What Will Be Latschar's Legacy?, Andrew Scott Pitzer, Gettysburg Times, November 8, 2008
Love him or hate him, one thing about John Latschar’s tenure as superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park is certain — he will be remembered. “My legacy is up for other people to decide,” Latschar said Friday, the day he announced he was leaving his post after 14 years on the job.
Latschar came to town in the mid-1990s with a vision: to restore the 6,000 acre battlefield to the way it looked in 1863, when the Battle of Gettysburg was fought here. Some of the ideas — like white tail deer management, one way roads, and tree removal — seemed bogus at the time. Other proposals, such as the $103 million Battlefield Visitor Center along the Baltimore Pike, have just come to fruition. “When he came, the fireworks started,” said Gettysburg Borough Council President Dick Peterson, who was a Steinwehr Avenue businessman at the time. “But in a peculiar way, it brought the community together.”
Latschar announced Friday that he’s resigning effective March 1, 2009, to take over as president of the Gettysburg Foundation, the park’s non-profit fundraising partner. Acting foundation President Robert C. Wilburn is resigning at the same time, and plans to pursue other career options. “One word describes Dr. Latschar when I think of his attributes: brilliant,” said Main Street Board of Directors Chairman Bill Kough. “His priorities are family, country, history and community.” The battlefield boss has developed a legion of critics over the years. “It’s not unexpected that he’s going over to the foundation,” said Steinwehr Avenue entrepreneur Eric Uberman. “He’s never going to leave.” Some long-time opponents of the Latschar regime are questioning the legalities of his career move.
“It’s a blatant conflict of interests. I’m just flabbergasted that he’s trying to do this,” said Franklin Silbey, an historic preservationist. “He presided over the creation of the General Management Plan, he presided over the supposed competitive bidding process for the visitor center, he presided over the creation of the Gettysburg Foundation, and he presided over the project. Now he’s going to work for the company that he created, for triple the amount of money that he’s making now.” Under Latschar’s watch, the park adopted a General Management Plan in 1999, which laid out a long-term vision for the battlefield. The plan’s primary project, a new battlefield visitor center, generated immediate controversy. “We started at arms length, the first time we had any interaction with him,” said Gettysburg Borough Councilman Ted Streeter, a veteran board member. “But honestly, we gained a lot of respect for each other over the years.”
Borough Council Vice President Holliday Giles spoke highly of the man who she feels was instrumental in several downtown restoration projects, including the Gettysburg Railroad Station and David Wills House. “Whatever project John Latschar takes on, especially with the Borough of Gettysburg, it is very apparent that he uses all of his expertise and knowledge for all to benefit,” Giles said Friday.
Peterson was one of Latschar’s most vocal adversaries in the 1990s, when the park first announced plans to relocate the visitor center from the Steinwehr Avenue business corridor to the Baltimore Pike. Now, he considers Latschar a friend. “He’s taken a lot of criticism over the years and he’s survived,” said Peterson. “He’s changed and we’ve changed. Twenty years from now, we won’t even remember all of the controversy. We’ll remember John for his vision and what was accomplished here.”
Latschar may have been an intimidating figure over the years, but local leaders maintain that he’s generally been very approachable. “We were always able to sit down and come to a mutual understanding that was beneficial and positive to our township,” said Cumberland Township Board of Supervisors Chairman John P. Gregor. Latschar has been superintendent of the park since 1994, and is a 31-year veteran of the National Park Service. He previously served as the first Superintendent of Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa., and in various capacities at the park’s Denver Service Center. Latschar was named Superintendent of the Year for the Northeast Region in 1991 and in 2001.
Text Source: Gettysburg Times.com