LOCK HAVEN - Photos are pouring into Downtown Lock Haven's office these days as the agency prepares for a third round of Hometown Hero Banners.
"It's crunch time" explains Maria Boileau, Downtown Manager. "We already have 335 banners for the Hometown Hero Celebration in September."
"We have a goal of 500 banners so there is still room for more photos," said Gail Nestlerode, board member. "We want to encourage everyone to get their banner photos into us by our deadline of June 15."
The award winning street light banner program is a tribute to soldiers from Clinton County who served or are serving our country in a branch of the military. The largest project of its kind in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Clinton County Hometown Hero Banner Program is a partnership between Downtown Lock Haven Inc. and the Clinton County Veteran's Affairs Office.
Each individual banner is unique and honors a specific Clinton County soldier including their picture, branch of service, era of service and hometown in Clinton County. The cost of a banner sponsorship is $200 and funds raised by the program support the community Main Street Program.
Lock Haven's banner program was to be a tribute to all Clinton County veterans both living and deceased. "I truly do not think we knew the impact that a project like this would have on our community" explains Nestlerode.
The program celebrated 367 veterans in its first year. "It was as if this project took on a life of its own. After the first unveiling ceremony in May 2008, families started to come forward to ask how to get a banner of their loved one on Main Street" says Gail Nestlerode, Downtown Lock Haven Inc. board member.
The banner program spawned other projects including a community mural. Inspired by the banners, portrait artist George Stefanski painted a mural of veterans from the banners in the summer of 2008.
The patriotic mural was unveiled at a Veteran's Day ceremony in November of that year. The 28-foot mural which is entitled "Bravery of a few protect us all, Clinton County Veterans, we remember you" cost $15,000. The project was funded with all local dollars, and the installation of the mural and the lighting was donated by local companies, Hanna Electric and M & R Contracting.
As Dave Bower, Clinton County Veterans Affairs Director explains, "The Hometown Hero banner and mural project is not only a worthwhile endeavor but it is long overdue for Clinton County. Other counties have done things to express gratitude for generations of veteransthis project is very personal and for some of our veterans it is a healing process.
Immediately following the 2008 banner unveiling, Downtown Lock Haven Inc. approached The Express about a series of articles focused on the veterans depicted on the banners. Editor Lana Muthler agreed and each Monday the local newspaper prints an article entitled "The Lives Behind the Banners".
"These stories document our community's history, "said Nestlerode, "they are emotional and beautiful stories about sacrifice, service and a deep love of country."
A book "Hometown Heroes: The Lives Behind the Banners" was printed by the Express this summer. It is a collection of the first round of articles from the 2008 Hometown Hero Banner Program. The Express is already preparing the second volume which is planned for release in September 2011.
At an emotional ceremony in August 2009 at the J. Doyle Corman Amphitheater and Floating Stage along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River the second round of Hometown Hero Banners was installed. At the ceremony 367 banners from the first program were returned to the veterans and their families and another 517 new banners were unveiled.
Clinton County Veterans Affairs Director David Bower explains "This program is an awesome tribute to all veterans and their service; the best veterans program that I have ever been involved in."
Mayor Rick Vilello is very proud of the project "As Mayor some things disappoint me and sometimes things are a struggle, but Downtown Lock Haven, Inc and the Hometown Hero Banner program have exceeded all of my expectations and whenever I get to talk about either, my heart fills with pride and sometimes an emotional tear comes to my eye. How many things are we able to say that about in local government?"
Downtown Lock Haven anticipates quite a tribute for the 2011 program as the Clinton County Veterans Affairs Office will host the American Veterans Traveling Tribute from September 9th and ending on September 11, 2011. The American Veterans Traveling Tribute includes a replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, The Cost of Freedom Memorial, and tributes to World War II and the Korean War. The 2011 Hometown Hero Banners will be unveiled on September 10, 2011 as part of that three day event.
For information on the Hometown Hero Celebration and the Clinton County American Veterans Traveling Tribute and Cost of Freedom Memorial contact Downtown Lock Haven Inc. at 748-1576.