Nineteen years ago this month Steve Weiss, Bob Blumenstock, Joe Weber and myself got together and came up with a crazy idea to start a new group to staff the NYS&W’s 142 steam program and we called it the Susquehanna Volunteer Association. Well here we are nineteen years later, the SVA is now the VRA, and the last of the original four (that would be me) is about to leave office ending nineteen years of serving our members.
I am very proud of what the four of us did and even more proud of what you, the members of the VRA, made happen. Because, while every group needs leaders, there would be nothing to lead if it were not for its members. I am also proud of those people who have volunteered their time to step up and help lead the VRA from when we created the 501c3 until today. These people helped take the vision started by the original four and turn it into more than any of us could have imagined.
As Old Blue Eyes sang, “regrets… I have a few.” The first is that Joe Weber never got to see the station completed; he would have loved what we have done. The second is that I wish select executive board members (including myself) could have kept more of the pure enjoyment of what we do in mind, and kept the politics and personality conflicts out of the picture. That is not to say that the four benevolent dictators (as we became affectionately known) did not have our difficulties, but we never let any of those problems effect the membership. These last four or five years I am sorry to say have not been that way and for that I am truly sorry.
As leaders we should have all done a better job for you and while we cannot change the past we can certainly learn from it. So I ask the incoming board, and all future ones, to remember the lessons of the past, to not repeat the bad ones and to use the good ones to help grow the organization. Over the years the VRA has become one of the most respected groups in the New Jersey rail preservation community because of all we have done. Let’s all work to keep that reputation and to make it even stronger.
Enough with the bad stuff. I have a few people I need to thank for helping me through these last nineteen years. The first is my wife, Carol. She has sacrificed so much to allow me to do what I have done. The days and nights that I was not home count in the hundreds. She saw the passion I had for the VRA and (almost) never asked me to curtail my activities. She is a wonderful human being and I am lucky to have her on by my side.
My son, Kenny, was five years old when we started this group and he too did not have me around on those many days and nights. He too never complained and on the many occasions he got to take part in one of our activities he proudly stood by me, helping when he could or just enjoying what we were doing. My favorite memories are when he would put on the Snoopy or Scooby Doo costumes to entertain our passengers. I was then the proud one as he made so many kids (and kids at heart) smile.
There are a few more people who deserve an extra big thank you for all they have done for the VRA and me: Steve Weiss, Bob Blumenstock and Joe Weber for working together to create, grow and make our little group great. Chris Vitz for his calm and thoughtful leadership and for all his work to get our 501c3 status. He is a great example of how we should all act. Charles Smith, for always being there and for always being a good sport. Most of you probably don’t know this, but Charles stepped in and filled the void left when Joe Weber got sick and stayed doing all he could after Joe died. I am very proud to call Charles my friend. To all of you, our members, I want to thank you for giving me the chance to help lead our group. I hope I did a good job for you and that you enjoyed the time you have been part of the VRA. I look forward to being part of the VRA long into the future and hope you will join me. It will be great to watch our future leaders decide the projects and direction we will take and then join in to make the vision a reality.
I have made a lot of great friends in the VRA, friendships I will cherish long into the future. To those people (you know who you are) words cannot express how much I appreciate the laughs, good times, hugs, handshakes, support and guidance. You have made my life better and for that I truly thank you.
Your Very Humble Ex-Benevolent Dictator,