Guides Speak Out On Leader's Remarks, Matt Casey, The Evening Sun, January 6, 2008.
A group of battlefield guides would like you to know Rick Hohmann - the president of the Association of License Battlefield Guides - does not speak for them. Hohmann has been a vocal critic of National Park Service and Gettysburg Foundation plans for a new battlefield tour reservation system that would allow visitors to reserve tours online using credit cards. He also announced the organization would likely relocate its headquarters off park grounds.
"Rick was speaking only for himself and his comments were not approved by either the leadership of the ALBG nor by its membership in whole or in part," Ed Suplee, a full-time guide since 2004, said in an e-mail. "As an individual member of the ALBG, I have been very pleased and gratified by the way the membership and many within our ALBG leadership have responded to the inappropriate, vitriolic and divisive press comments made recently by Rick Hohmann," Suplee said.
The Gettysburg guides have functioned under federal control for nearly a century, and relations have not always been amicable. But some guides said Hohmann crossed the line into personal attacks when he publicly said Terry Latschar - a licensed guide and wife of Park Superintendent John Latschar - aggravated park/guide relations by attending association meetings and intimidating guides from speaking.
The real issues dividing the park and the guides right now are not "that major" said 15-year guide Wayne Wachsmuth. "It's become rather emotional," the retired Air Force pilot said. "Logic seems to not be having a great deal of influence."
"As an old airplane driver, emotions were things that you had to divorce yourself from," Wachsmuth said. Hohmann opposes the online and credit card reservation system on the grounds it would put guides on a two-week pay schedule, could cramp their ability to swap tours with each other and limit tips. Currently, visitors pay for their tours in cash at the end of the tour. Two-year guide Gar Phillips said he would "love" to continue to be paid in cash "but you have to admit, how many jobs are like that?"
Suplee said he thought Hohmann's insistence on cash payment made the guides look "archaic and silly." Wachsmuth said he said he doesn't understand the fear of a regular paycheck. When he served in the Air Force, he said, he only received one paycheck a month. As far as tips, Wachsmuth said, they comprise a small portion of a guide's pay - maybe $10 on top of a $45 tour - and he didn't think paying ahead of time would reduce tips. John Weixel, a recently-licensed part time guide, said he thought the credit card system may actually enhance tips. He doesn't like to carry a lot of cash when traveling, he said, and he would be more likely to give a tip if he weren't paying for the service at the same time.
Joanne Lewis, a guide who splits her time between battlefield and town tours, said she didn't think the new system would cramp guides ability to swap tours with each other. The reservation system, she speculated, would help visitors and guides. She has personally turned visitors away because there were no guides available to accommodate them, she said.
The new system, she said, would help connect customers with guides - especially in an age "when everybody's personal time is at a premium" and visitors tend to research Gettysburg on the Internet before departing for the park. Weixel called that "bringing the visitor service experience into the 21st century," and called the planned opening of the new visitor center "the culmination of a lot of terrific things that have been going on at the park."
Some guides talked to cautioned that their position didn't mean the supported the Park Service on all issues - but they all supported the new visitor center and opposed Hohmann's proposal to move the guides' office off park property. Wachsmuth said he didn't think the association could afford to properly advertise the location to give it as much visibility as a headquarters in the new visitor center would have. Even if the guides do move their headquarters, Superintendent John Latschar said recently that the park would maintain a room for the guides in the new visitor center. The large room includes a kitchenette and access to bathrooms not open to the public.
Susan Boardman, the immediate past president of the organization, said there is also debate over how the association should vote on whether or not to move its headquarters. Hohmann proposed a vote at the association's Jan. 18 business meeting. Guides live in places as far flung as Maine and California, Boardman said, and holding votes at winter meetings grant undue sway to local guides. "It no longer works, our system of voting, because people can no longer come," Boardman said. She said that wasn't intentional. When the organization started, most guides lived within 50 miles of the park. "The bylaws need to be changed," she said, but some member oppose allowing votes cast by proxy through phone calls or email.
But the association's rules do allow for another method of voting. Phil Lechak, a member of the association's executive council, said the council will meet Sunday night to decide if an anonymous mail-in vote would be a more appropriate method for the association to make this decision. Mostly, the guides interviewed said, they'd just like to put this current controversy behind them. "Since the Licensed Battlefield Guide designation was created by the United States Congress in 1915," said Ed Suplee. "The LBGs have had a proud tradition of excellence and public service and I look forward to our continuing this very important mission."
Contact: Matt Casey at email@example.com
Top Picture: Tim Smith and Wayne Mott
Middle Picture: Anthony Nicastro
Bottom Picture: GLBG group in 2006