- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Cold, wind and rain didn't deter George Washington from crossing the Delaware, and 300 benefactors who gathered at Mount Vernon Saturday weren't going to let the elements dampen their spirits, either, for the announcement of a major public-awareness campaign aimed at keeping Washington forever first in the hearts and minds of his countrymen.
There were cocktails, patriotic songs and fireworks over the Potomac, then dinner in a not-so-well-heated tent to celebrate a recent $15 million gift toward Mount Vernon's new education and visitors center.
"The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation adopted George Washington as its favorite son. It didn't take time for them to fall head over heels," Mount Vernon Ladies' Association Regent Ellen Walton told the crowd, reminding the guests that the Las Vegas-based foundation had, only last year, saved the National Portrait Gallery's textbook-famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of the first president from a terrible fate possible repatriation to the motherland. (The picture, which had been on long-term loan, had to be purchased from Lord Landsdowne, its British owner, for $30 million.)
"We didn't want it to be taken away from the school kids of America," foundation Chairman Fred W. Smith said, adding that the decision to help fund Mount Vernon's $85 million, 50,000-square-foot complex was a logical next step.
Historian David McCullough, the evening's keynote speaker, agreed that the center would help restore awareness of "the most important" of our Founding Fathers "as all the others acknowledged" during his lifetime.
"Without George Washington, there would have been no independence and no survival for the first eight to ten years without breaking apart," Mr. McCullough declared before sounding alarums about the dangers of losing sight not only of the man, but all he stood for.
"As children," he told the audience, "we knew more about him than most college students do today. Now we are raising a generation of historical illiterates and we are not going to survive with an ignorant and ill-informed population. We need to rethink how we educate teachers and have to improve historical sites, especially this one, which is the most important of all."
Mr. McCullough was right on target, hitting a rhetorical bull's-eye that resounded throughout his listeners' Colonial-inspired repast of crab-fennel bisque, rack of lamb with corn souffle and a medley of spring vegetables.
"These days, kids think George Washington is the name of the biggest sale of the year in D.C. department stores," one benefactor harrumphed to a table mate who said she would soon be writing another check to help further the campaign.
Mount Vernon Curator Jim Rees got a cheer when he announced that $53 million of the total already has been raised. It was perhaps inevitable in this tradition-minded crowd that the hurrays got even louder when he pointed out that not a single dollar would be provided at taxpayer expense.

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