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.
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!
Secretary. Marjorie Gaestel 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.
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.
Bill Senseney was born and raised in Jefferson County. 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 is presently serving his fourth term as Magistrate.
Nancy Bateman, a native of Pennsylvania has been a teacher in West Virginia for over 30 years. She is presently a teacher with the Jefferson County Schools. A graduate of Slippery Rock State College with a Bachelor of Science Degree and a Masters of Arts Degree from West Virginia College of Graduate Studies and West Virginia University. She is a member of Jefferson County Historical Society, active in St. John’s Lutheran Church in Harpers Ferry and has a love of history especially the Civil War.
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.
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.
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.
John Swift is retired from the U.S. Army after a career spanning thirty years in intelligence and special operations forces. He later served at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, as executive assistant to the president and director of strategic planning. He then served as a senior executive in the U. S. Department of Energy followed by service as a senior counterintelligence executive, Directorate of National Intelligence. John took undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University and studied as a national security fellow at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. John is an avid traveler and lifelong reader and explorer of history.