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For Sharpsburg woman, patriotism developed into commitment

May 24, 2010|By JANET HEIM
  • Ava Gift became a member of the Sharpsburg American Legion Auxiliary Antietam Unit No. 236 about 19 years ago and has served as president for nine years. She said her red, white and blue patriotism has grown out of her membership in the auxiliary.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer,

SHARPSBURG -- Next to Christmas, Memorial Day is Ava Gift's favorite holiday.

"I love all the flag waving," said Gift, 58.

Decked out in red, white and blue, Gift wears the colors of her flag and country with pride.

She said Memorial Day in Sharpsburg reminds her of a Norman Rockwell painting, as residents on the parade route scrub their porches and fly their flags in preparation for the event.

"I ask myself, 'Why do I feel like such a patriot?'" said Gift, a Washington County native.

She attributes that patriotism in part to growing up in Keedysville near Antietam National Battlefield and to her father's Navy career.

Her patriotism has grown into a commitment to the Sharpsburg American Legion Auxiliary.

"I really do take seriously the debt of freedom," Gift said.

As a student, Gift, whose maiden name is Griffith, attended Friday assemblies at Keedysville Elementary School, at which the students and staff gathered to say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."

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She graduated from Boonsboro High School in 1969 and shortly afterward went to work for the Division of Corrections south of Hagerstown. She retired about 10 years ago.

Nineteen years ago, Gift became a member of the Sharpsburg American Legion Auxiliary Antietam Unit No. 236. She had little thought of being more actively involved until a member invited her to attend a meeting.

"I haven't stopped," said Gift, who has been president for about nine years.

Her husband, Frank, and son Zachary, a 1996 Boonsboro High School graduate, are members of the Sons of the American Legion. Frank, who served in the Army in Vietnam, has a dual membership with the American Legion.

Ava Gift and the auxiliary have many responsibilities during Sharpsburg's Memorial Day celebration, including the wreath-layings in town at 11 a.m. Saturday and at Antietam National Cemetery after the parade. This year's festivities are May 29.

The organization also lays wreaths for Veterans' Day and works with local schools to educate students about patriotic holidays.

"This (story) could be about anyone in the auxiliary. I believe there are a lot of passionate people in this organization," Gift said.

Gift, who also is a member of the Sharpsburg Memorial Day Parade Committee, admits that her energy level helps her get a lot done.

"I'm like the Energizer bunny. I only have one speed, and its fast forward," Gift said.

The auxiliary also supports active-duty military families, Gold Star mothers -- those whose children have been killed while serving in the military -- and community projects that benefit all ages.

"We're involved with veterans, active military, seniors, children and the community," Gift said.

One project includes collecting Boxtops for Education and Campbell's soup labels to build an emergency fund for school field trips so that no student in the Sharpsburg schools is denied the opportunity to go on a field trip because of lack of money.

The auxiliary encourages patriotism of the younger generation by sponsoring an annual essay contest at Sharpsburg Elementary School. It also sponsors a ham and turkey Christmas dinner for Sharpsburg-area senior citizens.

More information on American Legion Auxiliaries can be found at http://www.legion-aux.org.

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