By PHYLLIS HODGES
On Feb. 17, two 50-passenger buses, filled with veterans and guests, departed Sun City Center for a Presidents’ Day excursion to the Sarasota National Cemetery. This was the sixth annual bus trip sponsored by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay (CFTB) as part of its “making your community better” efforts. It was a fabulous opportunity to visit this impressive cemetery that offers a perpetual home for our fallen heroes and their loved ones.
Jan Bassett, a member of the South Shore Council of CFTB, who was instrumental in the trip’s planning, said interest is increasing each year as more are learning about the relatively new cemetery. This year’s attendance doubled that of last year, which CFTB organizers attribute to the outstanding efforts to get the word out through area veterans’ groups and by radio on Bill Hodges’ Veterans Corner program.
For the tour of Patriot Plaza, the only outdoor amphitheater of its kind in any of the 141 national cemeteries, participants were divided into smaller groups guided by volunteers. The 2,800-seat amphitheater was constructed at a cost of $12 million by The Patterson Foundation and dedicated in 2014. An impressive $2 million display of artwork depicts stories of wars, service and sacrifice, and a 792-glass panel roof provides shade for outdoor ceremonies and events that are held throughout the year. The foundation, which calls the plaza “a gift to the nation and future generations,” provides for its maintenance.
Sarasota National Cemetery was formally dedicated in 2008 and designed to serve an estimated 300,000 veterans in southwestern Florida for the next 50 years. It has 18,200 full casket gravesites, 9,000 in-ground spaces for cremains and approximately 7,200 columbarium niches. According to John Rosentrater, cemetery director, there is growing demand for both the columbarium and in-ground cremains spaces.
The cemetery is located at 9810 S.R. 72, Sarasota, FL 34241, on 295 acres, approximately four miles east of I-75. The information center includes an electronic gravesite locator, public restrooms, maintenance facility, cemetery entrance area and a flag assembly area. Also onsite is a memorial walkway and two committal shelters.
For tour information, call 941-922-7200, and for burial arrangements, call 800-535-1117 or visit the website at www.cm.va.gov/cems/nchp/sarasota.asp.
After the tour, the 100-plus participants were treated to a lunch at Der Dutchman in Sarasota, compliments of CFTB. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that connects donors, nonprofits, community and business leaders, volunteers, professional advisors and residents to make the maximum positive impact in the Tampa Bay region. The South Shore Council of CFTB is the arm that focuses on the South Shore area. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 813-282-1975.