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Federal program takes pride in Antietam park volunteers

November 30, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

SHARPSBURG - It is the site of the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.

But every summer, Antietam National Battlefield is also the place where hundreds of bluebirds learn how to fly.

Since 1979, Mark and Jean Raabe have volunteered their time to maintain bluebird nest boxes at the park.

"If you haven't come here early in the morning to see the bluebirds fly across the fields, there are no words to describe the beauty of it," said J.W. Howard, the battlefield's superintendent.

The Raabes and dozens of other park volunteers were recognized for their work Thursday during an awards ceremony at the battlefield's Mumma Farm Education Center.

The awards were presented by Take Pride America, a federal program aimed at increasing volunteer work on public lands.

"This is the best part of my job," said Heather Roebke, executive director of Take Pride in America. "The people we are recognizing today work hard to make this park a wonderful place."

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The volunteers honored Thursday were given awards based on their hours of service, which ranged from 100 hours to almost 2,000 hours per person.

Kevin, Sue and Michael Graff of Fairplay were recognized for preparing the luminarias for the park's annual Memorial Illumination ceremony, which will take place Saturday.

The Graffs - with the help of Boy Scout troops, Boonsboro High School students and other groups - have prepared the event's 23,110 sand-filled bags for the past 19 years.

"I've always loved this place. I lived in Sharpsburg as a child, and I used to ride my bicycle through the park," Sue Graff said.

Tom Banks, who lives near Williamsport, was given the Presidential Volunteer Service Silver Award for his 300 hours of work at the battlefield.

Banks said he has been volunteering at the park for three years, mostly in the visitor center. But Banks was quick to point to his wife, Rae, as the inspiration behind his decision to volunteer at the park.

"She warped me into this," Tom Banks joked.

Rae Banks was acknowledged during the ceremony as one of the park's most seasoned volunteers. In the past 15 years, Rae Banks has logged more than 4,000 hours of service, an accomplishment only four people have reached in the park's history.

"It's been a pleasure," Rae Banks said. "I've met some absolutely wonderful people over the years."

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