So who is who among the membership of the Central Florida Chapter? Did you know that the only living charter member of the chapter is none other than our Sports and Recreation Director Brian Terwilliger? Now I can hear the murmuring ….of course he is…….he must be…..as old as he is! Not fair! Brian isn’t nearly as old as he looks! He was born in 1944 in a small town in Upstate New York called Elmira (the youngest of 7 children). Let me share some facts about Elmira that Brain may not even know or perhaps he knows but forgot (that happens as you get old, you begin to forget a lot of things). Because of its location (near the Pennsylvania boarder) the city became a prime location for an Army training and muster point early in the Civil War (this explains why Brian was in the Navy. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks). A great deal of the 30-acre Union installation, known as Camp Rathbun, fell into disuse as the Civil War progressed, and the camp’s ”Barricks #3” were converted into a Civil War prisoner of war camp in the summer of 1864. The camp, in use from June 6, 1864 until autumn 1865, was dubbed “Hellmira” by its inmates.
Famous people from Elmire (other than Brian Terwilliger) are:
Ernest “Ernie” Davis was an American football halfback and the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy. Wearing number 44, Davis played college football for Syracuse University before being drafted by the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL), then almost immediately traded to the Cleveland Browns in December 1961, when he was issued number 45. However, he never played a professional game, as he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1962 and died at the age of 23 years. Davis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He is the subject of the 2008 Universal Pictures film The Express, based on the non-fiction book Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, by Robert C. Gallagher.
Tommy Hilfiger was born in Elmira. At 18 years old he opened a retail store named “The People’s Place” and later pursued a career in fashion.
Mark Twain was not born in Elmira but visited often and wrote parts of his books while there. However he was buried in Elmira.
Back to Brian who enlisted in the Navy Reserves while in his junior year of high school and in December of 1963 was active and served on the USS Beatty Destroyer DD756 from then until March of 1965. Brain and he fellow sailors were at sea 24 of the 26 months he served on the USS Beatty and traveled in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. Brian says, he “traveled from the Artic to the Equator but never crossed either.” In March of 1965, while on a pass Brian was a passenger in the back seat of a car that hit a bridge abutment resulting in a spinal cord injury. He spent two years in the hospital in rehab and in 1967 bought a house in Horseheads, New York. While in Horseheads, Brian volunteered with the Auxiliary Police reaching the rank of Lieutenant.
In 1969 Brain got stuck in a snow bank while in his wheelchair and decided it was time to move south and in 1970 he moved to Central Florida. He joined the Orlando Orange Wheels (a wheelchair basketball team). He worked with the Altamonte Springs Jaycees and the National Spinal Cord Foundation where he served as President. In 1976 he was part of a group of 25 who began to look into forming a PVA Chapter in Central Florida. In 1977 the Central Florida Chapter was chartered by PVA and Brian served as its first president from 1977-1979 and again from 1993-1996. He has served the chapter as its Sports and Recreation Director for the last 24 years. Brain also served as the chapter’s National Director on multiple occasions. Brian was a certified scuba diver in the 70’s and participated in the Sunshine Games and the National Veterans Game in track and field and swimming. He married his wife Ann on December 31st, 1990.
As Brian remembers the early years of PVACF he talks about when the chapter’s annual budget was under $10,000 and members would sell poppies at the Navy Base and collect household items and sell them at the flea market in order to raise funds. He recalls a time when the chapter newsletters were copied on an old mimeograph machine in the office. And he remembers when the current building the chapter owns and occupies was built in 1990 and was paid off in two years. Brian believes that in order for the chapter to continue to function effectively, the membership (especially the younger members) need to get more involved.
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