Apollo Beach Memorial Day event to feature signing of historic covenant with military

Published on: May 20, 2010


Members of the American Ideals Foundation Inc., and volunteers, plan their joint Memorial Day Celebration and recognition of retired veterans and active members of the military. From left, are Donna Ashley, Mary Martin, Stephan Khattir and Summer Schmidt. In the back are Aaron Schmidt, Robert Moffa (American Ideals founder and president) Gabe Schmidt, T.A. Martinez, and Andy Schmidt.
Penny Fletcher Photo

Ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. with a “Walk for the Sacrifice and Flag Parade”


APOLLO BEACH- It isn’t often officials representing the U.S. Armed Forces contact private organizations in hopes of joining hands in a project as large as one recently begun.

But that’s just what happened earlier this year when Major General Craig B. Whelden, of the U.S. Army called Ruskin resident Robert Moffa, founder of the American Ideals Foundation Inc., and asked if there was a way they could work together to honor American veterans from all five branches of the military all over the world. Because of this call, the retired Major General has been assigned by the Army to lead a national outreach to get communities to sign Community Covenants of support.

“Many groups, including the military and veterans organizations, have been doing various things to honor vets for a long time,” Moffa told me in an interview last week. “But we (the Foundation) really wanted to get communities to sign covenants of support and since we began, we have had mayors and councils and civic organizations and chambers of commerce flood us with calls.”

Moffa, a former concert pianist whose favorite selections were always patriotic, settled in South County in 1986 after playing all over the world and being recognized by the 99th U.S. Congress for patriotic music he himself had composed.

Since the Major General’s original contact with the Foundation, more than 700 mayors and half the country’s Governors have signed onto the program.

It all started right here, and now it’s coming back to its roots for local support.

Recent ceremonies in Seffner and Punta Gorda brought out close to 2,000 people each.

Community leaders who sign the covenant make the commitment to create special events and initiatives to proactively provide opportunities for regular citizens to participate in donating time, energy and resources to help our military heroes- past and present- get the recognition they so deserve.


More than 2,000 people attended the recent covenant signing in Punta Gorda. South County attendees are encouraged to bring copies of photographs of family members who have served in the military – whether living or dead – and a push pin to include them on the local Memorial Wall.
Robert Moffa Photo

The covenant also promotes recruiting, and shows how the volunteer system has actually worked better than the draft, but to continue to work properly, it needs much support from the citizenry to supplement what the government can provide.

May 31 everyone within driving distance is invited to a celebration at Bimini Bay clubhouse, 488 Apollo Beach Blvd. Events will begin with a “Walk for the Sacrifice and Flag Parade” at 9 a.m., followed at 10 by a special Veterans Honor Presentation. Then the historic signing of the National Armed Forces Community Covenant with the citizens of Apollo Beach will take place.

The Master of Ceremonies for the event will be Gayle Guyardo, former NBC anchorwoman. Speakers will include Robert Moffa; Captain Becky Siu, Commander of the Tampa Bay Army Recruiters Station; Honorary Mayor of Apollo Beach Captain Joel Brandenburg; Susan Price, “Gold Star Mother” of the late Staff Sgt. Lyle Allen of the U.S. Army; Jolie Gonzalez, editor and publisher of the Latin Times magazine; Retired Colonel Mike Pendergast of the Apollo Beach Chamber of Commerce; and Phillip Mocker, of Everyday Heroes, a group that honors not only military personnel but police, firefighters and all who risk their lives for citizen safety.

Local ROTC commanders will also be present. Artwork depicting veterans will be on display, done by Craig Crumbly; poetry written by Gary Schumacher will be read by Terri Kowalski; and finally, Donna Gavin Ashley of “Aunt Dora’s Traveling Butterfly Garden” in Dover, a nonprofit organization, will release butterflies.

“In November I plan to be dropped by helicopter to start my walk doing covenant signings in 18 to 20 cities,” said Ms. Ashley, who is currently 71 years old. “I went through a bad time when I didn’t think I had anything else to live for. But God showed me a butterfly, and it was my new beginning.”

Now she wears butterfly wings, a butterfly costume, butterfly-shaped sunglasses and drives a van covered with butterfly-garden murals. With her wings on her back she plans to push her cat, KC, in a stroller, and walk, bounce and (use a) Segway (human roller)   along U.S. 27 and U.S. 301 from here to Tallahassee to bring attention to the military Heroes Project, another undertaking of the American Ideals Foundation.

The Foundation certainly has a lot of irons in the fire.

Moffa is working closely with Andy Schmidt, president of Schmidt Brothers Homes of Bimini Bay and his family, to build eco-friendly (green) homes for disabled veterans that will include ramps and lowered counters, cabinets, stoves and refrigerators, special wall-handles and anything else to accommodate someone in a wheelchair or otherwise without the full use of his or her body.

“This is a magnificent project,” Moffa said, adding that land is being secured for the homes around the country now, but since so many negotiations are pending, details are not yet available.

Immediately, he jumped into an explanation of another ongoing venture; a student exchange program – supported by a Foundation scholarship. It is a partnership between Sarasota and Sarasota’s sister city in France, Perpignan. At this time, French citizen Stefan Khattir is attending the University of South Florida for international marketing and trade, but must return to France in September. While here, the Foundation is letting him learn lessons through marketing its events and Khattir also plans to market the Foundation’s programs when he returns to France.

Be sure and read the sidebar to this story “How you can participate” which will list the needs, registration numbers and contacts for anything you need to know about the Foundation, or how to participate in the Memorial Day celebration or any of the Foundations other ventures.