Posts Tagged ‘Gettysburg’

From Gettysburg with Gratitude

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

From Gettysburg with Gratitude

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch and Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. William Arthur Ward

Words On A Page

When it comes to words of inspiration, gratitude and wisdom, William Arthur Ward is in a class all byWAW book himself. His book, Fountains of Faith, is a roadmap for anyone who wants to live a life of peace, happiness and contentment.

On the good days, I remember his maxim, “We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn. We must learn before we can prepare. We must prepare before we can serve. We must serve before we can lead.”

On the bad days, his advice is even more important, “Today is a most unusual day, because we have never lived it before; we will never live it again; it is the only day we have.”

Gratitude Personified

During a recent visit to Gettysburg both of Ward’s maxims enhanced the experience.

I was flying solo. It was a beautiful day. Traffic IMG_peace for _todaywas unusually light. The weather was perfect for recording video and snapping digital pictures. Everywhere I went I met people who were welcoming and helpful. A visit with Mandy Moore and meetings with Mayor Bill Troxell, Frank and Bonnie Orlando, AKA General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee, Stacey Fox and Bob Monahan were joyful and productive.

Late in the afternoon, I had some down time, so I decided to visit the battlefield. It was one of the best decisions of the day.

When I arrived at the Pennsylvania State Monument, the sun was beginning to disappear behind the mountains that surround this sacred place where the blood of 51,000 combatants paved the entrance to America’s new birth of freedom. The cornucopia of nature’s pallet was simply breathtaking, and I did my best to capture some of these priceless scenes.

Looking through the viewfinder of my camera, my eyes saw the obvious, while my heart connected with the sights and sounds that filled this place during its moment of honor and valor.

Then it happened, I remembered the words Kitch used to describe her first visit to Gettysburg. “I can sense their presence, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for what they did here.”

The Gratitude of Place

Gettysburg is more than a place where 1,300 monuments celebrate the greatest battle ever fought inIMG_Thankful Heart_ heart the Western Hemisphere. It is more than a story about unprecedented heroics.

Gettysburg is a place that personifies gratitude. Wherever you go on the battlefield, you feel a persistent urge to say thank you for their courage, their selfless service, their love of comrades and country, their belief in tomorrow.

In the silence of this place of honor, you learn that gratitude is the parent of honor.

That message was reinforced during the Medal of Honor Convention in September. Every recipient we met spoke words of gratitude for what others did to empower them to make the right choice and get the job done.

In the stillness of the evening hours at Gettysburg, I felt the transformational power of the most important words in the English language, Thank You. The emotion was just as powerful as it was all those years ago when I first came to Gettysburg with my older brother.

IMG_kingdom of_ night

On this Thanksgiving Day, Kitch and I will give thanks for family, friends and the blessings we inherited by birth and citizenship: opportunity, equality and justice for all.

We will give thanks for the support we received in North Plainfield to introduce the next generation to the Gettysburg story and the values personified in the Medal of Honor.

We will express that gratitude in deeds, prayers, words and work. We will accept the inspirational challenge of William Arthur Ward:

God gave you a gift of 84,600 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say thank you?

We will remember his sage advice as we continue our work to tell the story of the Face of America at its best:

To laugh is to risk appearing a fool.IMG_only_prayer
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To hope is to risk pain.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

From our hearts to your heart we thank you for your kindness and your friendship, and we pray that Providence will bless you with good health, happiness and peace of heart and mind on this day of gratitude and every day of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Tony & Kitch

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A Standing O Event, Part 1

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Screening Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Kitch Loftus
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

When four seventh grade girls appeared at the doors to theWITL_sign auditorium at 6 p.m. and said, “We’re here for the movie,” I knew it was going to be a perfect night. They were smiling and shy.  They proceeded to pick out their seats and settle in. It didn’t matter that they were 30 minutes early.  There were on a mission, and they would not be deterred or distracted.

For the next 30 minutes, people of all ages streamed in the doors, all in upbeat moods, eager to see a documentary about Gettysburg that featured ten students they called their own.

There was electricity in the air when Master of Ceremonies Tom Mazur, Supervisor of Arts at North Plainfield got the evening started with a brief welcome. Then, he introduced Nabil Twyman, a seventh grade student who quietly and confidently took his position at the  perfectly tuned Steinway Grand Piano to play two songs, “Red” and “Blue.” His mother’s face beamed with pride as she used her I-pad to record his masterful performance from her seat in then first row.

When Nabil’s nimble hands played the final notes, the young pianist received a rousing and well-IMG_3978_Nabildeserved round of applause. Everyone in the room was taken by Nabil’s gift. It was obvious that his future will be bright because his talent is enormous and his personality is humble and giving.

While Nabil walked to his seat in the front row next to his mother, Tom Mazur asked Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum,IMG_3985_MBSad Superintendent of Schools, to come to the stage to share her thoughts about the evening.  As always, Dr. Birnbaum was courteous, thoughtful and very welcoming. She is the perfect person for the position she holds in North Plainfield. She made everyone feel welcome and at home. The words she used to introduce Tony and the documentary were generous and very kind.

As Tony walked to the stage to talk about the production of Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg, I could feel my heart beating faster. I had some idea of what he was going to say, I had no idea about how it would be received.

IMG_3987_ speaking

Like his hero, Abraham Lincoln, my husband is an aural thinker. Before a big event, he will talk to me about what he intends to say. While he talks, he listens to the words and the concepts and he refines his message. Rarely does he use a printed document. He speaks best when he speaks from his heart. On this occasion he wanted the words to come straight from his heart. When the amplification system failed, he walked to the center of the stage, and he began to tell his story.

He told the audience why he wanted to produce this documentary.  It was a legacy piece for his brother who took him to Gettysburg when he was 15-years-old.  It was a centerpiece of his Face of America project, the three year ongoing search for the characteristics and the people who represent America at its best.  It was a gratitude piece for the students, teachers, administrators and support personnel in North Plainfield, a place he calls his second home. It was a living prayer for his son.

Tony believes that the people who make up the North Plainfield school system reflect the culture, the essence and the spirit of the Face of America on its best day. The richness of the diverse make up of the student body, the faculty and staff, and the sense of common purpose you feel when you are in North Plainfield energizes him and gives him hope that we can solve our problems in a peaceful way. 

He admires the philosophy that is recorded in motivational sayingsIMG_3971_sign_pride that are displayed on the walls of schools he visits. He enjoys working with the students in the way any effective teacher enjoys interacting with students. He wanted this documentary and the Gettysburg project he suggested to teachers and administrators to empower students to be their best. He does not believe anyone is entitled to anything without hard work and overcoming obstacles. That has been his life experience, and it remains so even today.

When Tony talked about his son it was all heart. “No one ever asked me why I came to North Plainfield,” Tony said. “Tonight, I would like to answer that question, because this may be my last opportunity to speak to you in this way.”

IMG_4038_ tony

Then he told the poignant story about his son. “In high school he was Mr. Everything. Today he is homeless, living on the streets, haunted by the demons that began to take over his life when he was in high school. He started out just like the ten wonderful students who traveled to the battlefield with him one year ago. “My son was gifted, intelligent, engaging, motivated and successful in all the ways that matter in high school. He was all state in soccer, a  leading field goal kicker in the state of Ohio, selected as a model, but underneath it all he was hurting and he turned to alcohol and gambling for relief.

“Today, those demons control his life and they impact my life in significant ways. I came here to engage you and to introduce you toLee_Wisdom Prudence values that will help you benefit from my experience. Everything in this film is designed to help you deal with the bumps in the road, to believe in  yourself and your dreams, to be able to see beyond the temptations and the temporary gratifications that entice people to take the easy way.”

Tony encouraged everyone in the audience to read the quotations displayed in the film, to listen with their eyes as well as their hearts to what General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln say about failure, and to pay close attention to what the students learned about themselves during their visit to Gettysburg.

Just before he finished his remarks, he said something he has told me privately many times, “I love what I see in North Plainfield, because this is one of the best portraits of the Face of America on its best day.”

(To be continued in Part 2)

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Anniversary: Oh, How the Years Go By, Part 3

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Anniversary: Oh, How the Years Go By, Part 3

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“Do the things that interest you and do them with all your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt

This morning, Kitch reminded me that today is the third anniversary of our Face of America journey to California, the official start of our search forIMG_6597 examples of America at its best.

To be more specific, on this date in 2010, our destination was Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On the way we made a sentimental stop in Centralia, PA, the place where our documentary career took flight in 1983. Then we drove to Mechanicsburg to have lunch with Katy and Bob Finn, two very special people in our life.  


We ended the day with three of the best people we know Janie Kiehl, Chuck and Jayne Wagner. For ten years, Janie, Chuck and Jayne helped us tell the story of Flight 93 and the People’s Memorial to the passengers and crew who gave IMG_6722their lives for their country on the day the earth stood still for America.

Our dinner and visit in Shanksville ended one of those days that can only be described as practically perfect in every way. Wherever we stopped on February 28, 2010, we felt the warmth and the sense of belonging that is central to America at its best.

The Numbers for 2013

These are the statistics for the third year of ourGNMP_0768_150 project:

9,000 miles traveled in 5 states and 20 cities;

44 articles posted on our Face of America website;

14 visits to Gettysburg.

We produced an hour documentary entitled Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg.

Title Walking Into the Light AA_250

We screened the documentary and hosted a banquet in Gettysburg on January 19, 2013. Without question this was the most ambitious, complicated, challenging, rewarding and time consuming activity of the year.

We are eternally grateful to Bonnie & Frank Orlando, Tim Johnson, Ann Costa, Mandy Moore, Tom Mazur, Ellen and Jerry Mondlak. They encouraged us, helped us and inspired us to make the documentary and the premiere weekend happen.

In July, we started production of a weekly “America at its Best” commentary for the Business Builders Show with Marty Wolff. What a wonderful learning experience this has been. Thank you, Marty.

During the year, we delivered guest lectures at Marywood University, The Community College of Baltimore, Luzerne County Community College and Wilkes University. Thank you, Gale, Rick, Bill, Judy and Bob; we are forever in your debt.

Book Report

This year, we had two false starts with our book America at its Best, and little success in finding a traditional publisher.Lincolnsm

At the moment we are exploring the opportunities available in digital publishing.

Last evening we received a telephone call from a representative of an alternative publishing company who encouraged us to sign a contract with her company. Strange as this may seem, this morning we had a request to write a chapter book about one of our life experiences.

Robert Dahl’s words about writing continue to inspire us: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Looking Forward

In the days and weeks ahead, we will honor an invitation to screen Walking Into the title_250_GLLLight at the annual meeting of the Wyoming Valley Civil War Round Table.

We will present our thoughts about “Gettysburg, Lincoln and Leadership” at the 11th annual Forum and Conference on Ethical Leadership and Corporate Social Responsibility at Marywood University.

We will participate in the annual arts festival at the North Plainfield High School, and the school district will host a community screening of Walking Into The Light at Gettysburg.

We will host our annual Windsor Park Camp for our grandchildren. Without question it’s the best event of the summer.

We have a very special documentary project in its preproduction phase, and we will continue the renovation of the garden we began last summer.

A Moment Like No Other


Last month, we received this note from Martin Young:

Hi Tony, Kitch I just posted the song for you guys to check out, I hope you like it. I feel like it came out really well. I may still do a few more things to it but this is certainly very close. Hope everyone is well, take care, Martin

What a joy it was to hear the song we wrote about surviving cancer. We are indebted to Mike Lewis and Martin Young who helped us refine the words and produce the music.

We are in the process of securing a copyright.

A Priceless Gift

Yesterday we received a priceless gift from our friend, Bill Gaydos. Before we left Gettysburg on January 20, Bill told us he intended to write a poem about the documentary.  This week we received a beautiful framed first edition of Bill’s poem.

You can read Bill’s poignant verse at this address:

To everyone who helped realize our dream to produce a documentary about the magic and mystery of Gettysburg, we say thank you.

ALstu_9426_250This has not been the easiest year for us. We encountered many bumps on the road, and we are dealing with some challenges we never expected. That being said, we are determined to keep moving forward.

President Abraham Lincoln said it best: “Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did.”

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

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Gettysburg Film Provides Teachable Moment

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Gettysburg Documentary Provides Teachable Moment

Written by: Craig J. Blakeley, J.D.
Alliance Law Group
Tysons Corner, Virginia
Photographs by: Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013, Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

I had the pleasure of attending the recent screeningGroup_1150_njmon 300 of the documentary “Walking into the Light at Gettysburg,” produced by Dr. Tony Mussari and his wife Kitch.

The film chronicles the experience of a group of 10 high school students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey as they visited the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the first time.

I have known Tony for several years but this is the first time that I have seen him in his native environment – as both a filmmaker and a teacher – and it is a potent combination.

The film clearly is a labor of love. It succeeds not only in educating the audience about the battle of Gettysburg but also translates that historical event into one that is relevant to the present day – as the audience see it and experiences it through the eyes and the voices of those 10 students.

Enrie Simms_250As I watched the film in the theater at the Gettysburg National Military Park, I realized that Tony and Kitch had succeeded in creating a “teachable moment” not only for the students but for those lucky enough to watch the film.

I listened to one young woman tell us that through her experience at the battlefield memorial that she had learned that it was OK to fail – that what mattered was to try.

I listened as one African-American student expressedChelsea Blue C3_250 her thanks to those who had fought and died at Gettysburg, in recognition of their role in securing for her the freedom that we all cherish.

I heard one proud parent in the audience, an immigrant from South America, describe the joyous embrace of her daughter – one of the 10 students – as she told her mother how deeply she had been affected by her visit to Gettysburg.


As I saw the brown, black, and white faces of those 10 students, I saw the realization of the future that those untold sacrifices at Gettysburg and throughout the Civil War had made possible. And just as our nation overcame the tremendous forces that acted to divide it then, those same students, with their impressive intelligence and insight, gave me confidence that we will once again overcome what divides us now.

It seems to me that is the true message of the film – and it is one well worth hearing – and remembering.

Gettysburg Documentary: Behind the Curtain

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Gettysburg: Behind the Curtain, A Downton Abbey Experience

Written by: Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by: Bill Gaydos & Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Picture of Highclere Castle courtesy of Jonjames1986(talk)
Copyright 2013 Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

I came late to the table known as the MasterpieceHighclere_Castle[ Theater production of Downton Abbey. This hour-long program watched by millions of people on PBS  is in its third season.  The program gives the viewer an insight into the lifestyle of the English gentry and their servants in the early part of the twentieth century.

Why, you ask, are you reading about Downton Abbey when the topic is about the events leading up to the screening of "Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg?"

Well, the journey between April 2012, when ten students from the North Plainfield High School travelled to Gettysburg and the premiere of the hour-long film at the Visitor Center at the Gettysburg National Military Theater_0799_250Park in January 2013, can be likened to scenes from this year’s episodes, both upstairs with the Crawleys and below stairs with the servants.

Tony can play the parts of Robert, Earl of Grantham and Mr. Charles Carson, the household butler. As the earl, he knew what he wanted to do so the students would have the full experience of the history of the battle at Gettysburg in July 1863, during the Civil War, and that they did. Every moment was a learning experience from the introductory movie shown at the Visitor Center to the battlefield tour by a licensed guide.

A few wrinkles were ironed out quickly in his role as Mr. Carson and it could be called a just about perfect weekend.

The journey from April to January was a zigzag course that resembled the guest appearance by ShirleyStuwalk_9727_250 MacLaine who played Lady Mary’s mother, Martha Levinson, as she interacted with her English counterpart, Violet, the Dowager Countess expertly executed by Maggie Smith. Their interaction mimicked the logistics involved in making our film and then planning a successful screening because every move Martha Levinson made was not the right one in Violet’s eyes.

There were times when nothing seemed to be working out. Rooms were reserved at the Hampton Inn, but few had called to book them. The banquet plans were in place and ready to go when the event planner left for another position. A new person came on board, but confusion reigned about how to pay long distance and to whom. Always in the background was our worry about the weather, the technology and a hundred other details that demanded attention.

In the meantime, amongst the angst, a film had to be LOC Material_250put together.  It was necessary to find material that would flesh out the story of what happened at the battle to show how the students experienced it…but at no cost. You see, we had no budget for this project, no outside source of revenue to cover our expenses. It was similar to what the Earl of Grantham felt when he was told that his investments had failed, the family was broke and they would lose their beloved home.

Like Mr. Carson, Tony kept the lid on the problems and plowed ahead.

So he persisted day after day, night after night, week after week to find the right pictures that were free of copyright constraints and the right reenactment video footage that was graciously offered through the good offices of a new friend, Frank Orlando. The Library of Congress website and many others sites and the owner of the reenactment video became our benefactors as did Matthew Crawley when he offered the earl his inheritance to save his wife’s (Lady Mary) beloved Downton Abbey.

The logistics of getting everything accomplished,rStill grame footage when we were more than three hours away from Gettysburg and nearly three hours from North Plainfield, New Jersey, became a bit nightmarish at times.

Think Anna Bates not hearing from Mr. Bates when his letters from prison never made it to Downton because he fell out of favor with the right people.

As Christmas grew closer, movement by all parties slowed considerably and we wondered if anyone would attend. Anxiety levels rose, and we started to feel like Lady Edith at the altar when Sir Anthony Strallan told her he couldn’t go through with the wedding. But just as she rallied and found a new calling, there was troop movement.  Reservations on both fronts started to come in for the rwo events. It all started to fall into place, at least in Gettysburg.


There was a bus that would transport North Plainfield students, parents, friends and board members. All would have rooms and a seat at the banquet. All had been made ready by those behind the scenes, and it was smoothly executed by the time January 19 arrived.

It was going to be a happy reunion for many of those coming from five states to celebrate a new production.

Meanwhile back in Dallas, think Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson getting ready for a big event at the abbey.  It was Santa’s workshop but the Downton servants were missing…there were but two elves working feverishly to make sure the right presents were chosen. Mr. Carson, aka Tony, did the purchasing of the mementos that the students and others would receive. Mrs. Hughes, think Kitch, was the wrapper of various gifts, trying to label them properly and keep them organized.

And, as always, it came together beautifully. Thescreening_1132 guests arrived at the Visitor Center, the theater filled, the lights went down, the film filled the screen and at the end everyone was on their feet….the roar of applause, the sweet tears….a grand success.

Another successful event that begs for more.

Stepping beyond the analogy to the Downton Abbey series, it was indeed a wonderful time.

There were many highlights to the Gettysburg screening weekend. Of course, the best was seeing many long hard months that Tony put in producing, writing and editing the film pay off in the many wonderful comments and reviews about the work. He deserved every accolade.

Seeing old and cherished friends who traveled from near and far to be a part of the celebration was among the best memories.


Watching Julia and P.J., Tony’s delightful grandchildren, proudly escorted by their parents, Elena and Jeff, having a good time.

The standing ovation.

The proud looks on the students’ faces when they received their gifts and they talked about their transformation recorded in the documentary.  

Standing with Ellen and Jerry Mondlak, General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee, and Tom Mazur as they were thanked by Tony for all the contributions they made that caused it to be a successful evening.

The large delegation of our former students, their parents, wives, husbands and in one case fiancée who came to celebrate the moment with us.

The impeccable customer service we received from TimTim_1000_250 Johnson and Ann Costa at the Hampton Inn.  

The friendliness of Joe Spadolini, Tina Hare and support staff at the Eisenhower Inn and banquet facility.

The welcoming words of Mayor William Troxell and Stacey Fox at the screening, and Mayor Troxell’s surprise gifts for the elected officials from North Plainfield and Tony.

The encouragement and friendship of Mandy Moore, a person who represents the Gettysburg Foundation with dignity and class and the cooperation of her colleagues Debbie Joyner, Joe Corcoran and Michael Guinn who attended to all the details associated with screening the documentary in the Visitor Center at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

The spiritual words of Doug MacMillan’s grace before the dinner, the informative and inspiring words of Dr. Stephen Post’s speech and the beautiful reflection of Dr. Richard Loomis.


The spirit of community reflected in the joyful conversations people had with one another during our meet-and-greet session, at dinner and again at breakfast on Sunday morning.

The absolutely beautiful weather all weekend and in January no less!

We are indeed blessed, and we are very grateful for every moment.

Gettysburg Documentary Educates, Informs, Inspires

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg: A Review

Written by: Gale & Robert Jaeger
Photography: Bill Gaydos & Kitch Loftus-Mussari
January 19, 2013
Lenfest Theater, Visitor Center
Gettysburg National Military Park
Copyright 2013 Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

On a recent bright and shining Saturday morning, weGNMP_0768_250 traveled from our home in Waverly PA to a most enchanting and inspiring place… the Gettysburg National Military Park.  Although it has been on our list of places to visit for many years, it was the first opportunity we have had to actually get there, and we were not in any way disappointed.

The purpose of our trip was to attend the premier of a production by Dr. Tony Mussari and his wife and able partner, Kitch Loftus Mussari. We knew that our travels would reward us with an exceptional experience and we were correct in our supposition. It was an evening we will long remember.


As we all assembled in the theater, having been warmly welcomed by Tony and Kitch, people prepared to settle down and see the show. Mr. Frank Orlando, a former public school principal clearly devoted to education and learning, was the master of ceremonies.  He and his wife, Bonnie, were attired in civil war costume and proceeded to act their roles while providing the audience with charming reflections and historical facts of the era.

Following the Orlandos was Mr. William Troxell, longOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA time mayor of Gettysburg. He gave some history of this historic town – really a lovely hamlet of sorts – and told of his many generations of relatives who had resided here before him.  He was most gracious in his welcome and made us all feel quite at home.


Ms. Stacy Fox, VP of Sales and Marketing, Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, was exuberant in her discussion of the military park and all that it stands for in terms of American history.  It is easy to see why she holds the position she does!

Finally, just before the actual screening, Dr. Tony Mussari gave some reflections on why he and Kitch had decided to produce this documentary.

He spoke about visiting Gettysburg for the first time with his brother. Tony was 15 at the time and the experience, in his words,”changed his life.”

A part of the Face of America Project, Walking Into the Light is indeed enlightening. It educates us about the infamous Battle of Gettysburg. As important, as we view the monuments and battlefields through the lens of period photographs and renderings, we feel both the terror and the courage that these 161,000 soldiers must have experienced in this history making three day battle.

We were inspired and moved as the Battle Hymn of the Republic and other very moving music, well selected for this documentary, played in the background with footage of our great flag imposed across the screen, undulating in a stiff breeze. It was truly inspiring and our hearts were filled with pride for our new republic and for what it has become.

Central to this documentary was the presence of ten OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. A diverse group, there was clearly one thing these students had very much in common: a thirst for knowledge and a true sense of astonishment and amazement at what they learned through this life changing experience – exactly what Tony and Kitch had hoped for.

Articulate and insightful beyond their years and life experiences, these students learned how much their forefathers sacrificed for our collective freedom. It caused them to do some critical thinking and express gratitude for all that they enjoy today. It clearly changed them in very real ways. We wondered how this experience might also move and inspire university level students who might come to Gettysburg with a higher level of understanding and perhaps see things that might have been lost on such young students. Clearly, people of all ages leave this place enriched and inclined to learn much more about our nation’s history during those Civil War years.


Also notable were the many comments made by General Robert E. Lee, so nicely interpreted by Frank Orlando.

While we never understood him as well as we did after hearing some of his “commentary,” we were reminded that even those whom we might disagree with ideologically, have something to say and, when given the opportunity, it is often something we can admire. We wondered what General Grant might have told us about and what memorable quotes we would have taken away from his commentary had he been a part of the proceedings!

And finally, the memorable quotes from President3a11366r Last portrai 300t Abraham Lincoln, a man who overcame so many obstacles to be a president who changed the world in so many ways, touched our hearts once again. Some were new to us, other we had known. All were words which are timeless and could have been spoken today with just as much meaning and power.

Iconic in today’s world for his many contributions, Lincoln was often misunderstood in his lifetime. One who understood him was T.V.Smith who said:

“This Lincoln, whom so many living friends and foes alike deemed foolish, hid bitterness in laughter, fed his sympathy on solitude, and met recurring disaster with whimsicality to muffle the murmur of a bleeding heart… and won through death what life disdains to bestow upon such simple souls –lasting peace and everlasting glory.”

While Lincoln and the soldiers who fought so valiantly at Gettysburg may not have provided for a lasting peace – perhaps humans are not capable of that –they did provide us with everlasting glory.

Gettysburg groupThank you Tony and Kitch for this extraordinary film and for all the expertise, insight and love that went into it.

Surely you changed the lives of many of us in your audience just as you changed the lives of your ten students, and just,Tony, as your own life was changed when you first visited Gettysburg many long years ago
with your beloved brother. He is surely proud of all that came of that visit and smiles on you today.

Godspeed to you and to all who helped to make this fine documentary a reality.

Gettysburg Gifts: Part 4, Bonnie & Frank Orlando

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Gettysburg Gifts, Part 4, Bonnie & Frank Orlando

Written by Kitch & Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by: Tony & kitch Mussari
Copyright 2013, Face of America Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

What a cruel thing war is to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors. General Robert E. Lee

The Civil War arrived at the door of Gettysburg onlee_349 July 1, 1863, when General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia into town and set up camp.

Three days later he was forced to retreat, leaving a large contingent, thirty percent, of his soldiers either dead, dying, seriously injured or captured.

Lee is not an historical figure we talk about much in the North. That is unfortunate. If, however, you are walking the streets of Gettysburg during the 150th anniversary of the battle or attending a function in town, he may become the focus of your attention.

A double-take is in order when you see him and his wife, Ann Custis Lee, walking about and nodding to all they see.  Lee’s uniform is just like the one we BF3_7985_250have seen in historical photographs. Mrs. Lee wears a dress similar to the ones we remember from “Gone With The Wind:” six layers of clothing covered by a magnificent silk moire dress, ear bobs, hair caught up in a net topped by an elegant hat carrying a parasol or a cane.

The famous general and his wife are the creation of Frank and Bonnie Orlando who came to Gettysburg when the retired from their careers in education. They are called upon to perform in many venues, and they are exceptional at what they do. They are living breathing experts on the Lees.  They have read extensively-not only the books written but journals, letters, and family histories. This research brings a depth of knowledge and understanding to their performance.

The ten students in our documentary and everyone inBF4_7985_250 our production crew can give testimony to the many important lessons they teach when given the opportunity to recount the wit, wisdom and insight of the General and his lady.

There is another side to the Orlandos that Kitch and I were privileged to see. They are wonderful people with caring hearts and willingness to help others. From the moment our eyes met, we became fast friends. We recognized their talent, expertise and noble purpose. They believed in our work, and the enormous obstacles we faced in realizing our dream to produce Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg.

During the past nine months we have rendezvoused several times with Bonnie and Frank for coffee, for dinner, for dessert. They opened many doors for us. They BF_7985_250encouraged us and they helped us navigate the bumps in the road during our journey to the screening and the banquet.

Every encounter was joyful and pleasant. Every one of the 185 e-mails we exchanged contained kind words of affirmation.

Every memory we have of Bonnie and Frank is positive. The last sentence in the note Frank sent to us the night after the screening and banquet says everything one needs to know about why Bonnie and Frank Orlando are Gettysburg Gifts to Kitch and me and two radiant Faces of America on its best day for everyone who visits Gettysburg:

"God speed, thank you for your gifts, and never forget that you possess one of the greatest gifts God ever bestowed upon mankind – true friends in Gettysburg, PA."

Thank You Bonnie and Frank for helping us make our dream become a reality.

Thank you for giving your time, effort and energy to teach young people like the students from North Plainfield what really matters in life.

Thank you for the priceless gift of friendship.

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Heroes without Headlines, Gettysburg, 2012

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Heroes without Headlines, Gettysburg, 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
All Rights Reserved
The Face of America Project

"Any nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure" Abraham Lincoln

Flag of Honor

The headline in the Gettysburg Times read, “Flies with honor.”

The accompanying picture recorded the moment, shortly before noon, when Barney Barnum and Brian Thacker raised the light blue flag with the impressive emblem under the Stars and Stripes in Lincoln Square on October 17, 2012.

For the people who came to witness this event, it was a very significant moment.

Barnum and Thacker are Medal of Honor recipients. The flag is the simple, but elegant, Medal of Honor flag.

The occasion was a celebration. The Medal of Honor Convention will be held in Gettysburg next September, the place where 63 Medals of Honor were earned in the battle that changed the course of the Civil War.

The flag will fly high above Lincoln Square for one year as a symbol of courage, honor, hope, respect and service.

The flag raising was the highlight of an inspiring ceremony that helped people better understand the Medal of Honor, the veterans who earned it and everything it symbolizes.

For me, it was the beginning of a day, I will never forget.


I did not know about the event when I arrived in Gettysburg on Tuesday, October 16.  My mind was focused on the seven meetings, I had arranged to finalize plans for the premiere of our documentary, Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg.  I was on my way to a meeting at the Convention and Visitors Bureau when I literally bumped it to a very pleasant man on Steinwehr Ave.

I was lost. When I asked him for directions to Middle Street, he took the time to respond in detail. Before we knew it, we were engaged in a wonderful conversation about his work as a photographer and my mission to get the word out about our project.

Del Hilbert is a welcoming person, a kind person, a thoughtful person and a person of faith. He invited me to visit his studio. I accepted, and he put a coin in the parking meter.  That unexpected act of kindness established the foundation and tone of our emerging friendship. We talked about our interests and one of our mutual friends, Frank Orlando, aka General Robert E. Lee. Del gave me one of the pictures he took of Frank, and he invited me to join him on Wednesday morning at the circle by the David Wills House, the home where President Lincoln was a guest during his visit to Gettysburg in November 1863.

A Unique Face of America Moment

Wednesday, October 17, was a magnificent autumn day. When I arrived at the circle, I did not know what to expect.

A crowd was building. The mood was festive, but reserved.  People were talking in hushed tones.  Wherever one looked something was happening.

Two bright yellow school vans transporting 14 members of the Gettysburg High School Band were being parked adjacent to the Gettysburg Hotel.

Junior ROTC students,Emma Bahm, Gabrielle Minor, John Tully and Aaron Scruggs were taking their places under the watchful eye of Thomas A Bores, SFC, U.S. Army retired. 

An Honor Guard was forming, Gettysburg’s Mayor, William Troxell, was greeting people with a smile and a firm handshake.

A pleasant young woman named Ashley greeted everyone with her radiant smile as she distributed folders containing information about the event and the Medal of Honor Society.

An incredibly talented senior executive from the Webster Group, AJ Bowanas, helped people make connections. Kristen Holland, Project Manager for the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg, attended to last minute details with great dignity.

Carl Whitehall, Media Relations Manager, for the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, greeted old friends like Frank and Bonnie Orlando and Pastor Steve Herr.

Then it happened, two men appeared to my left. They were quietly and politely shaking hands with people as they made their way toward the platform where the program would take place. I watched them with great interest. It was the first time I had ever seen a Medal of Honor recipient. In fact, it was the first time I had seen a person wearing a Medal of Honor.

Suddenly I was face to face with Brian Thacker. He was dressed in a blue sport coat and grey dress pants. He was not as tall as I had imagined he would be. Without the medal he was wearing, one could easily misidentify him as a business executive.  He was more reserved than I expected, and he was more generous with his time than I expected.

On March 31, 1971, he earned the Medal of Honor because he was a leader who displayed no thought for himself as he worked courageously and effectively in the face of unimaginable danger to guarantee the safety of others. He was the person who survived eight days in the jungle of Vietnam without food or water. He was the junior officer who years later told a reporter, “I was afraid. Yet fear is a wonderful motivator. It sharpens your brain and then your only objective is to survive.”

When my moment came, all I could do was look him in the eye and say these words, “Thank you for your service to America.”

His response was polite and grateful.

A few minutes later, I found myself in a similar situation with Barney Barnum. He is smaller than I thought he would be. In my mind, he is a giant for what he did and the way he did it.

Barnum is a man with a perpetual smile on his face. Without the gold medal with the blue ribbon hanging from his neck, you would think he is everyone’s favorite grandfather. When you are in his presence the feeling of awe is palpable, but his smile puts you at ease. 

His moment came on December 18, 1965. Like all Medal of Honor recipients in the face of danger, he acted with complete disregard for his own safety. He took the initiative. He gave encouragement. He assumed a leadership position. What he did is best described in his citation:

“His sound and swift decisions and his obvious calm served to stabilize the badly decimated units and his gallant example as he stood exposed repeatedly to point out targets served as an inspiration to all. Provided with two armed helicopters, he moved fearlessly through enemy fire to control the air attack against the firmly entrenched enemy while skillfully directing one platoon in a successful counterattack in the key enemy positions. Having thus cleared a small area, he requested and directed the landing of two transport helicopters for the evacuation of the dead and wounded. He then assisted in the mopping up and final seizure of the battalion’s objective.”

When I met Barney Barnum, I offered my expression of gratitude. He responded with a smile, a warm handshake and the words, “Thank you so much.”

After that moment, time passed quickly.

Dressed in their Army of the Potomac uniforms and directed by David Conklin, the high school musicians played popular selections from the Civil War.

Robert J. Monahan, Jr., President and CEO of the Congressional Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg, began the program with a well-crafted welcome.

The Gettysburg Area High School Army JROTC Cadets recited the Pledge of Allegiance with conviction and passion.

Pastor Steve Herr delivered his invocation with feeling and grace. The concluding three sentences of his prayer touched the hearts of everyone in the crowd:

“Finally, Lord we also pray for peace among all peoples. For peace in our hearts and minds, among our citizens, and among nations. We pray that you would inspire us with the courage to devote our lives to serving our fellow citizens and caring for your people.”

Without warning, the most instructive moment of the ceremony happened. Mayor Troxell came to the podium to offer remarks. For some reason, the microphone moved and he could not be heard.

Without hesitation, Barney Barnum stealthfully made his way to the mike stand. He dislodged the mike from its holder, and he stood next to the mayor holding the microphone in just the right place so that everyone in the audience could hear what he was saying.

That act, that moment, that rescue spoke volumes about Barnum, his values and his medal. Just as he had done in a much more dangerous circumstance in Vietnam all those years ago, his instinctive sense of service to others took over.  He forgot about his role as a distinguished guest. He dismissed his personal comfort. He rushed in to help the mayor and everyone else.

In that moment, with that act, he exemplified why he is the personification of America at its best. His action sent a powerful message to everyone assembled in Lincoln Square. Service to others, kindness to others, helping others and caring about the success of others is central to America at its best.

Shortly before I left Lincoln Square, I noticed a TV cameraman setting up a shot for an interview with Barney Barnum. When I reached the location, I took a picture of the man who saved the moment for the mayor. Then I positioned myself in a place where we could make eye contact. The words I spoke to this unassuming hero came straight from my heart, “You are an American treasure.”

He blushed. Then he smiled with an expression of gratitude unlike anything I have ever experienced, and one which I will never forget.

That’s what heroes without headlines do. They make indelible impressions on our heart, and they make us want to reach up for our higher angels.

There are 81 living Medal of Honor recipients. Would that every American would have the opportunity to meet at least one of them and experience, in real time, the goodness, kindness, courage, patriotism and service that makes each of them a model to be imitated, respected and honored.

In my opinion, what makes them so special is not power, wealth, status or notoriety.  On the contrary, they are special because they are just like us. They are human, they have fears, they wonder about their future, they love their children and yearn for their safety, happiness and success. They bear the aches and pains of life, yet they never complain. Their actions are motivated by service not selfishness, grace not greed, humility not pride.

The two men I met in Gettysburg see themselves as a soldier and a marine who did nothing more than serve their country.

The Medal of Honor does not signify perfection. In my mind, it is a statement about excellence. The 3,458 men and one woman who have earned it acted in the best interest of their neighbors, their friends and their country. They thought about others before themselves. In so doing, they established a model of behavior that encourages the weak to be strong, the timid to be courageous, and the powerful to be generous. Their behavior on the battlefield and in the public square gives truth to the words of Abraham Lincoln, “We must rise with the occasion…Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.”

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Life, Light and Lincoln

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Life, Light and Lincoln

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
All Rights Reserved
The Face of America Project

Let us at all times remember that all Americans are brothers of a common country, and should dwell in the bonds of fraternal feeling. Abraham Lincoln

Life and Lincoln

Kitch and I have been spending a good of our time producing our documentary Walking Into The Light at Gettysburg. It has been a demanding and delightful experienced.

It forced us to immerse ourselves in the history of the Civil War, and it opened our eyes to the brilliance and compassion of Abraham Lincoln.

While he was President, he was vilified by his detractors.

Nevertheless, he remained true to his beliefs.

Early one morning while I was doing research for the documentary, I found an insightful comment about President Lincoln. It was written by T.V. Smith:

This Lincoln, whom so many living friends and foes alike deemed foolish, hid his bitterness in laughter; fed his sympathy on solitude; and met recurring disaster with whimsicality to muffle the murmur of a bleeding heart. Out of the tragic sense of life he pitied where others blamed; bowed his own shoulders with the woes of the weak; endured humanely his little day of chance power; and won through death what life disdains to bestow upon such simple souls—lasting peace and everlasting glory.

When pressed for an answer to the question, “What is America at its best?” Smith’s description of Abraham Lincoln comes to mind.

The man who saved the union and lost his life doing it was caring, compassionate, and thoughtful. He saw public office as an opportunity to serve others, not himself. He did not complain, and he never walked away from his responsibilities. He wanted America to be a country deeply rooted in belonging, community and confraternity.

For kitch and me, Abraham Lincoln is the personification of America at its very best.

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The Gettysburg Project

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

Conscious of Our Treasures: Gettysburg 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs, Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. Thornton Wilder


If freedom is the heart of America, opportunity is the central nervous system of our country. Wherever we traveled during our Face of America journey we were reminded of the precious national asset and value called opportunity.

Americans believe that everyone should have a fair chance to achieve their full potential. We celebrate this value in a number of ways. We have an Opportunity Index, an Opportunity Agenda, and a Journal of Opportunity.

At the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, one of the main streets on the campus is named Opportunity Avenue. In Mantua, Ohio, above the main entrance to a school built in 1929, one finds the word Opportunity carefully engraved in elegant letters. In the Spokane Valley, the Opportunity Elementary School is described as a place where children receive “the support they need to achieve and succeed.”

On Mars, we have had an Opportunity Rover since 2004.

America on its best day is a land of opportunity for everyone.

On The Road

During the past two months, Kitch and I have been blessed with several wonderful opportunities. Our Face of America Journey has taken us to Maryland, Virginia, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

We honored speaking engagements at the Community College of Baltimore, Marywood University, Wilkes University and North Plainfield High School in New Jersey. Our presentations focused on documentary filmmaking, ethics and corporate responsibility, experiential learning and our Gettysburg Project.

Each topic gave us an opportunity to learn something about America at its best, create something to illustrate the actions, behaviors and beliefs of Americans doing their best and interact with students and teachers who want to become the best edition of themselves.

Gettysburg’s Holy Ground

During our Face of America journey, we have visited the Gettysburg National Military Park seven times. Two years ago we wrote a Face of America Commentary about our experience there. It began with these words:

I saw the Face of America today in a place that will always be forever young, forever sacred and forever a bridge from America’s past to America’s future.

It ended with this thought:

What I experienced here in this place of honor on a beautiful April afternoon, I will carry with me for all the Aprils that will follow, because once you visit Gettysburg you never go home the same.

Two months later, Kitch and I took our granddaughter to Gettysburg to introduce her to Abraham Lincoln, and to teach her something about compassion. During that visit we met Barbara Platt and we became fast friends.

Barbara is the author of This is Holy Ground, one of the classic books about the battlefield. For the next 18 months Barbara shared her knowledge and insight with us. She graciously agreed to do two interviews with us, and she became a compassionate and caring advisor to Kitch during her battle with cancer. In addition to writing, volunteering and being one of the most welcoming ambassadors for this sacred place, Barbara waged an heroic battle with cancer for seven years.

In November 2011, she talked at length about her struggle in a poignant interview. Three months later, the day I learned of her death, I wrote a eulogy to Barbara. It began with these words:

America lost one of its best this week.

Her name will not appear in the headlines of any newspaper. It will not be number one in a Google search of famous people. There will be no testimonials on the national news, and very few people will know of her passing.

That’s exactly the way she would want it; no fuss, no fanfare, no fame, no public display of emotion.

The commentary ended with these words:

Her life gave truth to her words, “If you have love, you have a lot going for you.”
The words of one of her heroes Abraham Lincoln apply to Barbara’s courage, determination and perseverance, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”

Thank you, Bobbie for showing us the way. You will be remembered with admiration, and you will be missed in all the ways that matter. May God have mercy on your soul.

The Gettysburg Project

Less than a week after this article was published in our Face of America blog, I proposed the idea for a Gettysburg project to Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum and Tom Mazur during a dinner meeting in North Plainfield, New Jersey. They liked the idea.

For the past three months, Tom and I have spent every available moment working to make this dream become a reality. It did not come easily. There were a number of bumps in the road. Nevertheless, we kept moving forward, and we found solutions.

The centerpiece of the Gettysburg project is a visit to the battlefield with 10 students and 8 adults. Thanks to wonderful cooperation from representatives of the National Park Service at Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Foundation, we will produce a documentary about this trip. It will be the foundation for a number of activities in the North Plainfield School District during the 150th anniversary of the battle.

Virtually everyone we asked for help went out of their way to do more than we expected. We are indebted to Mr. Jerard Stephenson, the principal of the high school, and the members of the North Plainfield PTO, whose generosity and belief in our work made this trip possible.
The students are enthusiastic. The officials in Gettysburg have created a welcoming environment. The adults are making wonderful sacrifices to guarantee the integrity of this unique experiential learning opportunity. We have a number of surprises planned for the students, and we intend to make the most of our visit to Gettysburg.


Craig Lewis, one of the students who will visit Gettysburg, put the trip and the experience in perspective with these words: “I hope to learn about the battle and grow as a person from the experience.”

Jalynn Rivera wants to learn the causes and the consequences of the battle.

Tom De Meola hopes to get a better understanding of what the soldiers felt during the battle.

Adriana Miranda would like to know why there were so many casualties at Gettysburg.

Chelsea Blue believes this will be an amazing and life changing opportunity.

Max Torres hopes to learn life lessons in Gettysburg.

David Havrilla sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

An adaptation of the words of Thornton Wilder accurately describes what all of the members of our Gettysburg team are feeling. We are energized by the enthusiasm of the moment, and we are conscious of this great opportunity and treasure.

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Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. Seneca

Stories from the Heart

These are stories about people we met by circumstance or design during the past week.

The women in these stories personify what someone once said so accurately about Thanksgiving, “Don’t only give thanks for what you have. Give thanks for what you give.”

In our opinion, these stories reflect the spirit of America on its best day. They speak to the heart and soul of Americans at their best. They give truth to the words of Dr. Stephen Post, “America is the home of the free and the land of the good.”

Helping Hands

On a cold November afternoon as I was leaving a store in a strip mall, I watched a woman come out of a store and approach a Salvation Army volunteer who was ringing a Christmas bell and greeting shoppers. She was shivering.  Her hands were beet-red from the cold. 

“Give me your hands,” the woman asked the volunteer?”

Then, she opened a bag containing a new pair of woolen gloves, and she carefully placed them on the hands of the volunteer.

In astonishment, the Salvation Army volunteer asked, “Are you coming back to get the gloves, or can I keep them?”

The woman smiled and said, “They’re yours. Thanks for making our world a better place,” then she disappeared into the crowd.”

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. Theodore Roosevelt

Bobbie’s World

Kitch and I met Barbara Platt at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center during our Face of America journey. She was singing copies of her book, This Is Holy Ground. It was a perfect opportunity to introduce our granddaughter to an author.

On that June day in 2010, we became fast friends.

Barbara Platt came to Gettysburg in 1955 with her husband who accepted a teaching position at Gettysburg College. She has been a student of the battlefield for more than 50 years. She is a woman of fierce independence and inspiring determination to learn, grow and make the most of life.

She is loyal to her friends, and she is willing to help people who ask for her help. One week after our chance meeting, Barbara did a wonderful interview for our book, America at Its Best.  Standing in the shadow of the place where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, she shared insights about the battlefield, her work, her life, and her battle with breast cancer.

When I asked Barbara to identify someone from the battle who, in her mind, represents America on its best day, she did not name a general, or a statesman.  She told the story of a 70-year old man, John Burns. He was too old to join the union army, but when the battle began he picked up his Revolutionary War rifle and asked a commanding officer to let him join the fight.

Barbara was 83-years-old when she told that story. The breast cancer that slowed her down seven years earlier was in remission, and she was not about to let it prevent her from living a full life. To encourage Kitch, she wrote these words:

My very best to both of you. I am all too familiar with Kitch’s situation. Her treatment “ain’t fun,” but having been around now for seven years after the doctors almost gave up on me, I know it’s worth it.

This week, Kitch and I visited with Barbara at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park to do an interview with her for our documentary about cancer. Her circumstance is much different today than when we first met. Cancer has returned with a vengeance, and the signs of its return are obvious. Nevertheless, Bobby is still doing the things she loves to do, and she refuses to spend any time lamenting her fate. “I certainly have no problem with my situation.  I never have. I wake up every morning, she told me, “and I do what I can to be productive.”

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. Thornton Wilder

A Library for Laurie

Laurie McDonald was an extraordinary woman of dignity, class, and passion. It was our good fortune to meet Mrs. McDonald at a Bedtime Stories event at the elementary school my granddaughter attends. She was welcoming and very pleasant to be with.

Described as a perfect principal by people who worked with her, Laurie McDonald was dedicated to excellence and innovation in the classroom.

During our Face of America journey, Laurie responded to virtually every newsletter with words of encouragement and support.
One year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, we received this note from her:

Dear Tony and Kitch,

“Thank you for the lovely note and beautiful picture.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season is a blessed and happy one for you and your family!!”


One month later, December 2010, she responded to an article we wrote entitled “Putting the past behind us.”  

“Once again, thank you for sharing a beautiful story, your lessons of dealing with challenges in such a positive and loving way, have brightened and uplifted me on many a day, thank you and many blessings to you and Kitch.”  Laurie

In February, when Kitch was battling Cancer, this note arrived from Laurie:

“Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you both.  Fondly, Laurie”

In April, my daughter and I attended the funeral service for Laurie McDonald. The pancreatic cancer she had been battling for three months took her life.  She was the same age as Kitch.  She was diagnosed in December 2010 the same month as Kitch.

Monday, November 22, was a rainy day in Leesburg,Virginia.  Kitch and I attended the dedication of the Mrs. Laurie McDonald Library. It was a beautiful and emotional event for 800 students and many parents and guests.

Mrs. McDonald was celebrated with readings, poems and songs. It was a joyful but poignant experience. It was exactly what she deserved and something she would have enjoyed.

As I recorded scenes of children singing, laughing, talking and learning, I thought to myself how short and unpredictable life is, and how fortunate Kitch and I were to meet this incredible Face of America.

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count
our blessings. Eric Hoffer

Donna’s Gift

On Tuesday, November 22, Kitch and I were returning from Virginia.  It was shortly after 5 p.m. It was raining heavily. The roads were treacherous. 

We stopped at the Sheetz store in Duncannon, PA.  My wife wanted to get a small cup of coffee.

When we approached the coffee maker, there were no small styrofoam cups.  We asked for help, and one of the employees at the food counter contacted someone in our behalf. The store was crowded, and it took a few minutes for the person to arrive with the replacement cups.

By that time, my wife had selected another size cup, and she was pouring coffee into the cup when Donna arrived.  Donna politely apologized for the inconvenience. My wife accepted her apology, and then she handed me the half full cup as she walked to another section of the store.
Donna restocked the empty section with cups. Before I made my way to the cashier, I thanked Donna for her willingness to help us.

I was standing in line waiting to pay for the cup of coffee, when Donna approached me. She smiled and asked, “Is the cup of coffee all that you have?”

I replied, “Yes.”

Then, Donna spoke these words. “You don’t have to pay for it. You were inconvenienced, and I apologize for that, and I appreciate your understanding.”

I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, the expression on her face, or the warm feeling of appreciation I experienced.

Donna just did her job, and she did it well. She was pleasant, helpful and cognizant of our needs.  She gave us more than we expected. She did not know anything about us. She only knew how to be kind.

Treating us with courtesy and consideration, she made a very favorable impression.

Although the road ahead would be long and challenging, Donna’s act of kindness and appreciation filled our hearts with the warm glow of gratitude.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer

Beautiful Thoughts

During this year of years, many people have lighted the flame within us. We will write about them before the year ends. For the moment, I would like to share some beautiful thoughts we received in response to a question we asked about important life lessons.

“Each human life is unique and has special value. We are social beings. As members of communities we have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others, and by so doing our own lives become more fulfilled.” Dr. Dan Kopen

“I learned that while we are people of place, we are also destined to move on from time to time… Love the people where you are, and do dig deep and meaningful roots. But realize as well that on a path of spiritual growth, there is something to be said for Rt 80!” Victor Chan is right, “Most people on a journey have to move on to grow… Wherever you are is home if you focus on the things that matter most!” Dr. Stephen Post

"Nothing trumps perseverance and hard work." Julie Marvel

“The lesson came to me through an act of kindness from a colleague. In the midst of a crisis, this colleague asked me how things were and I told her. She then ran into her office and came out to give me a red metal cuff bracelet that has this on it: ‘Be still and know that I AM.’  That remains the biggest lesson for me.” Dr. Agnes Cardoni

"Loyalty to whomever I was working with." Barbara Platt

“What lesson did I learn in life…To be thankful and not just on Thanksgiving.  I had a Sunday School teacher as a child that said, we could be thankful for something different every day.  I have never forgotten her telling the class that.  The Bible tells us that in everything give thanks because it is the will of God.  Each day is a gift from God and I must make it count.” Janie Kiehl

“I’ve learned not to be so critical of things. To be more understanding and more compassionate, to have faith.” Louie Bigiarelli

"The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. I was fortunate to have been taught this a child and it has given me a foundation to build my life, values, and life principles on."  Chuck Wagner

"To receive kindness and understanding from my neighbors and friends, I have to be kind and understanding to them." Helene Bigiarelli

"Life is, indeed, short so there is no time to feel sorry for yourself. We would just be wasting our days and leaving little time to do for others.  I guess this is one of the lessons I have learned…. " Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum

You can be sure we will be thinking about these life lessons as we give thanks for the gift of life and the many opportunities afforded us during our Face of America Journey.

From our hearts to your home, Happy Thanksgiving, and may all of your stories have happy endings.

Kitch & Tony Mussari

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