Tonawanda News — One year after Sally Urban launched the Hometown Hero banner initiative along Payne Avenue as a way to honor her son, a marine who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, interest has grown among North Tonawanda residents with ties to veterans who have served in recent wars.
Lance Cpl. Timothy Serwinowski’s image was put in place last May after Urban approached the city with the idea, which she heard about through similar programs in several Western New York townships. She envisioned blanketing Payne Avenue with the banners, which are open to any veteran who took part in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 12 years.
After Serwinowski’s banner went up on a light pole in front of City Hall, families and local organizations soon sponsored another eight veterans, whose photos were raised down the thoroughfare last summer, where they remained until the weather turned.
As of this week, as the city put the banners back up, the number now stands at 12, with City Hall receiving calls and e-mails almost weekly from other interested parties. The banners, which cost about $200 each to create, now stretch from Sweeney Street to Walck Road, according to Mayor Rob Ortt, who also served in Afghanistan.
He stood under one of the most recent additions this week as Department of Public Works employees raised an image of another marine, Cpl. Paul Schaus, who lost both of his legs and a finger in 2009 to a landmine during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. Sponsorship for his banner came from Meadow Elementary School.
Ortt said at a time when less than one percent of the American population are members of the military, the banners are a testament to the veterans and “lets the public know they’re not alone.”
“It’s a good story, I’m very proud of this program,” he said. “It’s a way to honor our current veterans.”
His assistant, Sue Hempel, who often takes the calls from family members and others interested in creating their own Hometown Hero ode, said four people have recently contacted her to inquire about the process, which could take a matter of weeks to put together.
Urban could not be reached for comment this week, though Ortt said all the credit belongs to her efforts, which now look like they may one day lead to her vision of filling city streets with veterans.
The city will continue to put up new banners throughout the summer with plans to remove them during the colder winter months. Those who would like to participate in the Hometown Hero program can call the mayor’s office at 695-8540 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Adam J. Marks, Airforce Paul Schaus, Marines Troy Lureman, Marines Joseph Moderacki, Airforce William Willis, Marines Dan McMahon, Army Jimmy Renda, Marines Anthony Di Benedetto, Army Brian Persina, Navy Brian Roy, Army Elena Clark, Army Tim Serwinowski, Marine Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.