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Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2017 1:32 pm | Updated: 2:02 pm, Sun Dec 31, 2017.

The South Dade Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee is celebrating 50 years of bringing Homestead Air Reserve Base and before then Homestead Air Force Base together with our community.

   The Military Affairs Committee has been in continuous existence longer than any other committees.  It has gone through at least four chamber name changes.  Most of the work of the Military Affairs Committee takes place at Homestead Air Reserve Base, over the telephone, and in the businesses and homes of its members.  Maintaining harmonious relations between our community and HARB is MAC's single most important goal and one that drives all of its activities.

   MAC’s other greatest successes have probably been during the Cuban Missile Crisis when its predecessor was a major player and after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when the base was threatened with permanent closure.  More recently the MAC has beaten back an effort to further develop land near the Base. A MAC member sits on the Governor’s committee which works to strengthen the value of Florida-based military installations.

   The Military Affairs Committee had its beginning in September of 1967.  The history of the Rotary Club of Homestead shows that a similar, informal community committee functioned in 1955 with the purpose of "smoothing relations between the newly activated Homestead Air Force Base and Homestead and other Redland District communities.” It was called the Civilian-Military Liaison Committee.

   In the interim, this informal and independent committee, called the Civilian Military Liaison Committee, functioned as the community liaison with the Air Base.

   The establishment of a Civilian Military Liaison Committee was reported in the Sunday, December 4, 1955 edition of the Miami Herald in an article written by Thelma Froscher.  The committee was established to solve problems before they occur and to "foster good understanding" between civilians of the community and personnel at the Homestead Air Force Base.

   The first social activity of the committee appears to have been a fish fry at the W.E. Rheney home at Biscayne and Krome Avenue.  Seventy-five officers from the base were entertained at a dinner of fried fish caught by Bill Rheney, Lee Lehman and E.J. Dyal and hush puppies and cole slaw.  Upside down field crates were the seating.  Base Commander Colonel and Mrs.  James Twitty led the base delegation.

   The Rotary Club of Homestead originally sponsored this organization and so members of the Rotary Club attended the fish fry along with leaders of other civic and service organizations.

   Grower Luther L. Chandler and oil dealer W. E. Rheney were named as co-chairmen.

   "Control Board" members, probably an executive committee,  were Jefferson Davis, Army Col. Robert Ballard, J.R. Brooks, and M.S. Altmayer.

   Understanding the subcommittees shows what the organizers saw as important.    

   Subcommittees were led by community leaders as follows:

Henry Pridgen - employment

Alexander Koch and George H. Cooper - public relations

Robert McDonnell - education

Mrs. E.M. Froescher - information and publicity

Justice of the Peace Sylvester P. Adair - police

M.S. Altmayer - mercantile

Reverend Frank L. Every - religion (Presbyterian minister?)

J. Abney Cox - flood and water control

Mayors H. Wade Thompson of Homestead and Frank Navilio of Florida City -  cities

County Commissioner Preston B. Bird - county

J.R. Brooks - zoning

T.R. Benson - recreation

J. Rudolph Gossman - housing

L.H. Greer - fire

Richard Fuchs - landscaping and decorations

Mrs. Adrian Jacobs (Margaret) - women's activities

   Subcommittee co-chairs from the base were : Col. Twitty and Lt. Col.  Lynn A. Richards - public relations, county and cities

Capt. H.W. Perkins - landscaping, zoning and fire prevention

Lt. F.A. Derfus - housing and police

Maj. Joserph Karol - recreation and education

Maj. (Chaplain) T.E. Adams - religion

Maj. J.H. Carpenter - mercantile

Capt. H.H. Fookes - police

Mrs. Twitty - women's activities

Lt. Col. A. Soto - employment

Lt. David B. Graham - publicity

Chief T.C. Miller - civilian base fire marshal

   The late Lt. Col. Charles W.  Cecil, USAF Retired, remembered that a similar committee was in existence in July of 1963 when he was assigned to the Base.  Bill Rheney was the president.  He remembered that it included Paul Losner, George Cooper Sr., Charles Carpenter, Dick Conley, Ed Walker, Zeke O'Farrell, Merl Young, Marvin Ellis, J. Abney Cox and Jeff Davis.  Names remembered by Crawford Blake were: Preston Bird, Crawford Blake, Charlie Carpenter, Luther Chandler, Dick Conley, Jeff Davis and Rudy Gossman, Sr.  President Bill Rheney asked Colonel Cecil to join the committee and Colonel Cecil was later elected president after the death of Bill Rheney.  The committee supplied autos to visiting VIP's, the Thunderbirds and others and made sure that visitors to the Base left Homestead with whatever fresh fruits and vegetables were in season. 

   One year, a large shipment of fruit and vegetables was sent to Plattsburg AFB, New York and the people of Plattsburg sent back a large Christmas tree.  Colonel Cecil remembered arranging Thunderbird flights for Paul Losner and Jeff Davis.  He believed he suggested to the Chamber that it organize a military affairs committee.

   Ruth Campbell was the Chamber president in 1967 and she appointed Zeke O'Farrell (then president-elect) as temporary MAC chairman.  The Holiday Inn on US1 in Homestead was the setting for the organizational meeting on September 7, 1967.  Minutes of the meeting suggest that there was an earlier attempt to organize this committee and the previous chairman had resigned.  Charter officers elected were:

Chairman- Zeke O'Farrell

Vice-Chairman - Dr. Robert Douglas MD

Secretary - Jack Levy (then immediate chamber past president)

Treasurer - Irvin Barnett

   Chairman O'Farrell added Ruth Campbell and Merl Young as

directors and they and the four officers were given the authority to conduct business between regular meetings. Their spending authority was limited to the big sum of $25.

   It was decided that there would be 25 members and that each would contribute $100 yearly to a special MAC account which would be administered separately from the regular Chamber account.  There were to be no

honorary members.

   The first Thursday of the month was selected as the time for the monthly luncheon.  Luncheon meetings were to be adjourned not later than 1:30 PM.  The meeting day has not changed.. Charter members were:

Joe Accursio  

Crawford Blake

Irvin Barnett  

Jack Levy

Ruth Campbell 

Paul Losner

W.P. Coke  

Henry Mangels

Dr. Robt. Douglas 

Jim McDonald

Marvin Ellis  

J.W. Mitchell

Dr. Gerald Halker 

Zeke O'Farrell

Orville Haller  

Merl Young

E.F. Jones  

P.J. Valter

Nate Lee  

Ed Walker

   A list of candidates for the five remaining vacancies was drawn up and they were to be contacted by the Chairman. One of the five was likely the late Abe Silver.    

   Although Ruth Campbell was listed as a member she is convinced she never functioned as such and it was a long time before any woman did.

   Chamber Manager (as the senior professional staff was called then) Tod Swalm had surveyed programs of military affairs committees in Key West, Orlando, San Diego and Wichita and he presented a proposed list of continuing activities and a list of specific activities.  Six of the seven "continuing activities" are still carried out 47 years later.  To Tod's nine specific

activities, the committee added three more. 

#1  - make the Veteran's Day parade the best of its kind in South Florida

#3  - develop an "airman of the month" recognition program.

#11 - cooperate with the United Services Organization (USO)

   It is to the credit of Tod Swalm and to Ruth Campbell and the other volunteer leaders that the Chamber developed a structure and a program of work that have been a success since 1967 with virtually no change.  The committee size was increased to 30 and then to 40 and now 50.

   Over the years the cities of Homestead and Florida City have been strong partners in building bridges to the Air Base and its outstanding military personnel.  Recognition of high performing junior enlisted men and women has been increased to include senior non-commissioned officers, junior officers and civilians.

   The addition of Special Operations Command South and the Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team to HARB has increased the demand on MAC to the point that the chairman assigns MAC members as liaisons to the various units.

   Two other military affairs committees function alongside and cooperate with the South Dade Chamber MAC but not with the same vigor and success.        

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