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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Portraits of Patriotism

The idea behind this issue’s feature on patriotism was largely organic. After all, patriotism is as much in our blood as it is in yours. In this issue, we honor local patriots who have had a regional and national impact. Not everyone we profile has served in the military; yet their hard work in other areas matters.

We profile a prominent, influential business owner, and a retired CEO. We profile one local historian who has made it her life’s work to remember those who came before. Others we profile served in the military, were honorably discharged, and continue to seek to make America a better place. We talk to a surgeon turned politician, a local historian who has a proud collection of flags, and one retired soldier who built a second career around preparing high school students for the future. All are patriots, serving their country and community. 

Native Patriot

Steve Chancellor is proud of his country — what it has given him and others

Steven Chancellor enters the lobby quietly, his jeans perfectly pressed, his back straight as an arrow. It’s a Friday on a recent April afternoon, and this time, he’s not in Washington, D.C., “trying to manage the characters that are up there,” he laughs. No. Today he’s in Evansville, in the headquarters of the American Patriot Group; in the building many people think looks like the White House. And on this day, he’s agreed to talk about one of his favorite subjects: his love for the United States.

“I consider myself a patriot of the highest order,” he says while sitting behind the desk he designed himself, on the second floor of the structure on N. Cross Pointe Boulevard. Fox News is flickering silently nearby. A painting of his wife, Terri, hangs on the wall to his left. “Love of country, love of God — that was instilled in me for as long as I can remember,” he says.

He remembers a lot. And he knows he’s in a unique position — first because he’s the only male in his family to have lived past age 30, and second because of what he’s become. Chancellor is the chairman of the American Patriot Group, the parent company of AmeriQual Group LLC, which supplies Meals, Ready-to-Eat (also known as MREs) to the U.S. Department of Defense and numerous other companies in multiple sectors. Previously, he was the president, CEO, and chairman of Black Beauty Coal Co., before he sold his remaining interest in the company to Peabody Energy in April 2003. Before that, he spent more than 10 years in the finance industry, becoming the assistant vice president of CrediThrift. And long before that, he was just a 16-year-old truck driver, getting a feel for his first job.

Chancellor was born in Evansville, but he moved to Elberfeld, a small town in northern Warrick County, after the fifth grade. He grew up in a 700- to 800-square-foot house, in what he describes as a “very, very modest family,” and he had to pay for everything — his first car (a black 1956 Ford), as well as his own way through the University of Evansville.

“That was certainly one of my greater honors,” he says, referring to the work he put into paying for everything he achieved. “I have little patience when I hear people complain because their childhood was too difficult. We didn’t have much money. My grandfather had an eighth-grade education, but he taught me to read and write before I went to school. Everyone in my childhood encouraged me.”

Chancellor grew up surrounded by relatives who lived through the Depression. Instead of aunts and uncles, he had great-aunts and great-uncles. And he spent much of his life around women. He credits his mother and grandmothers, in fact, for his early sense of patriotism and love of God and family. Even now, Chancellor is quick to draw connections between his work ethic and his allegiance to the United States.

“To be dedicated to your career requires a total commitment,” he says. “To be dedicated to your country requires a total commitment.”

That commitment extends to political involvement, as well. He says he expects his fellow citizens to educate themselves about the issues and the candidates, and to vote to express their views.

“If you really love your country, complaining about it doesn’t really accomplish much,” Chancellor says. “Each person has something to offer. I have been extremely involved in my government from when I was a young man.”

He’s also long been active in political fundraisers. Most recently, Chancellor held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Chancellor included the U.S. Equestrian Team at the fundraiser to give its members a chance to learn more about their government. He has held fundraisers for the Republican National Committee, the House and Senate Republican Committees, and many candidates, some in both parties. He is also a friend of former President George H.W. Bush, former Vice President Dan Quayle, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former U.S. Senators Evan Bayh and Dick Lugar, U.S. Senators Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Governor Mike Pence, former Governor Mitch Daniels, and now-deceased Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

But not everything is about politics. Chancellor is Catholic, and he and his family are very supportive of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, Resurrection Catholic School and Church, and Mater Dei High School. He also has helped raise money to build the Chancellor Center for Oncology at Deaconess Hospital. Terri announced that project as part of a Valentine’s Day gift. Chancellor says Terri is a very giving person.

“She never thinks of herself,” he says. “She’s always doing things for other people. Terri is an incredible daughter, an incredible mother, an incredible wife. She is the best person I know.”

The Chancellors have five daughters: Hunter, 17, Ashley, Stephanie, Julie, and Tannya; two sons, Shane and Dan; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He is especially proud of his daughter, Hunter, who represented her country as part of the U.S. Equestrian Team. The team won double gold medals at the World Cup in South Africa in December 2012.

Chancellor’s children are a constant presence in his office. A framed photograph of Hunter and Terri sits on his desk; other photographs of his children are propped on the shelf behind him. Meanwhile, other paintings and fixtures are spread throughout the American Patriot Group building, which has two wings jutting out on either side of the black-and-white marbled lobby. While many people assume the building is meant to look like the White House, Chancellor explains it is actually a close approximation to the Lincoln Memorial. Not that that was his first choice. Chancellor intended to construct a building that replicated the Jefferson Memorial, but architecturally, the design was too problematic. Now, it’s more accurate to say the structure is like the Lincoln Memorial with a rotunda, he says. The building was designed by Jack Faber at Hafer Associates.

Having to change the design wasn’t too disappointing, however. “Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln are the foundation of what I believe,” Chancellor says. “I consider myself to be an American first and a party affiliate second.”

That sentiment is distributed throughout the American Patriot building, which has framed replicas of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution on the wall in the lobby, as well as paintings of the U.S. Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House on the same floor as Chancellor’s office. The building also contains paintings of wildlife, horses, and dogs. Chancellor is a world-class big game hunter, animal lover, and strong conservationist. A statue of an eagle that is holding the Declaration of Independence and the 13 arrows of the 13 states sits on the table in the lobby that overlooks a patio, lake, and a continuously spurting fountain. The eagle has 13 arrows that protect U.S. freedoms, and Chancellor described it as, “a perfect piece for us.”

The unique limited edition bronze eagle sculpture was created by the artist Lorenzo Ghiglieri. Chancellor purchased this masterpiece from an auction through the Weatherby Foundation. A selection of limited-edition bronze sculptures is set aside specifically for placement in fundraising auction events to help raise money for nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The program contributes millions of dollars each year to worthy causes and introduces the world of fine art collecting to scores of new patrons, Chancellor says. He adds that as soon as he saw the piece, he knew it belonged in his lobby.

Also on the table with the eagle is a book about the United States Military Academy at West Point. Chancellor doesn’t have any personal connection with the academy. The fourth generation of only sons, he’s part of “a pretty narrow tree.” Yet his genealogy goes back to George Washington, he says. And he’s had ancestors fight in virtually every war.

“I thank God for my greatest gifts: my wife, Terri, my children, my love of God, my country, and the freedoms that we, as Americans, enjoy,” Chancellor says. “We Americans are the most fortunate people in the world.”

Working for the Government

Two local businesses have far-reaching impact

Two local businesses have a history of supplying products to the U.S. military. One, in fact, has been producing tents for the government since before World War II.

Anchor Industries Inc. was founded in 1892 as a small riverboat supply house on the Ohio River. At the time, it supplied oil, groceries, paint, and other items to the steamboat trade. Later, the company’s founder, Louis A. Daus, added canvas goods to the inventory line. Today, Anchor Industries has more than 350,000 square feet of production capacity at its Burch Drive location off of U.S. 41. (See our related story.)

“We have been fortunate over the years to win some pretty good-sized contracts,” says John Montrastelle, government sales manager at Anchor Industries. The company developed vehicle maintenance shelter tents in 2004, and in 2011, it was awarded a contract by the government that could amount to $1 million. These tents are used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anchor Industries also has bid on another government contract for the same general type of tents. The funding of that contract has been impacted by cutbacks in military spending and has yet to be awarded, Montrastelle says.

Meanwhile, AmeriQual Group LLC, based in Vanderburgh County, recently was awarded what could amount to a $150 million contract to provide polymeric entrée ration items, which are a group feeding ration that provides 17 to 18 servings at a time. These rations are primarily for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The new contract calls for the company to supply the items until February 2016.

Tim Brauer, president of AmeriQual, says his company has about six different military ration programs that include 50-man modules and Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs). He says the company has about five military contracts at this point.

AmeriQual was founded in 1987. Its parent company is American Patriot Group LLC, which is headed by Steve Chancellor.

Color Guardian

Local veteran is on a mission to educate, honor U.S.

You could describe John G. West as a 66-year-old retiree who continues to work part-time as a public relations director for a local pest control and waterproofing company. Yet it would be just as accurate to say he’s a veteran with a keen interest in United States history.

In fact, he spends much of his free time taking part in parades as part of the Ohio Valley Chapter of the Indiana Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He is the president of that group.

“We participate in probably 12 to 25 parades and Color Guard events per year all over southwestern Indiana and in Kentucky,” West says. That means he’s wearing the militia uniform when he walks the streets of Evansville during the Freedom Festival and West Side Nut Club Fall Festival parades. West and others in the Sons of the American Revolution also participate in smaller parades in Newburgh, Ind., Elberfeld, Ind., Boonville, Ind., and Princeton, Ind.

West’s hobby is collecting replicas of colonial flags. He has 48 miniature, three-to-five inch flags in his collection, as well as 40 large- and medium-sized flags.

“I have probably 60 to 80 different flags,” he says. “During the Revolutionary War, each county and state would have different militia flags. A lot of those flags were throughout New England.”

West has been a member of the SAR since 1980. It’s an interest that originated with his father, who always had heard — but was never able to prove — that he had a relative who fought in the American Revolution.

“Probably a year after Dad had died, I discovered that we had an American Revolutionary War ancestor,” he says, adding that that relative lived eight generations ago. “I got into the SAR mostly to prove that Dad was right — to establish that and to establish our line.”

West considers himself to be very patriotic. He spent four years in the U.S. Air Force before being honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant, and he is a great supporter of the JROTC programs in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. and the University of Southern Indiana. The SAR, as well, regularly hands out outstanding citizenship awards for youth and adults who go beyond the call of duty. It also recognizes local residents who have exemplary flag displays.

“The very first one that we did for our chapter was the filling station on First Avenue, on the North Side, before you get to Ivy Tech,” West says, adding that it was a Marathon station at one time. “You could see their flag from Diamond Avenue as you came over the hill from Mesker Park Zoo.”

The SAR also has recognized Deaconess Hospital and several residential homes for doing what he described as “an excellent job of presenting the flag display. The key is they are practicing the flag code of the United States.”

The SAR is not a political organization. It does not endorse individuals or political parties. Yet a part of its mission is to educate people about proper flag displays. Hanging a dirty or faded flag, or one that is tattered and torn, for instance, is a shame, he says.

“We try to point those things out, because we want people to respect the United States flag,” West adds.

For more information on the Ohio Valley Chapter of the Indiana Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, visit www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~inovcsar/.

Not to be Forgotten

Local war memorials honoring our veterans’ sacrifices

Area residents have a long history of fighting in and supporting national and international wars. The below list is not comprehensive, but it does give readers a sense of how determined residents in the Tri-State area have been and continue to be to both honor and remember those who served and gave their lives for the United States. Compiled information is from Evansville at Two Hundred: 1812-2012 and www.waymarking.com.

Evansville Doughboy
The Evansville Doughboy statue was created by sculptor E.M. Viquesney, erected by the Evansville Kiwanis Club, and dedicated to the American World War I soldiers called “Doughboys.” It was originally located on a mound in Sunset Park until the sculpture and the mound were washed away in the 1937 flood. The statue was recovered and warehoused but then forgotten about until 1961, when Laura Kirby, a member of the Funkhouser American Legion Post, located and salvaged it.

Four Freedoms Monument
The Four Freedoms Monument on the Evansville riverfront was unveiled in 1976 in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial. The four columns of the monument represent freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from oppression — four freedoms mentioned in a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941. The 50 short slabs surrounding the monument represent the 50 states in the union.

Korean War Monument
Sculptor Stephen Shields of Hopkinsville, Ky., created the Korean War Memorial, which sits at the south end of the riverfront esplanade. The monument was dedicated on Aug. 19, 1992. A local Marine Reserve Unit that served with the 1st Marine Division in Korea directed local fundraising for the project.

The Vanderburgh County Revolutionary War Soldiers and Patriots Memorial
This monument is located in front of the Winfield K. Denton Federal Building and the U.S. Post Office. The Mary Anthony McGary Chapter and Vanderburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution are responsible for erecting the monument, which commemorates 200 years of freedom for the United States of America.

Vietnam War Memorial
This memorial to the Vietnam veterans from Evansville is located on the riverfront esplanade at the intersection of Chestnut Street and Riverside Drive. The polished black granite V-shape monument has a list of names of the individuals from Evansville who were on active duty in the Vietnam War.

Desert Shield-Desert Storm Persian Gulf War Memorial
Located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard across from the Civic Center Complex, this memorial consists of life-sized sculptures in full battle gear, one male and one female. Three benches are included in the dedication of the memorial. The benches are dedicated to the individuals from the area who lost their lives in the conflict.

World War I Honor Roll
The Gresham Chapter of the Service Star Legion War Mothers erected this monument at the corner of Vine and NW Fourth streets in 1926. Listed on the memorial are more than 100 names of World War I veterans from Vanderburgh County.

World War II Honor Roll
Erected in 1948 by the Gresham Chapter of the Service Star Legion, this memorial on the corner of NW Fourth and Court streets consists of four panels inscribed with the names of more than 350 World War II veterans of Vanderburgh County.

To see a more comprehensive list of surrounding counties’ war memorials, visit www.evansvilleliving.com/articles/war-memorials.

Generous Geneologist

A search for the past turns up missing clues to those who served

Doretha “Dee” Diefenbach-Hines found out how little she knew about her ancestors when her mother died in 1988. Twenty-five years later, her painstaking efforts to trace her own family lineage are helping others, too.

The Evansville resident soon will publish a coffee table book containing more than 800 pictures of the 909 members of the Grand Army of the Republic, Farragut Post. No. 27. Meanwhile, she also created www.justgravediggin.com, a genealogy research website that now boasts more than 89,000 names with corresponding information — all available for free.

“It’s kind of like detective work,” Diefenbach-Hines says.

Through her research, she’s learned that military service spanned her family tree more than she ever realized. Various men in her family served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Kentucky Militia, and the Home Guard. Her father received two Purple Hearts during World War II. Diefenbach-Hines also married a Vietnam War veteran, Kevin Hines.

“My heritage was full of warriors,” she adds.

Four years ago, she and Kevin got involved with Rolling Thunder, an organization that seeks to bring full accountability for American prisoners of war and the missing in action of all wars. It also is committed to helping American veterans of all wars.

It was through Rolling Thunder that Diefenbach-Hines was able to make one of her work’s most important discoveries. The organization was hosting a talent show at Evansville’s Coliseum, and Diefenbach-Hines joined a few volunteers in cleaning the building. While in the Grand Army of the Republic room, her eye caught a five-foot-by-four-foot picture frame sitting on the floor featuring more than 180 small oval photographs of the faces of men who were Union Civil War veterans.

The frame was worn out, and the pictures inside were deteriorating from age. The thin, cracking paper was at least 100 years old. Some of the photographs had fallen down and were brittle.

Diefenbach-Hines asked if she could take the pictures and the frame home to try to preserve them. The Coliseum granted her request.

“It took me a few weeks to take it all apart, because it was so big,” she says. “I cut around pictures, then I scanned them and fixed their cracks and tears.” After she was finished, she returned the originals to the Coliseum.

Jessica Bauer Schulte, a descendant of a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, laid the photos out and arranged them with the correct names through her business, J.S. Imaging. Repro Graphix Inc. did the reprinting. The Southwestern Indiana Historical Society covered the costs of the layout and the printing. Bippus Frame Shop repaired the frame, including the scratches. The Bippus family is related to one of the members of the Grand Army of the Republic that was pictured in the frame, Diefenbach-Hines says.

The Southwestern Indiana Historical Society sponsored a rededication ceremony for the exhibit on March 19. Speaking at the event, Diefenbach-Hines mentioned her grandfather, Noah Seals, a Civil War veteran who was 81 years old when he fathered Georgia Seals, Diefenbach-Hines’ mother. (That was the gap in family history that had sent Diefenbach-Hines and her sister on their original quest for their roots.)

Additionally, she explained that she was partly inspired to learn more about the men in the pictures because of her access to the photos of members of the Grand Army of the Republic. She started to take pictures, putting them together along with the obituaries to compile her book, “The Last Call.”

Meanwhile, intricately woven into Diefenbach-Hines’s genealogical work is her involvement with the military tombstones of Locust Hill Cemetery, the final resting place for hundreds of area Civil War soldiers on Kratzville Road in Evansville. While researching around five years ago, Diefenbach-Hines learned that more and more of the military tombstones she studied in the cemetery were inaccurate. Some were faded, others contained misspelled names, and still more were completely blank, save for dates of death.

One stone, which Diefenbach-Hines came to find out marked the grave of a man named David Cooper, was etched with the last name Goofer.

“I thought, ‘This isn’t right,’” Diefenbach-Hines says. “These guys served their country.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, the government will provide a headstone, marker, or medallion for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery in the world if it is provided with certain criteria and proper documentation. In order to replace the headstones, Diefenbach-Hines set about photographing every military tombstone at Locust Hill, taking the photos home to upload all the information she could find there.

In her research of Locust Hill Cemetery, she painstakingly cross-referenced each stone with 30 rolls of microfilm from Schaefer Funeral Home records at Willard Library in Evansville. She then used that information to submit the applications to the Department of Veterans Affairs to replace the tombstones.

Eventually, Diefenbach-Hines says she discovered about 200 military tombstones at Locust Hill that were either blank or inaccurately marked. On and off for the past three years, she’s worked to find the exact location of each veteran who was buried in the cemetery before filling out the applications for new stones. So far, five military tombstones have been replaced, and roughly 40 military tombstones will likely be replaced by Memorial Day.

“It really bothered me seeing the tombstones like that, because my dad was a World War II veteran,” she says. “He had what we know as post-traumatic stress disorder, and there were times when he would drink and cry. I knew he suffered horribly from the stuff that tore his heart up. A kind man, but I’ve seen his suffering.”

For Diefenbach-Hines, it’s the connection she has found with her ancestry that has led her to help others.

“I researched my genealogy as much as I could without flying to Germany and what have you,” she says. “I decided to put everything I had to where other people could have access to research for free.”

Ride and Respect:

The Indiana Patriot Guard Riders

Above all else, the Patriot Guard Riders have one goal: to pay their respects.

“We’re there to honor the soldier,” says Rick Williams, the group’s senior ride captain for southwest Indiana. With 300 active members in the region, the organization has had representatives at the funerals of every local soldier killed in action since January 2006.

Though the group was founded in 2005 as a reaction to hateful protestors at a military funeral in Oklahoma, the Patriot Guard Riders do not attend military funerals to make a political statement, interact with any protestors, or counter protest. Their goal is simply to honor fallen military heroes and veterans. Since the group’s founding, national membership has grown to 284,000. In Indiana, there are roughly 3,000 members. Like the original founders, many members are motorcyclists, but riding a motorcycle is not a requirement.

Patriot Guard members must be invited to attend military funerals by the families of the deceased. Once at the funeral, they are strictly there for support, wielding American flags and even forming a physical wall of people if mourners should need protection from protestors.

Support from the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders doesn’t stop after the funeral. According to Williams, the group “adopts” the families, helping them with anything they need as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. The riders also make an important promise: “We promise not to forget,” Williams says.

Though many members of the organization are motorcyclists, Williams insists anyone who wishes to provide support is welcome. “I don’t care if you show up in roller skates,” he jokes. As the website states, the only prerequisite is respect.

For more information about the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, visit www.inpatriotguard.org.

Disciplined Learning

Local JROTC program motivates future leaders

After spending 22 years in the U.S. Army, Sgt.1st Class William VanHooks was looking for a second career. He also wanted to make a difference.

The Memphis, Tenn., native found both in 1995 when he started the Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps program in the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp.

“I was in ROTC in high school, and I was looking for a chance to give back to a program that had a big impact in my teenage years,” VanHooks says. “I also wanted to give back to the young people today.”

One student who is seeing those benefits is Adriana Branham.

The 15-year-old initially became a cadet in what is now the consolidated JROTC program at Harrison High School because her father was in the Marines. However, after taking part in the JROTC drill team, she learned the program incorporates law. And that’s something she’s particularly interested in, especially as it relates to the military.

“I found out (that) with four years of JROTC, you can get on that path much faster,” Branham says.

Not everyone who takes part in the JROTC program is obligated to enlist in the military. Yet JROTC Senior Army Instructor Jeff Lee says Evansville is very supportive of the military and of the local JROTC program. Last year, he says, the JROTC program took part in three parades, including the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival.

Additionally, a number of former JROTC cadets in the local school system have used skills they learned in the program to serve their country in some way or another.

A Hall of Fame hallway leading to the JROTC classroom at the Harrison campus is covered with photographs of previous students dating to the local program’s inception 18 years ago. These Hall of Fame members include current and former military servicemen and servicewomen, police officers, and even a Secret Service agent.

Whether or not they join the military after high school, all cadets are encouraged to succeed in the classroom and to earn their high school degrees.

“We teach kids about citizenship in action, leadership and application, and the foundations of success, which help a kid to learn study skills and communication skills,” says VanHooks.

Over the years, the JROTC program has changed. Previously, both Central and Harrison high schools had their own JROTC programs. Now, the program has been consolidated and operates out of Harrison. Still, VanHooks and Lee make it clear to the students that once they step through the door, they are no longer a Warrior, Bear, Husky, Panther, Bulldog, or Knight. Instead, they are EVSC Eagles.

“We cover all of the EVSC as well as Castle High School,” Lee explains. “We are the only program that goes across county lines in our brigade and, as far as we know, the country.”

JROTC cadets take part in events at various local schools. The Color Guard presents the colors before most basketball and football games, and it is also present at school assemblies.

Meanwhile, every single cadet inside the JROTC battalion has a job that he or she must complete inside the classroom. This gives students a sense of responsibility and helps to prepare them for jobs in the real world, says VanHooks.

On a recent day in April, Sgt. 1st Class VanHooks compared the chain links hanging near him in the classroom to all the cadets linked together in the battalion.

“If you’ve ever seen elephants or buffalo, if one is injured, we all surround that person and get them back (to normal),” he says. “That is what we are trying to teach the kids about — being a partner, being a team player.”

JROTC offers many students the chance to be team members. The Raider Team emphasizes physical fitness, requiring students to do sit-ups, push-ups, climbs, and to take part in obstacle courses, just like in the Army. The Drill Team competes with the Color Guard to perform a platoon drill sequence. This means students march and perform a rifle exhibition.

Because the JROTC program is structured like the military, it gives cadets who work hard the chance to take on more and more responsibility. The overall goal is to teach young men and women how to be leaders and to give them the tools to succeed in life.

“I tell the kids Chief (Lee) and I are the toolbox, you are the mechanic,” VanHooks says. “The only way you’re going to fix the machine is to open up (the toolbox) and use the right tools.”

Special Delivery

Plaza Park students reach out to soldiers through letter-writing campaign  

Students at Plaza Park International Prep Academy are on a mission to honor enlisted soldiers with an “Adopt-a-Soldier” program.

The project began in Diane Triplett’s class after she received a list of names from her friends Gary and Bobbie Bridges. Their son, LTC Jason Bridges, is with the Army 2nd Brigade, Special Troops Battalion, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. His unit currently is in Afghanistan.

Triplett’s students wrote letters to the soldiers asking them about their interests, the foods they like to eat, and what they need. They also sent them care packages of homemade cookies and brownies. The soldiers, in turn, responded by writing letters.

“Every time I’ve written, I’ve gotten a letter back,” says Aleah Brown. She’s a sixth-grade student in another class that also corresponds with soldiers. That class is taught by Ken French.

“It’s awesome to see them happy to be writing a letter, being enthusiastic about reading, and really caring about what our troops are giving up,” says Triplett. “When you tell a sixth or seventh grader to write a letter, they are like, ‘No way,’ but once we kind of set the background and did some (letters), they saw this personal connection, and they were writing paragraphs and pages.”

Triplett says students are often surprised to learn that their soldier pen pal might be only 18 or 19 years old.

“They’re just kids … some haven’t gone to college and (yet) they’re serving our country,” Triplett says. “The biggest thing that has hit us is that they are just like us and are not much older than some students.”

She and other teachers also have incorporated math and social studies lessons into the “Adopt-a-Soldier” program. For instance, they have talked to students about measurements tied to baking cookies for the soldiers. The teachers also have talked with the students about the weather in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Bridges has been very thankful for the letters. In an email to Triplett, he said he read all of the letters and was absolutely moved by the love and support the students all showed.

“Please tell your students and other teachers there that they are the best,” Bridges wrote. “As far as myself and the Command Sergeant Major are concerned, they’re an important part of this battalion. They truly do assist in keeping soldier spirits high, and that’s about half the fight in any combat environment.”

Plaza Park also helps students who have family members in the military. Children Having Military Parents Serving (CHAMPS) has been meeting with students in the program roughly once a month for about eight years. Initially, the program was focused only on the students in the program, but it now incorporates and serves as a form of support for the students involved in the Adopt-a-Soldier program, too.

“The bond that the children have made with their soldiers is extremely special and means so much to both parties,” says Diane Fowler, a guidance counselor at Plaza Park who is the coordinator of CHAMPS.

Triplett adds that others can help support the military, too.

“It’s as important to teach our children to help others as it is to improve their academic skills,” Triplett adds. “It can start with one person, one class, one school.”

For more information on how to send care packages to U.S. service members overseas, visit www.ourmilitary.mil/care-packages.

This Land is Our Land

Congressman is grateful for those who came before 

Larry Bucshon came from humble beginnings. Yet the married father of four is now a cardiothoracic surgeon and a U.S. Congressman. And that success, he believes, is possible because America is the land of opportunity.

“I think that’s one of the greatest reasons that people want to come here, because of the opportunities,” he says. “If you work hard and play by the rules, people like me have the opportunity to move up and to better themselves and better the lives of their families. I think that’s a unique quality that we have in the United States.”

Bucshon was elected to Congress in 2010 and is a member of various committees. But he got his start in a small town in Illinois, where his father worked as a coal miner and his mother was a nurse. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before earning his medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Bucshon later completed a residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin, where he was the chief surgical resident. He also completed a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery.

In 1989, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves, serving as a physician for almost a decade, and he did so for multiple reasons. His father was an enlisted naval officer in the 1950s, and Bucshon’s brother was a full-time Illinois National Guard member for 20 years. “I had a respect for what people in the military do for our country, and I wanted to do my part,” he says.

After he left the service, Bucshon specialized in cardiothoracic surgery, performing hundreds of heart surgeries. He was honored in 2007 as the St. Mary’s Medical Staff Physician of the Year, and he was also the Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery and the Medical Director of the open-heart recovery intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Medical Center. Bucshon, who lives in Warrick County with his family, is board certified in thoracic surgery by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. He says he’s achieved these successes because of hard work and the ability to obtain an education.

“What America stands for is something that we should all be proud of,” he says. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always been very patriotic, and I’m still that way. Especially as it comes to the people who came before us, who have been the defenders of liberty and freedom since our country was founded.”

Bucshon says he’s spent his life working on behalf of his patients to improve their lives. Now, he works on behalf of the people he represents to do the same. He takes that responsibility to help his constituents and to promote American ideals very seriously.

“We live, in my view, in the best country on Earth, and probably the best country that has ever existed on the planet,” he says. “The reason for that is because of our system of government, which is self-governance. It focuses on individual liberty and freedom, and that everyone can have a voice through their vote. I see that as unique to the rest of the world.”

He adds that everyone can make a difference in this country. Running for political office, or donating money to a political candidate’s campaign, are just some ways to have an impact. Others make their opinions and beliefs known by getting involved in organizations that engage the government.

“There is some frustration that people have that they can’t affect change, but I would argue that they can,” Bucshon says.

Raising the Flag

Patriotic Protocol

“The flag is a symbol of a country,” says Buckey Honaker, Post Commander of American Legion Kapperman Post No. 44 in Newburgh, Ind. Honaker grew up learning about the flag and what it means to this country. His patriotism is deeply rooted in his past experiences, he says. He is doing his part to make sure younger generations do not forget what this symbol stands for.

“We have an American Legion-sponsored program called Flag Etiquette and Education, given to fourth graders every year,” says Honaker.

Honaker goes to schools, along with other American Legion members, to teach kids all about the flag, where it comes from, why it is symbolic, and how to treat it. The American Legion is doing its part to make sure children don’t miss out on a large part of our country’s history. Here is a guide to flag protocol from the American Legion :

American flag with other flags
• The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states, localities, or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
• When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be roughly equal in size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in times of peace. 

Flag display
• The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.
• On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

Non-traditional flag displays
• Bunting of blue, white, and red — always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below — should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
• The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
• The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back or up, or displayed in folds. It should always be allowed to fall free.
• The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
• The flag should never have placed upon it or attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.

Tattered, torn flags
• When it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, the flag should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Patriotic Volunteer

Retired CEO gives back to community

The son of a retired Protestant minister, Niel Ellerbrook, 64, grew up watching his parents give back to the community.

“I grew up in an environment where giving and giving back (were) a fundamental part of our family life,” says the former chairman and CEO of Evansville’s Vectren Corp. from 2000 to 2010. “I think giving and volunteering (are) just the right thing to do.”

Throughout his life, Ellerbrook has taken this firm belief to heart. In 1970, he essentially volunteered for the nation, serving in the National Guard for six years. His time in the military only intensified his positive feelings for his country.

“I define patriotism as the love of one’s country and respect for its institutions and symbols,” he says. “Respect means honoring its leaders, being willing to sacrifice to meet its goals, accepting decisions with which you may not necessarily agree. It has nothing to do with politics; one party is not more patriotic than the other.”

Ellerbrook says living in the United States allowed him to pursue a college education in a system that he says is the greatest in the world. As an American, he was “able to pursue a career in a system of free enterprise which permitted me to use my skills without any limits other than limits imposed by my own personal limitations. I think the USA is still the land of opportunity.”

Ellerbrook has had a strong impact on the Tri-State in various capacities beyond his position at Vectren. He is the vice-chairman of the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science capital Reach for the Stars campaign, and he’s been on the Board of Trustees for the University of Evansville since 2002. He’s also the co-chair of an ongoing campaign for Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.

These are examples of what Ellerbrook calls local patriotism, a term that now-deceased University of Evansville benefactor Dr. William Ridgway used in the August/September 2008 issue of Evansville Business magazine.

“Most of us do not have the opportunity to influence national policy, but we can make a difference locally,” Ellerbrook says. “I think acts of local charity are a form of patriotism.”

Local Patriotism

Investing in home 

Once a patriot, always a patriot. That’s what you could call Dr. William L. Ridgway, the longtime benefactor of the University of Evansville who died on March 8 at age 92.

“Giving money locally instead of sending it elsewhere is just local patriotism,” he told writer Kristen Lund in the August/September 2008 issue of Evansville Business magazine.

Ridgway was certainly his own brand of patriot with a long history of supporting UE. He purchased Harlaxton College in Grantham, England, to serve as the university’s British campus. He established the 92,000-square-foot Ridgway University Center, which opened in 2008 and serves as a “campus living room” where students eat, study, and attend events. His donations also created the William L. Ridgway Award in 2009, a financial award that allows Vanderburgh County students to attend UE at a cost that is comparable to that of Indiana’s leading public institutions.

On April 8, UE announced that Ridgway had left the university $39 million, roughly $34 million of which will be administered through a trust at Old National Bank. In all, the ophthalmologist donated $52.6 million to the University of Evansville, making him the largest donor in the university’s 159-year history.

“Dr. Ridgway was a passionate believer in the importance of higher education and a devoted friend of the University of Evansville,” says Thomas A. Kazee, the president of UE. “During his lifetime, he redefined the UE experience for students by supporting facilities such as the Ridgway University Center and Harlaxton College, and by making a UE education accessible and affordable for talented students. His vision and generosity were limitless and, through this remarkable gift, he will continue to make a profound impact on the university for generations to come.”

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