Gift Chapel centennial highlights bond between Fort Sam, city of San Antonio
October 30, 2009
By L.A. Shively
- Fort Sam Houston celebrated 100th anniversary of Gift Chapel Oct. 20.
- Gift Chapel was dedicated in 1909 by U.S. President William Howard Taft.
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The Gift Chapel's 100th anniversary Oct. 20 commemorated a centennial of community between Fort Sam Houston and residents of the city of San Antonio.
Flags from each of the states waved in the breeze, patriotic bunting adorned the building's faAfASade and a pleasantly noisy crowd of about 250 civilian and military assembled at the front entrance of the chapel reminiscent of a typical American main-street festivity.
Formerly known as Maverick Park, the property on which the chapel stands was donated by the city and construction funds were donated by community leaders as well as military personnel according to the Historic Buildings Survey of the National Parks Service, where the Gift Chapel is registered.
Until the chapel was completed, services had been conducted in temporary shelters, open-air encampments and at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Grayson Street, located off post. The Gift Chapel was the first permanent religious institution built for Soldiers and their Families.
Dedicated in 1909 by U.S. President William Howard Taft, the chapel was designed by architect Leo Dielmann, who was born and raised in San Antonio and constructed under the supervision of John Dielmann, the architect's father.
"Very few military posts claim a stronger connection to their community than ours," said. Col. Mary Garr, commander, U.S. Army garrison, who was married at the chapel in 1987.
"The Gift Chapel, a fitting name, serves as a reminder of the long, historic covenant between the citizens of San Antonio and Soldiers, who with their Families, have served at the post through the decades."
"It's central to what we're doing today - involvement of the community with the military," said retired Army Lt. Col. T.R. Fehrenbach, currently an editorial columnist. Fehrenbach served in WWII and Korea.
He said city forefathers saw supporting the military as good business, thwarting the Army's efforts to locate its headquarters in Austin by donating large plots of land.
"It was an offer they could not refuse." The military in turn supported the community he said, its presence creating a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
"The bricks (of the Gift Chapel) represent our diverse community and those who choose to live here," said Leo Dielmann III, whose father and grandfather were involved in the chapel's construction. He spoke about the similarity of relationships between his family and the city, and Fort Sam and San Antonio. "Our fathers worked together and our families socialized together."
Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander Fort Sam Houston and Army Medical Department Center and School, introduced keynote speaker, State Rep. Frank Corte Jr. (R-San), saying the representative understands Family readiness and the programs that sustain the Army Family. Corte is a small business owner and serves as a Colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
"This occasion is about our heritage and culture," Corte said, adding that the history of the Gift Chapel is phenomenal and important.
Corte said the connection between the post and San Antonio began before the city was built, but that the Army has always taken responsibility for the city's growth and development.
"The Army was the first curator of the Alamo and tourism is tied to the Alamo."
He echoed Fehrenbach in that the city's early acceptance of the Army's need for railroads cultivated a strong business development echoed in today expansion of the post under the Base Realignment and Closure act.
The celebration was rounded out with selections by the Strike Force Trombone Quartet, a scripture reading sung in Hebrew by Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schechter and Choral Music by Der Liederkranz.