In Memoriam: The Annie Oakley Foundation

This page is a memorial to Bess Edwards, Annie Oakley’s grandniece. Bess’s grandfather, John, was Annie’s brother. Bess and Lavon Grawburg, grandnieces of Annie Oakley, started the Annie Oakley Foundation in 1984. See the Annie Oakley Foundation’s Mission Statement and a catalog of their accomplishments below.

Directors and officers came and went over the years, but Bess remained steadfast and carried on after Lavon died. Carol and I got involved about 1999 in doing research for the book, Peters & King. Carol became the AOF Secretary, and I became AOF President and Chairman of the Board. During our tenure, there were a number of notable contributors to the on-going foundation. Holly Finnarn became an AOF Director and her husband, Ted Finnarn, became our legal counsel and furnished their law office for a number of years as our meeting site. For a time, Tractor Supply in Greenville allowed us the use of their conference room. Bess’s brother-in-law, Bill Edwards provided financial and moral support from afar and provided the large photo prints we used at our exhibits. In more recent years, Tom Guillozet, of the Hanes Law Group Ltd., became our legal counsel and the firm allowed us the use of their law library for meetings. Betty Wonder became a great friend to Bess and to all of us. She was an AOF Director and AOF Secretary until her death.Betty’s husband Ted Wonder, gave us financial support upon his death. Don Fitzgerald was a loyal and long-time AOF Director until his death. Doctors (professors) Walt and Janet Goulet were AOF Directors, as was Joan Klein.The Ohio Gun Collector’s Association, particularly OGCA Presidents Bob Rubendunst and Walt Goulet, along with OGCA Business Manager, Laura Knotts, provided logistical and financial support. Bess Edward’s daughter, Janet Bailey, actively supported her mother as she became older and less able to drive and travel. This included a trip to Paris, France to visit Disney’s rendition of the Wild West Show in that city as their guest, and to Germany to appear on TV there. Judy Lear, was a faithful supporter of the AOF for logistical purposes. Brian Swiger did yeoman service as AOF Treasurer for a number of years. The DVD about Annie’s life that AOF produced was done by Brad Wallace (and his family), with AOF Director Allen Harbison in 2005 for a fraction of the going rate for such excellent work.

Annie Oakley’s life was the inspiration, but Bess Edwards was the primary one inspired. Her insistence on in-depth research, accuracy, and outreach on Annie’s life should be her legacy. Upon her death, it was deemed in the best interest of her legacy to turn over the AOF assets to the Annie Oakley Center Foundation.

Tom Schiffer, AOF President and Chairman of the Board


The mission of the Annie Oakley Foundation is to provide accurate information on the life and legend of Annie Oakley and to disseminate educational materials to schools, libraries and museums.

The 2018 Annie Oakley Foundation Board members, left to right: Tom Schiffer, Chair; Dave Niley; Carol Schiffer, Secretary; Pat McCarthy; Brian Swiger, Treasurer; Linda Baker; Tom Guillozet; with Janet Bailey, Bess Edwards' daughter, in attendance. They are shown here at Tom Guillozet's law office on July 18, 2018, in Greenville, OH, at the last meeting of the Annie Oakley Foundation as they have disbanded as a non-profit organization and transferred their assets to the Annie Oakley Center Foundation.

Photo of Board of Directors

Members of the Board of the Directors of the Annie Oakley Foundation in 2016: (left to right): Tom Schiffer, chair, Carol Schiffer, secretary, Pat McCarthy, Dave Niley and Linda Baker, directors, and Brian Swiger, treasurer. Bess Edwards is seated.

Bess Edwards - Great grandniece of Annie Oakley. Photo by Marlene P. Creech, Spring of 2004.

History of the Annie Oakely Foundation

The Annie Oakley Foundation, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization was created and incorporated in 1984 by her closest living family members, Bess Edwards and Lavon Grawburg, grandnieces of Annie Oakley. The aim of these direct relatives was/is to clarify and authenticate the life and career of this Ohio pioneer woman. After the death of her cousin, in 1992, Edwards has carried on the research to honor their commitment.

On the way to achieving the mission, troubling flaws were found in the early biographies of Phoebe Ann Mosey. Endless effort, which grew from a few months to years, has been put forth to research and correct false allegations, and erroneous, long-held beliefs. These efforts included searching early census on National Archives microfilm; corresponding with historians across the nation; studying the many scrapbooks compiled by Annie and her husband, Frank Butler; and using Annie's unfinished autobiography. News of renewed interest, honors and film-shoots have been covered in our newsletter "Taking Aim," which began in 1988.

Although Annie was not a westerner, she had always been identified as one by writers and filmmakers because of her role as the star attraction with the Buffalo Bill Wild West show. Annie blazed a trail in many areas of sports and entertainment.

Interest in her life and career has grown because of the remarkable way she and Frank Butler, her husband-manager and agent, handled her career and her celebrity. She has become a role model for students and foundation members ranging in age from nine to ninety.

Telling It Like It Was

The Foundation has invested much time, effort and money producing Annie Oakley: American Legend, the film which will finally "tell it like it was." Proceeds from the sale of this DVD will help fund continued educational outreach programs.

The "Spark Plug" of the Annie Oakley Foundation is Bess Edwards, Annie Oakley's great grandniece.

Along the way, The Annie Oakley Foundation has also assisted with arrangements for the following:

  • Conducted in-depth research in many places in the US, Canada, UK, on Annie's life and work. This research included information regarding Annie's birth, childhood, marriage, life work and death.

  • Induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993, after one nomination.

  • Worked with the US Postal Department to have an Annie Oakley Commemorative Stamp issued by furnishing images and recommendation over a 13 year period. It was issued as a 29 cent stamp.

  • The first film, In the Name of Love, focused on the 46-year, happy marriage of Annie to Frank Butler. It was one in a series called Amazing Love Stories, which Hearst Entertainment produced for Lifetime Cable.

  • A segment in a documentary film to celebrate the 75th Anniversary or the Women's Rights Movement. Filmed in Darke County by Alvin Cooperman, producer for ABC.

  • Assisted many authors in publishing accurate articles and books on Annie and Frank, including those landmark works by Glenda Riley, Alan Gallop and Isabel Sayers. See Tom Schiffer's book, Peters & King (there's one in the Garst collection). In addition to information, photos from the family were loaned for publication.

  • Three short interviews filmed on various Annie historical sites became "film-bytes" for PBS-Columbus, NBC-Dayton and CBS-Cleveland. The last one was shot at an Annie site by the Cleveland crew, and was used as film bytes for the premier of Buffalo Girls, in which Reba McIntire played Annie.

  • The Circus Hall of Fame in Peru, Indiana, inducted Annie Oakley into their Hall and Museum of Actors in July, 1998.

  • Greystone Communications, Inc. was commissioned by Disney to produce the life story of Annie Oakley. The Foundation assisted by making arrangements in advance for the shoot. In addition, 19 personal slides were loaned for the film which was shown on the Disney owned History Channel in its Biography series.

  • Wrote and published articles in such works as the prestigious Double Gun Journal and the foreword for National Geographic's fine book about Annie, and titled Bullseye.

  • Hundreds of inquiries about Annie's early life led us to encourage Governor Taft to rename US Highway 127 as the Annie Oakley Memorial Pike. It passes where Annie Oakley's girlhood home stood until the early 1950's when it was razed for road improvements. Personal testimony before the Ohio Senate and the House of Representatives let to the unanimous approval, and Govern Taft's signing, of House Bill 481. The Dedication Ceremony was held in Greenville, Ohio on July 28, 2000.

  • Worked with Bill Edwards to create a chronology of Annie Oakley's life. As yet unpublished, it consists of over 1000 manuscript pages.
  • Contributed to countless magazine and newspaper articles locally, nationally and abroad where the name of Bess Edwards, and the Annie Oakley Foundation, will be found (and often not found) in the acknowledgements and credits.

  • Directed a video on Annie's life story that is accurate, attractive and interesting for adults and children alike. This video was produced by Brad Wallace and by the Annie Oakley Foundation, in part funded by a grant by KitchenAid.

  • Maintained a presence in Greenville, Ohio for many years. The Annie Oakley Foundation, through its Chairman of the Board and Secretary, worked with the Darke County Commissioners, promoting the establishment of an Annie Oakley Center, by that name, in Darke County.

  • Made the Annie video available to all 88 county libraries in the State of Ohio, and, by extension, to all schools in the state…the primary purpose of the video is education.

  • Through Kentucky Unbound, our video is available now, not only to all states in the union, but to all the world through the internet. Feedback shows usage from all over Ohio, West Virginia, the Dakotas, United Kingdom and Australia.