Promoting the good in the community
By Melanie Rossi
WHITING – The Hometown Heroes Program — launched by the city of Stevens Point and the Berens-Scribner American Legion Post 6 — allows families, businesses and sponsors to purchase banners that commemorate past and present members of the United States Armed Forces.
Each banner will have a photo of the veteran along with their name, unit, rank and a marker of who purchased the banner.
The program is only in its first year — with the banners going up this Memorial Day — but program organizer Barabara McCloy was surprised that Stevens Point, Plover and Whiting hadn’t been doing it for longer.
“One of the guys brought the idea into our American Legion meeting one month and said, ‘why aren’t we doing this here?’… I said, ‘I’ll investigate it, and I’ll run with it.’ After doing the homework, it just kind of grew,” McCloy said.
McCloy, herself a 23-year veteran of the Navy who retired in April of 2022, had seen similar banners in other small towns while still active and was interested by the idea.
“In the last couple years in service I had done a lot of funeral honors in Wisconsin, and I went through a lot of small towns that had these banners hanging everywhere,” she said. “So when he brought it up, I was kind of surprised that we didn’t have it.”
By spearheading this project and hanging tribute banners, McCloy and the American Legion hope to do one main thing: to honor by remembering.
“There’s so much that goes on nowadays in politics and on TV, and we keep forgetting how we got here, how we got the freedoms that we have everyday and what allows us to walk on the streets — compared with the restrictions that a lot of other countries have,” McCloy said. “We fought for a lot of the freedoms that we have, and the only way that we got there was blood, sweat and tears.
“By hanging these banners in town, I hope that it starts the conversation with younger kids. . . Families can talk about it and bring out some pride in our country that I sometimes think that we’re missing.”
The banners are for all members of the United States Armed Forces, including those who are still actively serving.
“I know that there are a lot of veterans in this area,” McCloy added. “[The banners] are for everybody; it’s not just for those that have passed. I’ve got some really cool pictures of people that are still active or just recently got out.”
While running the program and preparing the banners, McCloy has been able to hear the impactful stories of veterans from the area — stories that prove the importance of remembrance.
“There are so many stories,” McCloy said. “One man had me in tears; his father committed suicide, and it really meant a lot for him to hang a banner for his father. Some families aren’t exactly supportive, so it’s everything we can do to get these people involved and have their family members up there. . . It’s about that individual who’s sponsoring the banner; it’s their memory of their loved one, so whatever we have to do — it doesn’t have to be in uniform — to recognize their family member, I want to make that happen for them.”
This attention to the family members’ desires is certainly paying dividends; 62 banners were purchased before the cut-off deadline.
After more people continued to show interest, the deadline was extended, with the new total now at around 65 banners.
Despite the program’s success so far, it has not been achieved without difficulty, especially in trying to spread the word.
“This year was really hard for me because it was a lot of word-of-mouth,” McCloy explained. “I’ve never done anything like this before, so I never realized how expensive it is for advertising. I’m not a public speaker, so this has been kind of a learning curve for me, trying to figure out how to get the word out. This year has been a lot of word-of-mouth; hopefully next year we can do more as area businesses jump in and start giving donations. We really want to see the village of Whiting grow, and that is my goal for next year: communication.”
As far as the future of the program goes, McCloy said that she hopes to keep it around for as long as possible, and to do this, she hopes to grow the program more in Plover and Whiting.
For now, Stevens Point will decorate its streets with 45 banners, while Plover has 22; however, everybody who’s flying their banner this year will also fly them next year, as well.
“A lot of communities charge an additional fee to hang the banners for another year,” McCloy said. “Next year I want to have the people who were a part of the inaugural year fly again for free, just so we can pack a bigger punch. Hopefully if we get 40 or 50 more next year on top of the 60 we already have this year, I think that will look really cool, and more people may want to get involved.”
To help spread the word for future years, share more about the Hometown Heroes program and dedicate this years’ banners, McCloy will be speaking at the Stevens Point Memorial Day Ceremony at the Pfiffner Pioneer Park bandshell on Monday, May 29.
Whiting Community Banners
With the area-wide Hometown Heroes Program also extending into Whiting, the village, along with honoring their veterans, is reviving their Community Banners.
By doing so, they aim to promote what’s good about Whiting.
Leading the project are Whiting Village Trustees John Koutre and Karen Curtis, who gained inspiration from the Hometown Heroes program to create these new banners.
Koutre said, “When we got talking at the Whiting Village Board to participate in the Hometown Heroes program, we all said yes because it’s a wonderful community program for Stevens Point, Whiting and Plover.
“We also sat there and said, ‘We’re just a small village; we have 1,601 residents according to the latest census.’ We may not have that many veterans participating — because we’re small — but we don’t want those banners to appear ‘lonely’ on our light posts,” Koutre added.
To prevent this “loneliness,” Koutre said, “we decided at that same moment to revive a program that Whiting had 10 years ago: community banners. They were colorful banners suspended from village lightposts on the main streets.”
“So we thought that we ought to get new community banners for Whiting because we are very proud of what our little community has to offer. So that’s how it came about; it grew from saying thumbs up to Hometown Heroes banners and also saying, ‘we want to get out community banners back.’”
The goal of the community banners is to share and promote what makes people proud to be residents of Whiting.
In order to find out what those values are, Koutre and Curtis relied on one main technique: research.
“I’m a retired advertising and public relations person,” Koutre explained. “And in advertising and public relations, research is very important.”
Koutre and Curtis wanted the banners to be meaningful and unique, “especially if we were going to pay as a village to have the banners made and put up by our own public works people,” Koutre said. “We want to make sure they have a message that promotes what was good about Whiting.”
“So [Curtis] and I did a research project in which we talked to Whiting residents of all different ages and in all different parts of Whiting.”
The responses from the Whiting residents informed the messages to be displayed on each banner. There are six different messages, but there will be a total of 30 banners; each message will be printed on five banners.
One of the Whiting values that they discovered in their research was the value of neighborliness.
“The folks that we talked to said, ‘we know our neighbors.’ It’s a small community, so we found that the value of neighborliness was one to have on a banner. The banner wound up saying, ‘1,601 Good Neighbors,’ with a village of Whiting logo.”
Their research also revealed that convenience was another attribute valued by Whiting residents, with the closeness of the hospital, shopping and good schools, despite being a mostly residential community.
The banner for convenience reads, “Close to Everything You Want.”
With another banner highlighting Whiting’s natural trails, Koutre emphasized that these banners have the goal of being “assertively promotional,” using the residents’ own thoughts about the village, rather than strictly decorative.
The banners are currently in production, and Koutre said that they hope to be out at some point in May.
Promoting what’s good about Whiting and honoring local veterans, Whiting’s community banners share the values of the village.