July 2015 | Devon Squabbles Continue as New Organization Makes an Appearance
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Devon Squabbles Continue as New Organization
Makes an Appearance

July 2015 - Suzanne Bush

As equestrians made final preparations for competition at the 2015 Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, unanticipated competition for publicity emerged. A May 14 press release from Joshua Macel announcing the formation of an organization called the Devon Preservation Alliance stirred interest as well as controversy. On May 16, the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair Foundation (DHSCF Foundation) issued a press release suggesting that the new organization is an interloper. “It has come to our attention a new entity recently has been organized with a purpose of securing donations on behalf of the Devon Show grounds. The Foundation has no relationship or agreement with, and does not acknowledge or endorse this organization.”

Wayne Grafton, who is Chairman of the DHSCF Foundation, is unequivocal about the legitimacy of groups such as the Devon Preservation Alliance. “There is no new foundation associated with the Devon Horse Show. There are a lot of rogue organizations that have no relationship, that have tried to utilize our name; and there is no guarantee that any of that money will ever come to Devon, nor is there any association with the board.” Grafton went on to explain that the DHSCF Foundation was created two years ago.

On the surface, the timing and content of this announcement seemed odd, but Macel, who is the Managing Director of the Devon Preservation Alliance, says that timing was critical. He said that, while interest in the Horse Show peaked, his group wanted to get the word out about their mission. “We are not an affiliation or subsidiary or anything. We’re a community organization concerned with preservation,” he explained.

The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair acquired the grounds in Devon several years ago. Since 2013 the DHSCF Foundation has been raising donations to fund capital improvements on the site of the horse show. But controversy flared late last year as the board voted to replace two officers.  President Sara Coxe Lange and Chairman Lafayette Collins III, who were both up for re-election in January, were replaced by Richard M. O’Donnell and Grafton, respectively, in a hastily-called special meeting. Early last spring, Board President Wade McDevitt resigned from the board after he was accused of failing to inform the board of plans to develop a retail center at the site of the former Waterloo Gardens nursery next to the fair grounds.

Controversy Sparked Concern
Macel says that his group would probably not even exist if it were not for the squabbles among DHSCF Foundation board members that spilled out into the public domain last year.  “I don’t think this organization ever gets formed absent the controversy that was stirred up, but we are not part of it,” he explained. He describes himself as a history buff, who also happens to be a lawyer. And it was in his capacity as a lawyer that several individuals approached him about Devon. “I never held a position on the board. I don’t think the preservation message—preservation is an affirmative activity—I don’t think was really part of what anybody’s daily thoughts were. But when these controversies stirred up, I think people started talking more about Devon.”

He understands that his group’s press release created some tension, but it’s not something that he is feeling. “The truth is I don’t have any tension toward anybody. Our entire focus is education about and cultivation and preservation of the traditions and the culture at the events held at the Devon show grounds.” He says that his group’s plans are still evolving, but he’s hoping to get National Historic Site recognition for the Devon Show grounds, as further insurance that the area will be protected and preserved.

He developed the organization’s website (www.preservedevon.org) partly as a tool to educate, and partly as a space where people can display artifacts from Devon’s history. He says he has heard from grandchildren of past Devon competitors, who want to share their memories. “There’s no basis for any tension [with DHSCF Foundation],” he says. “There hasn’t been an issue. We’re not looking to raise money that is intended for them. We want people to come to us to learn more.”

Going forward, Macel says that his organization is going to focus on education. “The concept of the group is to be a tool for education, and a resource for preservation. Step 1 would be to make sure everyone who is aware of the culture and traditions has an opportunity to read more about them, share stories in a public forum.” The public forum could eventually be a physical space—a Devon museum, where memorabilia and pictures and other artifacts of Devon’s history are displayed.

First and foremost, though, Macel believes the best way to protect and preserve Devon is to encourage people to go to the horse shows, support the vendors and cheer for the competitors.