR 13 years the Friends of Athens organization provided vital behind-the-scenes assistance to the Battle of Athens State Historic Site in Northeast Missouri's Clark County.

This energetic group of volunteers conducted fundraisers, helped with historic re-enactments, operated a general store, cleaned buildings, sewed curtains, tidied up the grounds and helped in numerous other ways.

The group's one and only goal was to help put a shine on the state-owned historic site where the northernmost Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River took place Aug. 5, 1861.

However, dwindling membership -- combined with the advancing age of its few remaining members -- prompted the Friends of Athens to recently disband.

The group at one time had 12 to 15 members, primarily women, but over time the membership gradually declined to only two able-bodied active members.

"We just couldn't maintain the type of activities we'd been doing," explained Marilyn Ekle of Farmington, Iowa, the group's president. So the Friends of Athens, she said, decided to "call it a day."

The group's last official act was an impressive one. Using money it accumulated from a series of fundraisers, the organization bought and donated a $20,000 Civil War-replica cannon for permanent display at the historic site.

The cannon was dedicated Friday in a farewell ceremony hosted by the Friends of Athens.

Jo Bryant of Revere, who started the Friends of Athens in 2004, said the organization's community service role simply ran its course after 13 years and became "too much" for the few people who were left.

Although the group's demise is understandable, considering how difficult it can be to get new people involved, Bryant believes the historic site is going to miss having a support group.

"It's a great loss for the park," she said.

Site Superintendent Jerry Toops agrees the park will miss the Friends of Athens, but he said the site will continue to shoulder on and remain available for public use from April through October.

Clearly, the historic site has long been a source of local pride for nearby residents of Northeast Missouri, Southeast Iowa and West-Central Illinois. The site has attracted loyal supporters from all three states.

Now that the Friends of Athens has stepped back after 13 years of stellar community service, let's hope the regional support continues for this unique place in tri-state history.