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Friends of Happy Retreat

The Friends of Happy Retreat was founded in 2006 to respond to concerns of residents of Charles Town, West Virginia, about Charles Washington’s home, Happy Retreat, and its vulnerability to development in the state’s rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle—just 55 miles northwest of Washington, D.C

The City of Charles Town commissioned a property appraisal in January 2006 that indicated the property could be subdivided for residential development. Meanwhile, the Friends of Happy Retreat was launched as a 501(c) 3 nonprofit dedicated to “acquiring, preserving, and utilizing the property for public benefit.”

Among the organization’s first order of business was a survey conducted to determine the feasibility of the project. This survey found near-unanimous agreement that the Friends’ vision for Charles Washington’s Happy Retreat as a public resource for education, enjoyment, and economic development through heritage tourism is very important to the city, region, and state.

Board of Directors

Executive Committee

President. Walter Washington is a direct descendant of Samuel Washington (1734-1781), brother of President George Washington and Charles Washington. He has a law degree from American University and is a practicing attorney in Charles Town. Walter is the owner of Samuel Washington’s home, Harewood, built in 1770 near Charles Town.

Vice President. J. Randolph Hilton was a labor relations specialist for the government of Montgomery County, Maryland, until his retirement. He served as mayor of the City of Charles Town and remains active in Jefferson County and Charles Town public affairs.

Treasurer. Richard Seckinger, originally from Philadelphia, is a retired air traffic controller. Served as treasurer for 9 years of Zion Episcopal Church, Charles Town; Board of Directors of The Old Opera House; Treasurer & VP of AIDS Network of the Tri State Area; and Distinguished Past President of Lawncrest (Phila) Kiwanis Club. Also a volunteer with the Animal Welfare Society in Jefferson Co. An avid history buff and a diehard Phillies fan!

 

Board Members

Marjorie Gaestel – Board Historian/Archivist is retired after serving 25 years as a bookkeeper with the Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Board of Education. She attended Ocean County College, N.J. She is a member of the Point Pleasant Historical Society, an avid genealogist, a daughter of the Union Army, and a student of Washington family history.

Margie Fithian, a resident of Monterey, California has deep family ties to Charles Town and Jefferson County through her husband, Taylor Fithian, grandson of R.J. Funkhouser. A mother of 2 daughters, she has served actively on numerous school boards and committees as well as local fundraisers and charity events. She has worked in the medical field and as a teacher. Having recently purchased and restored Cedar Lawn, a beloved family home, and a historical Washington home, she has developed a keen interest in preserving the historical and family legacies of Charles Town.

William E. Jackson, now retired, practiced law for more than 40 years in Washington, D.C. Educated as an engineer and lawyer, his practice dealt with intellectual property and business litigation. His activities have included Moot Court Judge for Intellectual Property Competition, George Washington University Law School. He has also been active with the Land Conservancy of Adams County, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and the preservation of his family farm located near the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield.

Kenneth (Kenn) A. Miller is a direct descendant (5th great grandson) of Charles Washington (1738-1799), brother of President George Washington. He has an electrical engineering degree from West Virginia Institute of Technology (1983) and is a Senior Electrical Engineer in the Office of Nuclear Research for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Rockville, MD. Kenn and his wife Michele reside in Shepherdstown, WV and they have two daughters.

Bill Senseney was born and raised in Jefferson County and is now retired. After receiving a BS in business administration from West Virginia University, Bill took over active management of the family business. In the ensuing 15 years, he raised a family, farmed, served as president of the Charles Town Retail Merchants Association, became a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission, and began distance running. Bill served eight years as sheriff and treasurer of the county and four terms as Magistrate.

Robin Huyett Thomas, a resident of Charles Town with roots deep in West Virginia, is an accomplished interior designer, painter, and potter with bachelor of science degrees in fine arts and interior design from the University of South Carolina and Virginia Commonwealth University, respectively. As a commercial interior designer, she has managed projects for many government agencies, including the Department of Defense, which presented her with two awards for her work on the post-911 Pentagon reconstruction program. Active in civic affairs, she also plays polo and has chaired the Friends’ major fundraiser, the Washington Family Homes Tour.

Michael Tolbert is a sixth generation Charles Town resident. Michael lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for twenty-five years. His interest in education reform led him to research the history of public education in Washington, D.C. from its origin in 1801. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from West Virginia University and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management from George Washington University. He analyzes international data at the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. In 2015, he was elected to the Charles Town City Council.

Matt Ward has lived in Charles Town for 17 years and served as a city councilman for eight years. He is the CEO of Sustainable Strategies DC, a government affairs & strategic consulting firm helping local government and non-profit clients obtain resources for community revitalization & tools for success in the green economy. Previously, he was a partner at The Ferguson Group, a Washington DC government affairs firm, and a partner at the law firm Spiegel & McDiarmid. He has degrees from the American University (BA 1991) and the University of Virginia (JD, 1994). He has been active in civic improvement and historic restoration projects including the revitalization of Fisherman’s Hall, an African American community center; the restoration of historic Charles Washington Hall; and the preservation of the Murphy Farm and other properties at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Chet Hines was born and raised in Charles Town, West Virginia. He became a Vietnam Vet in 1969-70.  After departure from the Army he started working for the CIA and retired after 30 years. In that time he raised 3 sons who have been very successful in life. Knowing Charles Town, he became a real estate agent and currently has been a Charles Town Councilman for 11 years. He is a member of the VFW and has been commander of the American Legion Post 71. Currently he handles landscaping at Happy Retreat and the Charles Town Park located around Happy Retreat.

Georgia R. Gessler is originally from Ohio, growing up with seven sisters and three brothers. Retired in 2018 as Parish Administrator/Secretary from historic Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town. A Jefferson County resident since 1980, she is a mother of four sons and grandmother of seven. As a mother of twin boys, she is the treasurer of Shenandoah Valley Parent of Multiples and has been the club’s newsletter editor for 40 years. Georgia is also active in the regional Mid-Atlantic Parents of Multiples organization, serving on various board positions and committees. She is a regular volunteer at Happy Retreat’s Beer Festivals.

Chris Cox is a proud father of two teenagers, Anna Grace and Chandler, a grateful husband to the lovely Alison Cox, a happy resident of Charles Town, a local lawyer, and an associate real estate broker.  Born and raised in Martinsburg, Chris and Alison returned to the Eastern Panhandle to raise their family after Chris retired from the U.S. Army in 2016.  Led by their love of West Virginia and its people, Chris and Alison (also a local lawyer) enjoy serving their community through various and sundry local boards and organizations.  Chris is honored to serve as a Friend of Happy Retreat.

News & Announcements

Historic Sewing Machine Donated to Happy Retreat

Historic Sewing Machine Donated to Happy Retreat

December 2020 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2020 Rising Sun Newsletter

Fall 2020 Update

Fall 2020 Update

August 2020 Update

August 2020 Update

July 2020 Rising Sun Newsletter

July 2020 Rising Sun Newsletter

July 2020 Restoration Update

July 2020 Restoration Update

Another History at its Best

Another History at its Best

December 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

September 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

September 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

Charles Washington Day

Charles Washington Day

April 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

April 2019 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

Event Cancellation Announcement – Happy Retreat Book Series

Event Cancellation Announcement – Happy Retreat Book Series

September 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

September 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

Volunteers for the Craft Beer & Music Festival – Thank you!

Volunteers for the Craft Beer & Music Festival – Thank you!

Historic Mansion Comes to Life Through Wine & Jazz – WV Public Broadcasting

Historic Mansion Comes to Life Through Wine & Jazz – WV Public Broadcasting

Volunteers for the Wine Festival – Thank you!

Volunteers for the Wine Festival – Thank you!

Preview of Wines at the 2018 Happy Retreat Wine & Jazz Festival

Preview of Wines at the 2018 Happy Retreat Wine & Jazz Festival

The Max Kool Quintet

The Max Kool Quintet

Happy Retreat Wine & Jazz Festival on WEPM on Panhandle Live

Happy Retreat Wine & Jazz Festival on WEPM on Panhandle Live

The Happy Retreat Wine and Jazz Festival receives sponsorship from Kilmer’s Farm Market

The Happy Retreat Wine and Jazz Festival receives sponsorship from Kilmer’s Farm Market

WE STILL NEED VOLUNTEERS! (Updated)

WE STILL NEED VOLUNTEERS! (Updated)

The Happy Retreat Wine and Jazz Festival receives sponsorship from The Spirit of Jefferson

The Happy Retreat Wine and Jazz Festival receives sponsorship from The Spirit of Jefferson

April 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

April 2018 Rising Sun Newsletter

SHPO Archaeology Grant

SHPO Archaeology Grant

WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! (Updated)

WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! (Updated)

April 2018 Restoration Update

April 2018 Restoration Update

December 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2017 Restoration Update

December 2017 Restoration Update

September 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

September 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

Newly Renovated Charles Washington Hall, Fall, 2017

Newly Renovated Charles Washington Hall, Fall, 2017

September 2017 Restoration Update – Smokehouse/Kitchen

September 2017 Restoration Update – Smokehouse/Kitchen

April 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

April 2017 Rising Sun Newsletter

April 2017 Updates

April 2017 Updates

Archeology at Happy Retreat’s Summer Kitchen/Smokehouse

Archeology at Happy Retreat’s Summer Kitchen/Smokehouse

December 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

December 2016 Restoration Update

December 2016 Restoration Update

Happy Retreat Craft Beer and Music Festival Announces Musical Lineup

Happy Retreat Craft Beer and Music Festival Announces Musical Lineup

Home of George Washington’s brother becomes a national treasure

Home of George Washington’s brother becomes a national treasure

Happy Retreat named National Treasure

Happy Retreat named National Treasure

Piecing the Past Together

Piecing the Past Together

Setting Restoration Priorities

Setting Restoration Priorities

April 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

April 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

Historic Structures Report Underway

Historic Structures Report Underway

Charles Town Art & Revitalization

Charles Town Art & Revitalization

January 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

January 2016 Rising Sun Newsletter

Progress on Welcome Center

Progress on Welcome Center

Happy Retreat Progress

Happy Retreat Progress

PAWV Award

PAWV Award

California Couple With Local Ties Helps Secure Happy Retreat’s Future

California Couple With Local Ties Helps Secure Happy Retreat’s Future