Memorial Garden planned for DAFB


Dover Air Force Base has the honor and burden of receiving the bodies of service personnel killed in action in foreign lands.  In January, the Air Force opened a facility called the "Center for Families of the Fallen" to be used by families awaiting their loved ones. The refurbished base convenience store has been tastefully furnished inside, but the outside needed work, a task being taken on by the Delaware Federation of Garden Clubs.
DFBC President Alice Witterholt proposed a memorial garden accessed from the center and screened from public view, a place for privacy, peace and emotional healing. Fellow garden club members Joy Ericson of Wilmington and Donna Curtis of Greenville took up the cause as co-chairs of the project.
With project approval from the Secretary of the Air Force, DFBC asked Rodney Robinson, a prominent landscape architect based in Wilmington, Del., to design a plan. Robinson recently led the major restoration of the Nemours Mansion Garden. The plan includes a wall for privacy, along with a water fountain, seating areas, trees, shrubs and flowers.
Another section of the mortuary complex, being built by a Fisher Foundation donation of $4 million will provide overnight accommodations similar to the Ronald McDonald's houses. The nine-bedroom Fisher House and a meditation pavilion are expected to be completed soon.
The Delaware garden clubs are only undertaking landscaping of the Center for the Families of the Fallen. The goal is $150,000 to cover the cost of the project. The Air Force has agreed to provide maintenance.
Co-chair Donna Curtis said, "From the moment our president explained her vision of the Memorial Garden – the most ambitious project our organization has ever undertaken – I knew I wanted to do as much as I possibly could to help make it happen. It is clear from the generous support we have already received, that many others in Delaware and throughout the country also share this sentiment. We hope the garden will serve as a small testament to the families of our fallen soldiers, helping them understand that we are thinking of them during a time of unspeakable grief."
More than 52 out-of-state garden clubs have sent donations. As of Nov. 17, Curtis said, the total raised had topped $90,000, and a $50,000 Longwood Foundation matching grant has been pledged if the group reaches $100,000.
Teri Clifton, mother of LCPL Richard Chad Clifton who was killed in Iraq in 2005, commented, "Those first moments and days are so difficult. Anything that calms the mind and soothes the heart is welcome. Anything that exchanges a moment of pain with something better begins our healing. If this center and garden can help with that process, it is more than worth whatever it takes. Calm surroundings are so important when your heart is in pieces. To be able to walk in a beautiful garden or just gaze through the window is a rare peace at such a time. Many thanks to everyone involved."
If you'd like to get involved, log onto and watch the video, then contact DFGC at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call (302) 468-1900. Donations are fully tax-deductible.