PRINGLE — It was a response even those conducting the fundraiser didn’t expect.
“People were donating money four, five times a day,” West Side Career and Technology Center History Club President Ian Nelson said. “Any time a can was brought into a room, they would drop something in.”
It took only two weeks for the club to raise $580, all from within the school, nearly half of it in coins. What worthy cause prompted such a generous outpouring? American flags. Specifically, flags that were put up Wednesday around Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, a city to which few, if any, of these students owe any allegiance. The center serves students from five school districts on the west side of the Susquehanna.
Clearly there was more at work here. The flags are part of a dream World War II veteran Jim Walsh has had for years, envisioning the stars and stripes fluttering up and down Wilkes-Barre’s main arteries. Walsh’s dream has become a reality thanks to PennStar Bank Assistant Manager Dave Lepore, who launched a fund and started collecting donations. He raised enough to complete Phase I of the project, with flags going up along Market Street Bridge a few weeks ago. The donations from West Side made Phase II, Public Square, possible.
“I think people just have an aspiration to help veterans and respect the flag,” Nelson said of the group’s success at West Side CTC.
That sentiment was strengthened significantly for the club when it took a trip to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and when Walsh came to collect the donations. He spoke about his dream and his own experiences in the war.
“It was very patriotic, very moving,” club secretary Melyssa Laureano said.
“It was like talking to a piece of history,” class valedictorian Emily Mansilla added. “He certainly changed my view of the flag.” In fact, she added his visit to her commencement speech as part of a short list of highlights from her senior year.
For Nelson, who is enlisting in the Army upon graduation, the Walsh’s visit had a special resonance. “It really opened my eyes. He was 18 when he he signed up. I’m 18 and doing what he did. It made me realize his age group really was the Greatest Generation. They never took anything for granted.”
Club member Michael Scott (yes, he took four years of high school ribbing about working for the fictional Dunder Mifflin of TV) said Walsh’s visit redefined the meaning of the flag for him. “The flags we helped buy are a symbol of him fighting for the country,” Scott said. “For all he’s done for us, raising the money was the least we could do.”
Walsh was equally quick to praise the students and their teacher, Mary Kay Kimelewski. “I was very impressed with the children. They were very respectful and well behaved, and very appreciative. And they were sincere,” Walsh, 88, said. “I told them they are the future of this country. I’m in the twilight of my years. I’ve done just about all I can do.”
Lepore also praised the students for their eagerness in learning about the meaning of the flag and the importance of passing that respect on to others.