By Jasmine Willis
DANSVILLE — It was a day meant to honor the ones who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.
On June 24 Valley Propane and Fuels in Dansville donated a total of $3,000 from the Warrior Truck to three different organizations. Valley Fuel General Manager Bill LaVallee chose Wayland American Legion, Seeley Stables and Livingston County Veteran Services Agency this year.
“We looked at a different type of outreach this year. One is working with veterans who suffer from PTSD and another is working on suicide prevention with veterans,” LaVallee said. “We donate to the Wayland American Legion every year. Kevin Mark is always doing so much for veterans and fundraisers in the area. He puts his heart into everything he does.”
LaVallee added that the Warrior Truck has gotten touched up and painted by Smith Collison in Arkport.
Wayland Post Commander Kevin Mark said he will use the donation for new flags at the Wayland Free Library and the care packages Leeann Perkowski is putting together for Students For Soldiers.
“The legion was put in place to help support the town, community and school district. We have four legions in our area, Cohocton, Springwater, Atlanta, and Wayland. We all have our own separate identities, and we don’t want to lose them,” Mark said. “Valley Fuel is the most veteran motivated company I have ever seen.”
Seeley Stables is owned and operated by Laura Seeley-Sick and Iraq War Veteran Colin Sick.
“This donation is really outstanding for our program. We will use it to put in a bathroom in our office, so we don’t have to use the outhouse anymore. It has always been a passion of mine to help out the veterans,” Laura said. “I met Colin in 2015 and we started the V.E.T.S program. We help veterans who suffer from PTSD.”
Colin said he had a hard time at first, but the horses created a calming bond with him.
“I used to spend a lot of time alone with the horses,” he said. “I don’t need to do that so much anymore.”
The Bath VA Hospital brings about eight veterans up to the stable to be with the horses and other animals. They are able to ride the horses or sit and heal with the animals for as long as they want. All of the veterans are Iraq War Veterans or more recent. They are part of the drug and alcohol treatment program.
“They can brush the horses, ride them in the arena, or sit and socialize with the animals. Last time we had a veteran sit and throw a frisbee with one of our dogs all day,” Laura said. “We had the idea of bringing in the Mustangs to help connect with the veterans, but that is a lot of one on one work. There is a lot of dedication involved with working with the Mustangs. We don’t always get the same veterans that come.”
Colin has put a lot of work in the stable to design it and create a healing space for the horses and veterans. The office has a nice waiting area for the veterans that will in the near future have a new bathroom.
The Livingston County Veteran Service Agency held a Veterans Monument Participation Appreciation ceremony at the Livingston County Highway Department. This offered a glimpse at the Poppy Field Project. All the veterans and veteran families that took part in the project were honored at this event.
Jason Skinner, Livingston County Veteran Service Agency director said the donation from Valley Fuel will go to help pay for the nameplates on the metal poppies for the monument.
“Joe DiTucci came up with the idea for the dog tags on the metal poppies. He wanted to have them labeled, because when you join the military everyone gets dog tags. We needed stainless steel plates with the names engraved in them,” he said. “We have gotten a lot of support from the community and school. From the kind donation of Valley Fuel we can get these nameplates.”
US Army Veteran Joe DiTucci served in the 1950s and was stationed in Germany.
“I met a lot of guys through the Poppy Project. I made more than 10 of them (poppies) myself for my family and some others who couldn’t make them for themselves,” he said. “We saw this whole project come together. The material came from all over. The veterans all showed up to volunteer making the poppies. We all want to see this finished.”
DiTucci said there should be special parking, hours, and a guide to walk people through the field once the project is complete.
Vietnam War Veteran Ray Arieno said he created a large group of friends from the Poppy Project.
“It is a great way to recognize those who serve past and present and remember us. I made 10 for my immediate family and helped a lot of other people with theirs,” he said. “I helped a 79-year-old woman named Irene who spent two hours on her first day not being able to work on any of the machines. I decided to help her out, and now she has made three poppies. I have helped young and old people with this project. We all made great friends and had a lot of fun.”
One of the most phenomenal things about the Poppy Project is that it has gotten veterans to talk about the wars.
“This is really phenomenal since my father and uncle never talked about the war. My uncle I’m named after flew in D-Day and was wounded. He died a week later from his injuries. A lady on Ancestor website found him and his whole unit in a photo. My dad was in Normandy too and he was in the medical unit. I had another uncle who was over there, and he was military police. No one ever talked about it,” Arieno said. “They all came back suffering from PTSD. I really wish we had talked about it. I wish that we had those talks about the war.”
Skinner thanked all the veterans and families for their participation in the project.
“I approached Olie Olson (Mount Morris Metal Trades Teacher) over a year ago about what they do overseas with the Poppy Projects. I thought it would be really neat to have our own little Poppy Project for the 100thyear of Veterans Day. Olie came back with the gigantic project in the shape of a flag,” he said. “Olie wanted to let the veterans build the poppies. He wanted to teach the veterans how to build it. It will be their monument. We wanted to dedicate this to the service of the veterans beyond their service, and what they mean to all of us.”
Skinner added veterans are very active in church groups, schools, and within their community long after they serve their country.
Olie Olson, Mount Morris Metal Trades teacher said these veterans and families came back week after week to work on this project.
“The week that we stopped everyone went through poppy withdrawals. It was a great project and did exactly what everyone wanted it to do,” he said. “You are all here for a reason. This project is going to be an amazing finish. Every poppy will be different, because every veteran who made one or family member who made one did it for someone they love and that matters.”
Olson added that the students in the metal shop helped a lot with the veterans project. They would come in and touch up the poppies for the veterans. The students will also be getting certificates for the help they did with the project.
Don Higgins, Livingston County Highway Superintendent said he was very proud to host and help construct the monument on Gypsy Lane.
“We had one day last week of dry weather, so we broke ground. In that one day we did a lot of drainage work. That was important to get that done. Hopefully, as soon as we get done with a few other projects that got rained off we can start pouring the concrete. We are very proud to be part of this project,” he said.
Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes handed out certificates to all those who took part in the Poppy Project.
“The New York State Senate has a Veterans Hall of Fame. Sen. (Patrick)Gallivan and I share a good portion of this area. This year Jake Davis was nominated and accepted into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame,” she said.
WWII Veteran John “Jack” Van Der Meid was in the 4thInfantry on Utah Beach. He was there on D-Day. The 94-year-old veteran made one poppy in his honor. Nancy, Jack’s wife of 63 years said they had a lot of help from Kevin Fitzgibbon.
One of few recent generations, 2ndLt. John Paul Holubek made four poppies in honor of family and fellow soldiers. He is carrying on the strong military legacy of his family and honoring those Missing in Action of Prisoners of War.
“I don’t know why there wasn’t a lot of my generation involved with this project. I saw maybe three or four of them. There were mostly older veterans working on these poppies. There are not many of my generation involved in the legion either,” he said. “I am one of the rare ones that is part of the legion and really enjoyed being part of this project. I knew one way or another I was going to carry on the legacy of my family. I am part of the US Army Reserves. I want to work on getting my welding certificate at Mount Morris BOCES, and get a job in that field.”
US Army Veteran Stan Lubanski brought his artwork to showcase at the ceremony. They are jigsaw puzzles showing significant moments in veteran history.
The Veterans Monument Poppy Project will be dedicated on November 11 for the 100thAnniversary of Veterans Day at Gypsy Lane in Mount Morris.