It was a glorious ending to a glorious week.
“A Field of Thanks” celebration coordinated by members of the St. James Episcopal congregation concluded its eight-day tribute to military veterans, community workers and volunteers on Sunday afternoon with the presentation of flags to 81 recipients on the front lawn of the East Main Street church.
Calling the event “a gathering of people sharing stories of hope, sacrifice and love,” the Rev. Bonnie Morris, rector, shared the significance of flags in society.
“Flags are symbols. Flags serve as many things. They may be a rallying call. They may be a reminder of an ideal. The may be a call to action,” she said. “Today and this week and throughout this entire project, flags have pointed to people. They pointed to service. They pointed to dedication.”
Morris said the flags – which were put up on the church grounds last Sunday for all to see – provided “an awesome way to come together in honor of this service.”
“We are a nation of many people and each people with many gifts, serving many people. The flags that we have gathered around us this week in ‘A Field of Thanks’ are the nation’s flags, along with the Navy flag, the flag of Canada and the flag of the United Kingdom,” she said.
“They all represent courage and commitment. They represent community and country, and a people’s dedication to service.”
The program included participation by employees of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office and City of Batavia Police Department, and solemn renditions of “Retreat” and “To The Colors” by Batavian Derek Reiss on the bugle. Captain Jim Ellison, Navy, Retired, of Le Roy, served as the master of ceremonies.
Undersheriff Brad Mazur read the list of the heroes’ names and sponsors while Genesee County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard members Sgt. Andrew Hale, Deputy Ken Quackenbush and Deputy Kyle Krezmien presented the flags and plaques to the honorees. Batavia Police Officer Sean Wilson also had a part in the pageantry.
Categories of heroes included groups and organizations, first responders, health care professionals and members of the armed forces.
Husband and wife Kevin and Diane Skelton, of Oakfield, sponsored flags for their late fathers, James L. Skelton and Kenneth R. Howard Sr., respectively.
Both served in World War II, with the latter receiving the Purple Heart.
“I just thought it was a great way to honor everyone who served the community,” Kevin said. “We thought it was very fitting to be able to honor our fathers who served in World War II. You forget about how these people served their country and even though they didn’t talk about it much during their lives, we understand the sacrifice that they made to serve their country.”
Diane agreed, adding that it was great to see recognition beyond the military.
“I think it’s great to not only honor the veterans but also the people that did things during the COVID pandemic and people who serve the general public – corrections officers and police officers. I just think it’s a fantastic idea,” she said.
Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, was selected by the committee to accept a flag and plaque on behalf of news media professionals.
“It is an honor to represent local media at this ceremony,” Owens said. “Many people in our community made contributions to help us all during the pandemic but locally and throughout the nation, local journalists worked extra hours under extra pressure to bring their friends and neighbors truthful accurate information at a time when political forces tried to spread misinformation.
“I think all of us are proud of the work we did and are grateful for the community's recognition of our work.”
Diane Cox, of Batavia, a registered nurse at the Genesee County Jail, was honored for her work during the coronavirus pandemic when the jail was on lockdown – no visitation, no chaplain and no legal services.
“As a nurse, you just do what you do; you don’t look for rewards,” she said. “It’s a passion; it’s what you do. I was honored to be recognized.”
Cox said that comforting inmates during COVID-19 “was a whole new level of nursing care.”
“They were anxious about their own family members on the outside, being exposed to COVID or having COVID, as well as bringing it into the jail where we were,” she offered. “We were able to contain our people, our staff, and we starting giving COVID testing outside of the county because we wanted to know.”
Since then, the jail staff has received equipment of its own to be able to test on site, she said.
Event coordinator Phyllis Draycott said the idea came to her more than a year and a half ago.
“I felt that people needed a little closeness,” she said. “Well, I thought that maybe COVID would be over in June and looked at Flag Day since it is less busy than any other holiday – well, it’s really not a national holiday. So, that was why we did that.”
“ 'A Field of Thanks' began on D-Day (June 6) and ended on Flag Day eve," she said “and now everybody can take their flags home and fly them at home (on Monday).”
Draycott credited her team of Dawn and Pete Mark for their professional touch, and choir director Dillon Hirsch, for leading attendees in patriotic songs last Sunday.
She presented a checks to WNY Heroes Inc., of Williamsville, and Meals on Wheels of Genesee County, the two agencies that benefited from the proceeds of the event.
Dawn Mark, instrumental in creating the plaques, said she counted it “a privilege" to meet so many people and find out about all their history.
“And I’d do it again in a minute,” she said. “I would suggest to anybody who wanted to do an event like this to go ahead and recognize your community.”
The list of honorees and their sponsors follows:
GROUPS AND ORGANIZATIONS
Genesee County Community Volunteers – Lilo and Wayne Townsend;
The “Phoebe Project” – Barb and Dave King;
Crossroads House – Jeff Allen;
Volunteers for Animals – Anonymous;
Eagle Star Housing – Rich Geitner and Jen Wood;
Office for the Aging – Dawn Mark;
Batavia USPS Workers – Jackie Swinarski;
All Educators – Deacon Diana Leiker;
News Media Professionals – Dawn Mark;
Le Roy Moose Lodge Veterans – Le Roy Moose Lodge 1132.
All Veterans and First Responders – Bill Hayes, Turnbull Heating & Air;
Genesee County Firefighters – Anonymous;
Robert S. Barnes – Margaret Barnes;
Genesee County Law Enforcement – Optimum Realty;
Brian M. Frieday – Rose and Steve Rumery;
Kevin Forsyth – Pat Forsyth;
Matthew C. Fleming – Cal and Joanne Fleming;
All Corrections Officers – Optimum Realty;
Michael D. Kasprzyk – Terri Norton;
Jason R. Queal – Carol and Dick Queal.
PUBLIC IN MEMORIUM
Gary V. McWethy – Sharon McWethy;
David J. Saleh – Batavia Lions Club and Lion Liz Saleh;
Claire Sloat – Todd Sloat, Sloat Tire Shop.
Donna Becker – Deb and Mike Barone;
Bonnie Morris – Anonymous;
Paul Piscatelli – Anonymous;
Leigh Skelton – Anonymous;
Kristen Temple – Kathy and Larry Belluscio.
HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS
Danielle Schollard – Kathy and Larry Belluscio;
Cheryl Sczepanski – Shirley Kriger;
Spencer C. Swartz – Janice and David Swartz;
Tina Rosone – Carol and Dick Queal;
Diane S. Cox – Harold Odell;
Christopher Foote – William Coughlin;
Cathy Bunce – William Coughlin;
U of R Center for Vaccine Research – William Coughlin;
United Memorial Medical Center Staff – Barb and Bill Pearce.
Navy Veterans – Chip and Terry McGuire.
WORLD WAR I
Donald E. Delbridge – Pete Mark.
WORLD WAR II
Kenneth R. Howard Sr. – Diane and Kevin Skelton;
James L. Skelton – Diane and Kevin Skelton;
William J. Hall Sr. – William J. Hall Jr.;
Harry Simmons – Joan and Jim Ellison;
Anthony J. Gugino – Joan and Jim Ellison;
Carl T. Todd Sr. – Mariellen Blossom;
Cora E. Houck Todd – Mariellen Blossom;
Charles T. Fox – Marilyn and David Lange;
Herman Fustino – Wendy and Bruce Fustino;
Henry Schoelles – Wendy and Bruce Fustino;
Loren F. Balduf – Donna Stiles and Family;
Chester H. Watson – Elaine and Steve Watson;
Lyle G. Mark – Pete Mark;
Gerald M. Rock – Corinne Malmberg;
Benjamin S. Giambrone – Ben’s Appliance & Kitchens;
Norman K. Lange – Marilyn and David Lange;
William Renz Sr. – William Renz Jr.;
Eldon Blowers – Nathan Blowers;
Walter N. McAlister Sr. – Carolyn and Ken Draycott;
R.W. Janet Kingdon – Mariellen Blossom (Order of the Eastern Star);
W. Evelyn Edwards Krause – Mariellen Blossom;
M.W. Harry L. Tyson – Mariellen Blossom;
R.W. Donald Keys – Mariellen Blossom.
Sam Norris – Sue and Corky Best;
Kenneth Draycott – Jane Draycott;
The Hammond Family – Anonymous.
John Mack – Jeff Wuest;
Louis M. Scoville – Maureen Scoville;
Dan Ford – Shirley Ford;
Charles Graney – Tim and Bonnie Morris;
Terry J. Garigen – Jeff Wuest;
John R. Ellison – Joan and Jim Ellison;
Gary Hammond – Anonymous;
Glenn Hammond – Gary Hammond;
Kenneth C. Gray – St. James Episcopal Church.
Dan S. Clor – Steve Foster and The Red Osier Landmark Restaurant;
Jason E. Hammond – Gary Hammond;
Daniel R. Criswell – Josephine Paananen;
Michael Machniak – Gary Davis;
Sean T. Callahan – Kent Ewell and O’Lacy’s Irish Pub.
David R. Barnes – Margaret Barnes;
Christopher C. Meyers – Barbara Meyer.
Photos at top: A large crowd turned out Sunday for the closing ceremony of "A Field of Thanks" at St. James Episcopal Church (seated in red shirt is Phyllis Draycott, event coordinator); Genesee County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard officiating the presentation of the flags. Photos at bottom: Diane and Kevin Skelton, of Oakfield; The Rev. Bonnie Morris, rector; Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, with Sheriff's Sgt. Andrew Hale; Plaque that was presented to News Media Professionals; Draycott presenting check to John Wolf and Diana Fox, representing Meals on Wheels of Genesee County. Photos by Mike Pettinella.