To Mae Merchant, there is no more precious gift than the memory of loved ones long after they have left this earth.
That's why Merchant has donated $700 to the Manassas Museum's commemorative brick campaign in honor of 13 of her family members as well as herself.
For $50 each, the names of her children, grandchildren, her husband and herself will be inscribed on a brick to be placed in the courtyard of the new museum.
More than $26,000 has been raised since the brick sales began in September, said museum Director Doug Harvey.
The goal of the commemorative brick committee is to sell 5,000 bricks before the first phase of the fund-raising campaign ends next month, said Merchant, who is chairwoman of the committee.
"We have received tremendous support," she said. "Many of the bricks have been purchased by people in the community, but also many people who have toured the museum and the Manassas battlefield have purchased the bricks. A lot of them live in other areas. It has been wonderful."
The brick drive was the idea of the museum's architect to help finance exhibits for the $1.6 million museum, scheduled to open early next year.
The $50 bricks are tax deductible and the name of the person in whose honor the contribution was made will be inscribed on the bricks and placed on the perimeters of the new museum's courtyard. All proceeds -- each sale nets about $39 after the cost of the brick and inscription and labor are deducted -- will benefit the fund for exhibits, Merchant said.
The committee has received some complaints from people who believe a family name should be allowed to be inscribed instead of just individual names, Merchant said.
One Manassas man complained that he would like to contribute but could not afford to purchase bricks for his entire family. "It would have been good if they had allowed people to donate in the name of the entire family," said the man, who asked not to be identified. "It gets expensive buying four bricks for each member of my family."
Harvey said sales are brisk and few people have complained. But the committee may consider holding another brick drive in the future to accommodate groups, he said.
Merchant said she has been contacted by businesses and organizations interested in purchasing one brick in the name of the group.
"But the whole idea was to raise funds," she said. "I tell people if they can't afford to purchase several bricks to buy one in honor of a parent or a grandparent and make another purchase later. The first part of the campaign will end next month, but we will continue to sell bricks; we won't cut it off."
Museum curator Scott Harris said he believes the community has been very supportive in purchasing the bricks because they're interested in seeing the museum continue.
The Manassas Museum served 21,000 visitors last year and also provided historical information from its artifacts and photos to countless students and researchers, he said.
The first brick will be placed in the courtyard near the 7,000-square-foot museum before it opens in January. When that space is full, alternate locations will be found on the museum grounds, Merchant said. "As long as we sell bricks, we will find a place to put them."