August 23, 2005 – When I first started to meet people who had moved to St. John to participate in the EDC Program, I, like many, was fully prepared to be cynical of these perceived carpetbaggers. That cynicism was well honed by years of living on St. John and watching new residents arrive with the newest schematic on fixing what ailed us. What most often irked long-term residents was not the idea that new ideas could benefit the process of living on St. John, but the fact that most times the ideas were delivered with no follow up on personal involvement in the execution of those ideas.
I think the general perception was that these new residents had to give to the community in order to gain their respective tax benefits, had no ownership to the community as home and were just serving what they felt to be penance in order to secure those benefits. I came to find that in most cases those perceptions were well founded. The point of this little missive is not to declare that many of us were proven right, but rather to point out where I personally was proven wrong.
While there are several benefactors in the community that I admire greatly for both their monetary as well as personal involvement in St. John, there are two that I am privileged to know and I feel deserve special mention: Sandy Hill and Thomas Dittmer. I could mention that their financial generosity greatly outweighed any obligatory contribution as required by the EDC program. There could be time spent cataloging their personal time spent on various charitable causes for which there was no economic benefit. In truth, however, I would rather take the opportunity to speak to their greatest legacy for this community.
If Tom and Sandy decided tomorrow to become hermetic and never engage in the community at-large again, their visionary support of Pine Peace School and the Coral Bay School which, combined, have become the St. John School on Gifft Hill will have fundamentally changed our community forever. Tom and Sandys modesty on the matter precludes my heralding the precise magnitude of their generosity, but I can say without reservation that without their involvement, the creation of a unified pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade school with seamless curriculum on St. John would be a far-off dream. Additionally, without them, having that school, with that curriculum, on 8 acres of St. John land in 2005 or anytime soon would be a story that began, "Once upon a time."
So take the time fellow St. Johnians to separate the wheat from the chaff and recognize real contributions to the community in which we live. Some of our members may receive economic benefit as a result of being here, but I have found that it is dangerous to default to the assumption that their generosity is just the product of governmental mandate. My request is that if you are ever presented with the opportunity to thank Sandy Hill or Tom Dittmer for their engagement in our community, do so. You may give those thanks with the knowledge that theirs is generosity in the truest sense, the generosity of time, spirit and counsel.
Editor's note: Winston Bennett is a 13-year resident of St. John and sits on the Virgin Islands Banking Board as well as serving as the current treasurer of the St. John School on Gifft Hill. He also has multiple business enterprises both on St. John and the United States.