To all of our Elgin veterans:
Whether you fought at Iwo Jima or Inchon, Bastogne or Baghdad, Khe Sanh or the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, you are part of an unbroken chain of men and women who have served our country and community with honor and distinction, with courage and commitment.
America’s best days are still ahead. And Elgin’s best days are still ahead, too.
We are a country and community that does what’s necessary for future generations to succeed.
We thank you, our veterans, for making that possible.
The greatest sacrifices veterans have made for their country do not just happen on the battlefield. Some sacrifices happen quietly, without much fanfare, without much recognition. They happen in small homes, large homes, kitchens and living rooms. But no matter where they happen, no matter where they start, these sacrifices spark a renewed sense of obligation, a renewed sense of duty, a renewed season of service. From community to community, the sacrifice of time is an extraordinarily important thing, some say as important as the bravery shown during war, and, oftentimes, just as difficult. In Elgin, these sacrifices are what help make our veterans something special.Anyone who has ever met Carl Menconi knows just how special he is. Carl and his wife Rose live in Edgewater, on the city’s southwest side. When the Korean War veteran and retired Chicago police detective moved to Elgin, he saw that there was no American flag flying from the entrance of the upscale community he had just moved to. That changed. That changed quickly. Carl helped secure funding for a flag and flagpole. The dedication of that flag included a 21-gun salute by members of Elgin American Legion Post 57. Members of Elgin VFW Post 1307 raised the flag for the first time.
In addition to the flag installation, Carl also helped energize a veterans group out in Edgewater. In 2007, there were only six members in the group. Today there are more than a hundred. Among other things, the group travels to a local veteran’s hospital to deliver donated clothing and visit with patients there.
No act of kindness, no matter how seemingly insignificant at the time, is ever wasted. Carl recently coordinated a fundraiser at a local Sam’s Club. The one-day event raised $1,300 for area veterans.
Carl also is involved with Warrior Wishes, a not-for-profit group that brings wounded military personnel to all National Football League stadiums. Carl also works with Toys for Tots.If it’s true that happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give, Carl’s smile should be switched on all the time—morning, noon and night. He has given that much.
Centuries from now, when history looks back upon the records of our age, our country and our community, it will be written that once there was a great nation of free people who sent their very best young men and women out to serve on the frontiers of freedom in uniform. They went to defend their country and its ideals, giving up the comforts and conveniences of home. Too many never returned to their families, but none who served ever sacrificed in vain. As much as anyone you’ll ever meet, Chin understands the importance of service. In his military service, Chin carries forward a tradition of both immigrants and Asian-Americans who are making a difference in ever expanding roles over the decades. In Elgin, he is a wonderful example of what our local veterans bring back to the community in terms of a lifelong commitment to serving others.
Since his discharge from the United States Navy, Chin has continued to serve through a wide variety of roles, organizational memberships and community activities, including the spearheading of an extensive advocacy effort to gain recognition for the Laotian veterans who fought and died alongside U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. His efforts helped inspire state and local lawmakers to proclaim July 19th as Lao American Veterans Day in Illinois. He has also been very active in Elgin and in the Laotian-American community, including serving on the board of directors as a Civic Engagement Program Director for the Lao American Organization of Elgin and helping launch a number of community health projects to increase awareness and promote prevention strategies for cancer, hepatitis and other ailments.
Both overseas and at home in Elgin, Chin has led a life of great consequence, doing his part to keep the torch of liberty burning in the oldest democracy on Earth. He has brought a precious and irreplaceable gift to our community. And Elgin remains eternally grateful.
Serving her country was a life-changing experience. It was those years that reinforced the importance of commitment, dedication, discipline and honor for Tricia Dieringer, who enlisted in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. She has a legacy to be extremely proud of.
Like Don Sleeman, Tricia grew up right here in Elgin. As a little girl, she would attend every Elgin parade with her father. At one of those parades—a 4th of July parade—she pointed to a group of veterans marching with the American Legion, telling her dad that she was going to be “part of that” someday. Well, she has been part of it ... a big part of it.
Tricia has served the American Legion as Sergeant at Arms, Finance Officer, Medical Officer, Assistant Department Officer, Post Commander, Kane County Commander and 11th District Commander. And she served 16 years with the Elgin Patriotic Memorial Association.
She also has volunteered at the Church of the Redeemer’s Soup Kitchen, PADS and the Salvation Army. She has assisted in many, many Veteran’s Day Programs, as well as many community events throughout the Fox Valley. Tricia means a great deal to a great many people. And she means a great deal to Elgin.
In certain circles, it has become commonplace to say that we live in a time when it has never been more tempting or accepted to pursue narrow self-interest and personal ambition. Our local veterans remind us that there are few things that are more fundamentally American than doing what we can to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Tricia Dieringer has been doing just that for decades. And that’s why Tricia and other veterans like her will always represent the best our country has to offer.
Firefighter Wayde Smith was nominated for the Elgin Veteran of the Month by John Fahy, our city’s fire chief. Wayde puts principles before privilege, Chief Fahy said. And he always has. He did it as a sergeant in the United States Marines. And he does it on a day-to-day basis in our community. In his nomination, Chief Fahy said that Wayde, who served in Iraq, spearheaded an are initiative that directed homeless and at-risk veterans to a VA Community Outreach Clinic. Among other things, not too terribly long ago, after Elgin was struck by strong storm, Wayde, who was then off duty, came in on his own time and helped the fire department respond to the more than 200 calls that they had in just a 12-hour period of time. Chief Fahy wrote, “As a firefighter, a citizen and a veteran, Wayde Smith stands for what’s best in Elgin.”
The legacy of our local veterans is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. Wayde Smith exemplifies both. Like generations of veterans before him, he put his own future on hold to defend our freedom. We remain strengthened as a city by the courage imbued in military service. We remain heartened by its valor. And we continue to stand up for the ideals for which our veterans have lived and died.
We too often take for granted the things that most deserve our gratitude. Lowell Reiser has long been a constant in Elgin—a constant force for good. Lowell served in the United States Army during the Korean War. The ultimate measure of a person is not where he or she stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands in times of challenge and concern. Lowell Reiser stood up for his country during the Korean War. And he has stood up for Elgin in the more than six decades since. Lowell has helped seniors throughout the area, taking them to doctor, dental and physical therapy appointments, among other things. He visits homebound veterans. He helps out at the Elgin Soup Kitchen. He picks up clothes and furniture for Transitional Living Services, a center for veterans—especially younger veterans—having a tough time transitioning back to civilian life. Christmas is a special time in the Reiser household. Lowell and his wife make holiday treats for veterans in need. Lowell has helped organize many, many Veterans Day programs. He participates in funeral services for deceased veterans. He also works with local schools in coordinating and helping judge their Voice of Democracy Scholarship applications. And each year, he helps out on Memorial Day, placing American flags at the gravesites of deceased veterans at eight area cemeteries. Lowell is a member of the Elgin Model T Club. The club regularly visits older adult facilities and nursing homes. The seniors at those places love these visits, which remind them of old friends and younger days. For them, the vintage cars are much more than antiques; they are the facts of an earlier life.
When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.
Elgin has been blessed by its veterans; blessed by men and women like Lowell Reiser.
Lifelong resident Ernie Broadnax is the thread that connects Elgin’s history to the very best of what we have in our city today. Ernie’s great-great grandmother, Ann Bosley, was a runaway slave, an escaped slave, who came to Elgin in 1862.
Ernie spent more than a decade in the United States Marine Corps. And he continued serving long after his military career ended in 1966. He continues serving today, service that has carried him through the loss of friends, like Elgin City Councilman Bob Gilliam, and family members, like his younger brother Richard, also a Marine, who was killed in a car crash on Rt. 25 … service that has carried him through his ongoing battle with cancer. It’s a personal privilege to know Ernie Broadnax. And it’s a blessing to call him a friend.
If you talk to Ernie for any length of time, you’ll come to appreciate the scope and significance of his community service.
Ernie will tell you that people need to do more than belong … they need to participate.
They need to do more than care … they need to help.
They need to do more than believe … they need to contribute.
They need to do more than be fair … they need to be kind.
They need to do more than forgive … they need to forget.
They need to do more than dream … they need to deliver.
Ernie is a longtime member of New Hope Baptist Church, which was the first African-American church on Elgin’s west side. Ernie is a man of faith, a man of passion and principle, someone who believes that he has one life and one chance to make it count for something. It’s this daily devotion that pushes him to do whatever he can, wherever he can, whenever he can, and for as long as he can with whatever he has to try to make Elgin an even better place. Ernie is an Elgin Image Award winner, an Elgin Mayor’s Award winner and an Elgin Community College Lasting Impact Award winner. In a lifetime of firsts, he was the first African-American basketball player at Elgin Community College and the coordinator of the first Black History Trolley Car Tour of Elgin. Ernie spent a large part of his post-military career working as a recreation leader for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, an agency that named him Illinois Childcare Worker of the Year in the1990s.
Ernie has been in the news a great deal over the past month or so. It was his dream that inspired Grindstone Production’s new documentary film, “Project 2-3-1: Two Boxcars, Three Blocks, One City,” which traces the history of African Americans in Elgin. The film opened to rave reviews at Elgin Community College and the Gail Borden Public Library. Along with so many other things, the film will be part of Ernie’s everlasting legacy in Elgin. We would like to add the Elgin Veteran of the Month Award for March 2015 to that long, long list.
April 2015: Officer Eric Echevarria, United States Marine Corps, 1993-97
Elgin Police Officer Eric Echevarria, who was promoted to police sergeant just this year, 2015, is a representative of the American Dream, which, in the end, is neither a sprint nor a marathon. It’s a relay, with family members passing on the fruits of their labor to the next generation. When Sergeant Echevarria’s parents came to Elgin from Puerto Rico, they worked for minimum wage. Eric’s father started out as a janitor. His mother got a job at a fast food restaurant. They knew the value of hard work. And they knew the value of education.
Eric’s father became a supervisor for the Illinois Department of Human Services. His mother still teaches at School District U-46. Eric joined the United States Marines after graduating from Elgin High School. He’s proud of his military service. He’s proud of his country. He’s proud of his community. Eric has been with the Elgin Police Department since 1999. He was an Elgin ROPE Officer for nearly a decade, providing a residential police presence in otherwise challenged neighborhoods. Eric has received numerous awards throughout his career. He was the American Legion Police Officer of the Year in 2004. In 2009, he was the Community Crisis Center’s Partner in Peace recipient. He now writes a monthly column for Reflejos, having been named as a liaison between the Elgin Police Department and the bilingual newspaper. His column appears in both English and Spanish. Those columns, his columns, serve as another community connector between the police department and area residents.
Eric was nominated for Elgin Veteran of the Month by Elgin City Councilwoman Rose Martinez. The nomination was seconded by Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda, who said that “Sergeant Echevarria is always busy, always motivated to do what’s best for the community.” And so he is … As a country and community, we owe all our veterans, Eric included, a debt of gratitude we can never fully repay. Elgin Police Sergeant Eric Echevarria is our Elgin Veteran of the Month for April, 2015.
May 2015: Johnny Vargas, United States Army, 1951-53
The sound of music for Johnny Vargas has always been a salute to America. It is a tune that its citizens—regardless of race, gender or ethnicity—must sing together. Johnny Vargas has been playing the trumpet for more than seven decades, since starting high school. For many, many years, he played “Taps” at area cemeteries, including Bluff City Cemetery, where the City of Elgin holds its annual Memorial Day service. He has played “Taps” at local funerals for veterans. He has played “Taps” at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. D.C.
Johnny himself is a Korean War veteran, having spent eleven months in combat there. He served with the United States Army and was involved in five major engagements, including action at Bloody Ridge, which saw more than 17,000 casualties. Johnny was awarded a Purple Heart in Korea. His own heart has given much to Elgin. He and his wife Mary are active members of at least two community groups: ABODE—Admirers of Beautiful Old Dwellings of Elgin and NENA—the Northeast Neighborhood Association of Elgin. And, yes, he still plays the trumpet, appearing with Les Pace and the Pacemakers each month at the Elgin VFW. And he regularly volunteers to play at the Anne Kiley Center, which serves developmentally disabled adults, his son Robert among them.
Johnny also was part of the Elgin American Legion Color Guard. And he has long been a regular visitor at local elementary schools, speaking to young students about the importance of patriotism, which, to Johnny, is much more than a lesson in geography. Patriotism is the constant striving toward the principles and ideals on which this country was founded.
Johnny’s parents came from Mexico. He was one of eleven children. They grew up along Taylor Street in Chicago.
“We never got a second helping at the dinner table,” Johnny said. “We didn’t have much of anything, including food.”
He may not have had much growing up, but he has given a full measure of devotion to his country and community.
Johnny’s willingness to sacrifice for both has earned him our lasting gratitude.
He is personally aware of the amount of blood spilled, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of courageous men and women lost in battle so that we as citizens are able to live under an American umbrella of freedom. Johnny Vargas is our Elgin Veteran of the Month for May, 2015.