Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not Your Average 'Joe'
Book about former Board of Supervisors Chair Joe Alexander is released at Franconia Museum’s History Day.

By Justin Fanizzi

Joe Alexander, one of the most respected and well-loved leaders in recent Fairfax County history, finally got his due Saturday, Oct. 24, as his career was highlighted at the Franconia Museum’s Eighth Annual History Day.

The museum released "Franconia Remembers Joe Alexander," at the event, a book that chronicles Alexander’s life from his childhood on Beulah Street to his time as chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Alexander, and the book’s author, Carl Sell, were on hand to sign copies and answer questions in addition to the myriad other offerings presented by the museum on all things Franconia.

"Joe was one of those guys who packed their lunch, did their work and didn’t talk about it," said Sell, a longtime friend and colleague of Alexander. "So, I wanted to do this book so that I could make sure his story was told."

Sell said that the idea for the book, which is the fifth volume in the "Franconia Remembers" series, came to him when he attended the grand opening of the Franconia Museum in 2006. He said that when he saw the exhibits for the first time, he noticed an absence of items in the museum about Alexander. So, he set out to have an exhibit added, but in the end, felt that adding another volume to the series would be the best way to share Alexander’s story.

"I thought, ‘Why do you want to write a book about me?’ when [Sell] told me about it," Alexander said. "But he felt that it was important to catalogue the things we did, and he did a great job. I’m really pleased."

According to Sell, the book took about a year to write, with most of the time spent interviewing Alexander, which he did five or six times, and any friend, family member or former colleague that he could find. In addition, he collected hundreds of old photographs and newspaper clippings with which to illustrate the book and to provide a more personal account of Alexander’s life. The result, Sell said, is a kind of scrapbook, created by those closest to its subject.

"Mostly, it’s a collection of friends’ recollections," Sell said. "I just did the writing. The hardest part was finding people and finding old photographs."

Though many may not be familiar with Alexander, particularly the younger generations and newer residents, Sell said that he hope the book has an impact on the reader. Sell feels that Alexander’s legacy in the county was the way he involved everyone in the community in the decisions he made on their behalf. Sell hopes that people reading the book would understand that legacy and follow the example.

"In today’s world, with politicians and people in charge not as trusted as they once were, Joe was a guy you could trust," Sell said. "He never said one thing and did another. Even if he felt strongly about something, he’d still reach out to the community and try to sell people on the idea first."

While Alexander may have been the highlight of Saturday’s event, he nonetheless shifted the spotlight back onto the event itself, hailing it as an opportunity for individuals to learn more about the community they lived in. In addition to Alexander’s appearance, live music was played, and exhibits displaying significant moments in Franconia history were set up. Also, co-the editor of Alexander’s book, Don Hakenson, was on hand to showcase the four previous volumes of "Franconia Remembers" as well as a multitude of Civil War artifacts that he has collected over the years.

"We wrote these books and brought these [artifacts] back to Franconia because that’s where they’re from and that’s where they belong," Hakenson said.

The event was slated to end at 2 p.m., but due to the large turnout, it stretched to nearly 2:30 p.m. Though many were there solely to see Alexander, he nonetheless was excited to see so many people there because he felt that the event provided an opportunity to make the younger generation aware of the people that are responsible for the life they enjoy today.

"Some people might not think about the Franconia area, but there’s a lot of history here that people don’t realize," Alexander said. "This is a great opportunity to revisit the things that younger people might not know about."


Joe Alexander and Carl Sell.

Photo by Justin Fanizzi - The Connection

Don Hakenson, co-editor of “Franconia Remembers Joe Alexander.”

Photo by Justin Fanizzi - The Connection

Franconia Museum vice President Gregg Dudding hands Franconia Fire Department Chief Tim Fleming a plaque giving the department special recognition for hosting the event. 

Photo by Justin Fanizzi - The Connection