After a successful inaugural year, the Hometown Heroes banners are up for renewal and the program has expanded to honor first responders.
Rosemary Furfaro, who began the project in O’Fallon with help from the city and veterans’ organizations, said any person who was a police officer, firefighter, EMT, paramedic or dispatcher in O’Fallon can be honored with a banner.
“I see the good in this,” she said. “It will be really nice to honor these people. They are heroes too. They have done so much for us, sacrificed a lot. Our police put themselves on the line every day.”
Mayor Herb Roach is pleased by the addition and has already purchased one for his grandfather. He had previously purchased one for his father, a World War II veteran.
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“I think it is a good idea to recognize our first responders. My grandfather was a member of the O’Fallon Fire Department,” Roach said.
The police department has purchased one in memory of Benjamin Schmitt, who served as a town marshal 1913-1916. He was killed while working at the train station, the only officer to date to be killed in the line of duty.
The program began last year to honor all local military on light pole banners in downtown O’Fallon. Forty were hung earlier this winter along Lincoln and State streets. Furfaro said she hopes 80 banners will happen the second year, using First Street as well.
Each banner honored an individual service member, including retired and honorably discharged veterans, active duty service members, and memorials to deceased service members.
The banners are sized 18-inches by 36-inches, and cost $125. DeMond Signs of O’Fallon hung them.
Applications are available on the group’s website at www.hometownheroesil.com and orders are being taken through November.
Furfaro is pleased by the response.
“It’s been great. They look nice. I think it adds something to the city,” she said.
The reason the banners must be replaced each year is because of their durability in the elements.
“With the heat, cold and storms, we can’t guarantee that they will hold up longer than a year,” she said.
With the city and veterans’ groups in support, the banners were placed around Feb. 1 and at were expected to be taken down some time after Halloween.
But now Furfaro said they might be taken down around Dec. 1.
She was spurred into action after seeing banners in Collinsville while visiting her father, Angelo Furfaro, 95, a World War II veteran.
“It tugs at my heart. 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,” she said last year when launching the program.
A group of citizens has been helping, too. They do not seek glory or monetary gain.
Furfaro credited Pat Reitz of Collinsville with being a valuable resource. Joe Solano of the American Legion Post 137 has been the treasurer and records an up-to-date list of the orders.
“He is very efficient. He has helped me so much,” she said.
If they can raise enough funds to start a scholarship program, that is something they are considering in the future, she said.
Roach said he 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 (have) 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.
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.
After the banners come down, a recognition ceremony will be held to return the banners to the individuals/family members. She has set Dec. 16 for this year’s ceremony.
To date, local communities who are participating in the program include Collinsville, Columbia, Granite City and O’Fallon. Furfaro said Lebanon is looking into starting one.
More information can be found at www.hometownheroesil.com. Brochures are available at the O’Fallon City Hall.