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The Next Generation In The Study Of Custer's Last Stand
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Important Message From Bob Reece and Mike Semenock
But, “why stop now”, you might ask. To me, it seems like the right time. There are new decades to commemorate this summer, including the 140th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, as well as the 20th anniversary of Friends being co-founded. Allowing a new leader to dawn with a new decade for the battlefield seems – somehow – quite perfect.
From the beginning, original co-founders Rick Meyer, Joseph Marshall III, and I structured Friends to be non-political. We planned to focus on fundraising and skip over the politics that can be divisive in so many ways with Custer and/or management of the battlefield. We knew we would always remain positive in our support of each other and of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI) staff. We also prioritized helping LIBI interpret an impartial account of the battle as told from both sides of the conflict.
In 2000, the Friends board asked me to serve as president. Many factors went into my decision, but at the time my only option seemed to be “no”. But when then-Superintendent Neil Mangum called me to share that he thought it was time to shut down Friends barring a commitment from me to serve as President, I realized what I had to do. If you have ever met the man, you know it is hard to refuse a request from Neil Mangum!
Most do not realize that as I took the helm, Friends was in a very fragile place. My own goal going in was to ensure the survival of Friends. There were outside influences and individuals trying to see us fail. This struggle lasted for years, and I lost many nights of sleep with worry over the organization I and others had worked tirelessly to build and preserve. Personal friends would say how I was the heart and soul of the organization. It was a compliment, but it made me nervous: I became concerned that if I stepped down as president, the organization might fold.
I always made it known to the board and the superintendent that my ultimate goal was for Friends to reach a point where I did not need to be president. I knew we could reach that goal if we built a Friends board whose members believed in the organizations’ purpose as the founders originally envisioned. It is also important to understand that all the current board members generously serve on the board, not because they asked to serve, but because they were invited. Today, our board is built of young, energetic, and bright individuals who meet those criteria. Each board member could lead Friends with confidence!
Every day for the last year, I have mulled over these thoughts and past memories, and whether it was time for me to step down from my watch. I have lost sleep and have been pre-occupied by the idea. But I have grown tired; 16 years is a long time and I realize that it is catching up with me. Acting as President of the Friends is not all board meetings and greeting the public. I also perform the administrative tasks that keep this organization moving day-to-day. For now, I continue to perform these tasks, but plans are being put in place for that to change as well. In the end, I have decided that my family needs to be able to spend more quality time with their husband and father. It is important for all of you to know that I cannot completely walk away from so many friends, the NPS staff, and the battlefield I cherish, so I am grateful to continue to serve on the Friends board.
I am extremely happy that Mike Semenock has agreed to be the next Friends president. The Friends board voted unanimously for his appointment. He is ideal, because he has been serving on the board since 2006, and he understands better than anyone what a Friends group is allowed to do and not do in serving LIBI. Heck, he wrote the newest Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)! Mike comes with years of managing big projects for Boeing, and he respects the Friends and the NPS completely. He comes to you with an open mind and a warm heart. He has shared with me fresh ideas that ensure Friends can grow stronger in its service of LIBI. Over the next year or so, Mike will share these with you.
After Mike, I expect to see Kay, Lola, and Ryan serve as future presidents. With our future secured and our membership and leadership intact, the Friends will benefit from a variety of forward thinkers who will bring their own experiences and expertise to our organization. And with a future so bright, who knows who else might serve who is not on the board yet? My point is this: Friends will survive, and that is thanks to all of you.
In closing, from all my heart, I hope all of you know that through these many years, every proposal I made over these 16 years was not for me, but for the protection of Friends and in the service of the National Park Service at LIBI. Stepping down as your leader is an emotional experience, but I know that the mystery of the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the draw of its story will continue to bring great leaders for Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
Now, I present President of Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mike Semenock. Please read his first message below to our members as president.
Then, I’ll see you on Last
Dear fellow members of Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield:
It is a genuine honor to have been elected our organization’s next president by the Friends Board of Directors. I’m gratified by their faith in my ability and will work hard to justify it. But I have to admit to feelings of considerable trepidation having witnessed Bob, over the years, pour his heart and soul into the job at the cost of countless hours of work and lost hours of sleep. I could never do all that he has done, but he has chosen and cultivated a capable and dedicated board of directors that can divide and shoulder the load.
As Bob said in his message, in its early years the future of Friends was no certain thing, and there were some few that wished it would flame out and leave the ranks of Custer and Little Bighorn Battle affiliated organizations. Instead our membership has grown steadily over time and Friends has remained, under the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (LIBI), an official park support organization and partner.
My own history with Friends begins in 2001, the 125th anniversary of the battle, when I attended “Little Bighorn Reflections,” the first Friends symposium. The renowned speakers and panelists were captivating and the atmosphere congenial.
I began to feel this was a group of people I might like to join, contrary as that is to my nature. Bonds of association with clubs, groups or organizations wither quickly for me, so I was surprised to find myself approaching Bob Reece, the group’s president, during the symposium’s lunch break. Bob seemed approachable, so I walked up to him and asked him about Friends and its purpose. He told me Friends raises money and gives it to the national monument. Well, that just about sent me running. I’m not a fundraiser. But the epic lore of the Battle of the Little Bighorn had seized my imagination; I was “grabbed” as some say. Now, fifteen years later I find myself still a member of Friends, and president to boot.
The fundamental principles that attracted me to Friends hold true today because they are embodied by our members and officers. In my opinion Friends, to a greater degree than other groups, embraces the battle’s story from both sides and seeks to understand the underlying conflict, cultures, mysteries and lessons holistically. Our projects in support of LIBI have ranged from sponsorship of the relocation and reinterment of the Fetterman soldiers to helping fund some of the Indian warrior markers, the wayside exhibits that depict and narrate the clash of soldiers and warriors, and so much more.
The purpose of Friends is straightforward and uncomplicated. We simply “…raise funds to aid and directly promote management programs and objectives of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument,” as stated in our mission statement. National Park Service funds are not always available for some worthy projects and this is where Friends can help. As members, we can see the physical evidence of our membership fees and donations, and know the good they do for the park and the visiting public. There is no politics, no haggling with park administration over where the money goes; the park administration suggests several projects and we fund the one(s) we want the Friends name to be associated with.
Finally, the Friends members are great people. They share in the organization’s purpose and mission; and they have a genuine, often deeply personal, connection to the people, place and story of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Many travel annually from their homes coast to coast, or from other countries, to talk with like-minded enthusiasts or share their passion with the visiting public on the trails and significant points of the battlefield.
I will work hard with you and our Board of Directors to further the goals and effectiveness of the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. It is ten short years until the 150th anniversary, and you are likely to see the Friends presidency change hands a few times between now and then. But our foundational values and purpose will remain constant. We have a membership to grow and involve, much good work to do, and battle mysteries to delve into before that day and beyond. We’re in this together, so let’s continue our good work with the battlefield.
I’ve yet to coin a meaningful closing to my messages, but I’ll be working on that too.
Copyright 1999-2016 Bob Reece
Friends Little Bighorn Battlefield, P.O. Box 636, Crow Agency, MT 59022