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Funk Heritage Center celebrates 20 years

By Erika Neldner

The Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University has been a destination for education of children and adults alike as it relates to Native American History. The Center celebrated 20 years of community education Thursday in front of a standing-room only crowd and opened a new exhibit, “Resistance & Resilience: The Cherokee Trail of Tears.”

It was a day to celebrate, however, the start to the program included news that one of Reinhardt University and the Funk Heritage Center’s longtime supporters passed away Nov. 21.

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Troy Poteete, executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association and former Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation, was the special guest speaker at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Funk Heritage Center. Photo by Jordan Beach.

“We were saddened to hear that one of our cornerstone advisory board members, Frances Hardin, passed away in the morning, but I think that she would be very pleased with how everything turned out,” said Funk Heritage Center Director Jeff Bishop. “It was great to see so many friends of the Funk Heritage Center gathered in one place celebrate this special day.”

The keynote speaker, Troy Wayne Poteete – executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association and former Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation – shared portions of the history of the Trail of Tears and more specifically, the story of Waleska pioneer Lewis Reinhardt and his close neighbors, the Fourkiller family. The Fourkiller family were the inhabitants of the land where Reinhardt University now sits. The story painted a picture of friendship in a troubled time. Reinhardt – father of Augustus Reinhardt, one of the founders of Reinhardt University – treated the Fourkiller family with respect and ensured their safety as he guided them to Fort Buffington.

Descendants of Fourkiller from two sides of the family – Melanie and Paisley Fourkiller – attended the 20th Anniversary celebration.

“We were honored to have the Fourkiller family represented here to re-establish that friendship,” said Bishop. “This was the first time they had visited their ancestral land here. According to the records we have available, Lewis Reinhardt befriended his neighbors, the Fourkillers, during a very trying time for them, and assisted them in any way he could. As we open this new exhibit focusing on that era, on land the Reinhardts and the Fourkillers both once called home, I think it’s very appropriate for us to try to complete that circle in some way. It’s the story of what happened right here, a nationally significant story playing out on a local level, but it’s also very much a personal family story.”

Following the program, President Kina S. Mallard, Provost Mark Roberts, President Emeritus Floyd Falany, Bishop, Poteete, Georgia TOTA President Tony Harris, and Melanie and Paisley Fourkiller cut the ribbon to the new exhibit. The exhibit is open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Admission costs $7. Active military is free. Discounted tickets for seniors and children are available.

The culmination of Thursday’s program came with the surprise announcement by President Mallard that the University administration and Board of Trustees have named Dr. Joe Kitchens Director Emeritus of the Funk Heritage Center.

Kitchens retired from the Funk Heritage Center in 2018 after serving the Center and the University for nearly 20 years. He was the catalyst in making the Funk Heritage Center what it is today. He credited the many people who played a role in the success of the National Trail of Tears Interpretive Site, humbly accepting the honor.

“I was just a small part of this. But it’s been my life for over 20 years,” he said.

Provost Roberts shared that Kitchens was one of the first people he spoke with after arriving at Reinhardt in 2013. He said how proud he was to be a part of a University where the community believed the story of its land – tragic as it is – needed to be told. 

“Joe was the first director of the Center, and the University leadership at the time made a great choice. He is a great scholar and a great writer, a poet, a storyteller, a great fundraiser. The list goes on and on,” Roberts said. “Thank you, Joe, for all of your service to Reinhardt.”

Bishop also recognized the Center’s volunteers during the event.

David Phillips was recognized as Volunteer of the Year, while Carme Stone, Pat Toth and Margaret Jackson were also recognized for 20 years of volunteer service to the Funk Heritage Center.

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