Rosemary Furfaro’s dad has always been her hero. A World War II veteran, Angelo Furfaro’s service to his country meant a great deal to his daughter. Now, she has parlayed that appreciation into a city-wide movement that honors all local military.
Rosie, as she is called, has spearheaded the Hometown Heroes project. This program will place banners honoring men and women who have served — or are serving our country — on light poles in downtown O’Fallon.
The city and veteran groups have rallied in support. In its inaugural year, 40 banners will be placed around Feb. 1, weather-permitting, and remain through the year until plans for Christmas decorations begins, around Nov. 15, sometime after Veterans Day.
She was spurred into action after seeing banners while visiting her father, 94, who still lives on his own in Collinsville.
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“It tugs at my heart,” she said. “Every time I saw a banner, it made me teary-eyed. They sacrifice their lives for us. We have a town full of heroes. O’Fallon needed this.”
Not one to seek limelight, she shies away from taking credit. A group of local citizens are helping her.
“I’m not in this for any other reason. I am not in this to make money. I’m not in this for glory. I’m doing this for the veterans. That’s all I want. This has re-energized me,” she said.
O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach is grateful for her efforts.
“Rosie has been a great leader of the Hometown Heroes project. It is another good way to honor our veterans. We gave had many members of the U.S. Armed Forces live in our town. It has been very successful with her leadership and the support from the O’Fallon American Legion,” Roach said.
“It has been so successful that we are looking at doubling the number of banners that we can do next year. I have personally purchased one for my father, who was a World War II veteran,” Roach said.
Each banner honors an individual service member, including retired and honorably discharged veterans, active duty service members, and memorials to service members who are no longer with us, Rosie said.
The banners are sized 18-inches by 36-inches and initially cost $110. DeMond Signs of O’Fallon will be hanging them up.
This year, the banners will primarily be along Lincoln and State streets, but next year, plans to expand along First Street are in the works.
When the banners come down, there will be a recognition ceremony to return the banners to the individuals/family members, Furfaro said.
Furfaro applauded the city’s efforts.
“I approached the mayor right after the election. He has been very nice to work with. I’ve been working with Pam Funk (assistant city administrator, who in charge of communications), and she has been so nice, too. She really has been very helpful,” she said.
Furfaro noted another valuable resource — Pat Reitz, of Collinsville.
“I couldn’t have done this without her help. She has been with me every step of the way,” she said.
The program will be conducted annually, and applications will be accepted again, sometime from August to early October, she said. The Facebook page and website will provide information.
People qualify if they were living in O’Fallon at the time of their service or lived here at one time, she said.
The response has been gratifying, she said.
“So many people are appreciative, and they are sharing different stories about their loved ones. It just tugs at my heartstrings,” she said.
Furfaro was one of nine children growing up in Collinsville. Her parents married in 1945, after Angelo served in the Army during the war. He was a mechanic by trade. Her mother, Rosalie, died in 2010. Her brother, Pat, served in Vietnam.
“My father has always been my idol. I think he is the best father in the whole world,” Rosie said.
Furfaro was a business owner in O’Fallon, operating a tanning salon, Fantasy Tans, from 1991 until 2006, when her business was destroyed in a fire that started at the neighboring Casa Azteca restaurant.
The mother of two daughters, Katie Love and Danya Artimisi, she spends time taking care of her four granddaughters.
Katie is a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at the Joseph Arthur Middle School in the Central School District 104, and Danya, a former rock radio personality in St. Louis, is a social worker at the same school.
Katie, and her husband, Brad, have two girls, Molly, 4, and Anna, 2, and live in Troy. Danya and her husband, Brian, have two daughters, Camryn, 10, and Kyleigh, 7, and live in Shiloh.
“All of my grandkids are characters,” Rosie said. “They are all so smart.”
Furfaro is touched by how meaningful the program has become to people.
“If I’ve touched lives through this, I can’t express these feelings of what that means to me. I know we can honor these people, and it will affect others like it has affected me,” she said.
More information can be found at www.hometownheroesil.com.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
A: Always focus positive — being positive in a negative situation is not naive, it’s leadership.
Q: Whom do you most admire?
A: I admire my father. He’s my hero.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
A: I don’t read books, but I do enjoy magazines. Some of my favorites are This Old House, DIY, Good Housekeeping and Wired.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
A: I really enjoy nearly any kind of music, and I enjoy going to concerts to see local bands. I like lounging at home with my fur baby, and truly enjoy working outside in the yard. It’s very therapeutic.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
A: Always organized — I have to stay organized.
Q: What did you want to do career-wise when you were growing up?
A: Always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I achieved that dream in 1991 when I opened my super tanning salon in my hometown, O’Fallon.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
A: I would have to say that I’m very enthusiastic and goal-focused.
Q: What irritates you most?
A: People who do not respect others, whether it be an opinion, their beliefs are different, or others in general.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
A: My absolute favorite type of music is classic rock! Some ’90s country would be a very close second.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I loved my business. I truly loved each and everyone of my employees and my customers. We were like one big family. I saw most customers nearly daily. I saw them more than I did my family. I miss them all dearly.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
A: First, I would take care of my father — whatever he might need — and also take care of my children and grandchildren. Definitely pay for my grandchildren’s education. Move to the country, and then travel the world. First trip would be to Italy to visit family who still live there.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
A: Would definitely have a solar-powered battery bank to charge my cell phone and a radio!