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Honoring our Local Veterans

As a veteran-owned company that hires veterans, we believe in recognizing and showing appreciation for the sacrifices veterans have made for our great country.

This is why we have started a monthly recognition program called Hometown Heroes to honor veterans throughout Southwest and West Michigan. We encourage you to nominate a veteran you know to be recognized online and in the media as our Hometown Hero of the Month. 

Nominate a veteran today!

Honoring our Local Veterans

As a veteran-owned company that hires veterans, we believe in recognizing and showing appreciation for the sacrifices veterans have made for our great country.

This is why we have started a monthly recognition program called Hometown Heroes to honor veterans throughout Southwest Michigan. We encourage you to nominate a veteran you know to be recognized online and in the media as our Hometown Hero of the Month. 

Veterans, are you looking for an opportunity to receive information about VA news, local events and resources, discounts, employment opportunities, and more? 

Sign up to receive texts from Veterans in Berrien Engage (VIBE) here: http://berriencounty.org/VIBE

June 2024 Hometown Hero

Aleks Plisow, St. Joseph, MI

We are proud to announce our June 2024 Hometown Hero is Aleks Plisow of St. Joseph! Aleks’ journey from a four-year-old girl fleeing communist Poland to a decorated U.S. Marine and community hero is a testament to resilience, courage, and dedication. Born amidst the political turmoil of Poland, her early years were marked by her father’s involvement in the Solidarnosc Movement. He bravely printed underground newspapers, exposing the government’s misdeeds, a dangerous endeavor that led to his arrest. Her mother, fearing for her family’s safety, sought political asylum in the United States, ultimately bringing them to Union Pier, Michigan.

Growing up in Southwest Michigan, Aleks was shaped by the values of freedom and perseverance. These values were a driving force when, at seventeen, she enlisted in the Marine Corps, seeking a path to higher education and a way to give back to her adopted country. Her five-year service from 1998 to 2003 took her from the rigorous training grounds of Paris Island, South Carolina, to the far reaches of Okinawa, Japan.

As a Marine, Aleks excelled in every role she undertook. She became an expert marksman, earning letters of appreciation and a Good Conduct Medal. Her initial reluctance to become a mechanic was overridden by the needs of the Corps, and she soon found herself working on Humvees, five-ton trucks, and LVSs. Her skills and determination quickly set her apart in a predominantly male field, earning her the respect of her peers.

Her time in Okinawa was particularly memorable, as she met the Commandant of the Marine Corps there during his visit and even got her picture in the local paper with him (pictured below). She immersed herself in the local culture, learning Japanese and forming lasting friendships. Most of all, she remembers the camaraderie and unique experiences, such as turning their barracks hallways into makeshift slip and slides during typhoons!

Transitioning back to civilian life was challenging. The structure and discipline of military life were replaced by the freedom and uncertainty of civilian decisions. Despite these challenges, Aleks pursued higher education and eventually found her calling as a Veteran’s Career Advisor for the State of Michigan. In this role, she helps veterans overcome barriers to employment, providing them with the resources and support they need to reintegrate into civilian life successfully.

Aleks’s commitment to her community extends beyond her professional life. Her dedication to service is a family trait. Her son, Dillan Plisow, inspired by his mother’s journey, is now serving in the Air Force as an Aircraft Hydraulics Mechanic, while her father, Robert Plisow, served in the Polish Air Force.

Aleks’s advice to fellow veterans is to “Seek the benefits you’ve earned. Many veterans are unaware of their eligibility or feel undeserving. Find out what you’re eligible for and use the resources you’ve earned that are available to you.”

Aleks Plisow’s story is one of unwavering service, both to her country and her community. From her early beginnings in the turbulent country of Poland to the peaceful neighborhoods of Michigan, she has exemplified the spirit of a true hometown hero, inspiring all who have the privilege to know her. 



May 2024 Hometown Hero

Dennis Milnickel, Stevensville, MI

We are proud to honor our May 2024 Hometown Hero, Dennis Milnickel of Stevensville, whose genuine spirit of service has touched the lives of many in our community. Dennis’s journey from the Navy and back to Southwest Michigan reflects his mission to make the world a better place. Let’s celebrate the everyday heroism of a man who served our country and continues to follow the path of altruism in his community.

Dennis’s journey began while in high school, when he made the bold decision to enlist in the Navy, seeking adventure and purpose beyond the borders of his hometown of Coloma, MI.  Dennis elaborated, “I wanted to get out of my small town and do something with my life, and the Navy provided me with the means to explore the world. ”  

Through the haze of uncertainty, Dennis found himself at the helm of a boiler technician’s role, a position demanding resilience and dedication. Dennis served on various seacrafts, from the USS Nimitz CVN 68, the largest ship in the Navy to the smallest ship, the USS Fanning FF1076. Fortunately, he got his wish to travel the world throughout his 5 ½ years of service. From the Pacific to the Maldives Islands and from Italy to Hong Kong, Dennis navigated the complexities of his duty as a boiler tech with unwavering resolve, earning accolades for his bravery and quick thinking in the face of adversity.

Among his proudest moments were the incidents that showcased his unwavering commitment to his comrades. Whether it was reigniting the fires of a malfunctioning boiler amidst the tumultuous waves or repairing critical systems in the sweltering heat of the Indian Ocean, Dennis emerged as a hero in the eyes of his fellow sailors and superiors alike. As a result, Dennis received two letters of recommendation and was meritoriously advanced and promoted to petty officer, bypassing the usual round of testing needed to acquire such a position.

After five and a half years of service with multiple accolades, Dennis returned to the embrace of his hometown of Coloma. With a heart brimming with empathy and a need to continue to serve others, he embraced the role of a guardian angel to his community, extending a helping hand to those in need without hesitation or expectation of reward.

From doing yard work for elderly neighbors to volunteering at local food pantries, Dennis embodied the true essence of service, driven by an innate desire to spread kindness and uplift those around him. As he told us, “There is too much ugly in the world not to be kind,” a mantra that guides his every action and interaction daily.

In the quiet moments between his acts of generosity, Dennis found solace in the simple pleasures of life, combing the shores of Lake Michigan for unique rocks and sea glass with Lisa Crumel, his girlfriend who nominated him for this honor of Hometown Hero. Yet, amidst the serenity of his beach walks and grilling feasts for his neighbors, his spirit has remained ever vigilant, ready to answer the call of those in need whenever possible.

Dennis looks for opportunities to share kindness with his community every day, a testament to his enduring power of compassion and goodwill. To his fellow veterans grappling with the challenges of returning home, he offered words of wisdom forged in the crucible of his own experiences: “You can’t fix the world, but if you do your part, maybe someone else will see that and do their part to pay it forward. I believe that if you spend your time doing good, it will come back to you.”

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April 2024 Hometown Hero

Richard Matthews, Eau Claire, MI

Richard Matthews, a resident of Eau Claire, Michigan, is our April 2024 Hometown Hero. With unwavering dedication and service, Richard served in both the United States Marine Corps and the Army National Guard. His remarkable journey spans four years in the Marines, achieving the rank of Sergeant, followed by an illustrious 34-year career in the Army National Guard.

Raised on an Iowa farm, Richard’s determination to pursue a different path led him to enlist halfway through his senior year in high school. Fascinated by the promise of specialized training, he joined the Marines through a delayed entry program thanks to an encounter with a Marine recruiter at a high school job fair.

Richard began his military career as a cook with aspirations to serve high-ranking officials. After completing boot camp in San Diego, he rose swiftly through the ranks, reaching Corporal during his 13-month stint in Okinawa. 

Richard’s dedication to improving the lives of others earned him the Bronze Star Medal and left an indelible mark on those he served alongside. Richard earned a Bronze Star as the Command Sergeant Major of the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command for Kabul Province in Afghanistan from December 2008 to July 2009. During this time, he was responsible for the NCO development of the Afghan National Security Forces in the Kabu province, which included over six thousand uniformed patrolmen within thirty police districts. Additionally, he was responsible for the NCO development of the Afghan National Army of over four thousand soldiers. Under Richard’s leadership, his teams distributed essential food, clothes, and hygiene items to over 18,000 Afghan people in various provinces.

Among his proudest accomplishments was overseeing humanitarian efforts and spearheading the construction of schools for local communities. Notably, he played a pivotal role in constructing new schools and clinics in Kabul, successfully opening 8 elementary schools and two medical clinics, which brought much-needed relief to the Afghan people. 

When Richard arrived back in the States, he served as a cook at a Women Marines Mess Hall in Paris Island, South Carolina, he met his wife, Laurie, whom he married three months later in 1976. Following their deployments, Richard and Laurie considered reenlisting. Instead, they moved to Chicagoland, where he worked as a hospital cook and joined the Army National Guard, marking the start of a distinguished 34-year career.

Initially envisioning a 20-year career in the National Guard, Richard’s affinity for camaraderie and dedication to service kept him engaged for over three decades. During his tenure, he cherished his role as a Senior Command Sergeant Major, where Richard played a pivotal role in shaping training schedules and providing guidance to soldiers. Working from the Reserve Center in Rockford, IL, he oversaw weekend drills, leading training sessions and identifying areas for improvement within his team. He emphasized mentorship, embodying the principles of a servant leader, and worked closely to ensure the well-being and development of his unit. Recognizing the significance of mentorship, Richard prioritized nurturing not only soldiers but also young officers, guiding them on effective leadership and soldier treatment.

Reflecting on his military service, Richard cherishes the bonds forged amidst adversity, emphasizing the importance of camaraderie in overcoming challenges. Whether mentoring soldiers or fostering teamwork, his leadership style epitomizes the ethos of a servant leader, prioritizing the well-being and development of his subordinates.

For Richard, the essence of service lies in maintaining connections and offering support to fellow veterans facing challenges upon returning home. His advice to other veterans is to “Stay in communication with as many of the guys and gals that you served with as possible so you have someone you can call and talk shop with…Call them when you are starting to feel uneasiness so you can calm your nerves.”

As April’s Hometown Hero, Richard Matthews exemplifies the resilience, leadership, and selflessness ingrained in those who have served. His enduring legacy serves as a beacon of inspiration, illuminating the path of service and camaraderie for generations to come. Thank you for your service and dedication, Richard!

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March 2024 Hometown Hero

Demonte Clark, Benton Harbor

March’s Hometown Hero, Demonte Clark, hailing from Benton Harbor, epitomizes the spirit of service and community dedication. As an Air Force Staff Sergeant, Demonte served nine years from 2005 to 2014, leaving an impressive legacy of achievements and contributions.

A strong family tradition of service influenced Demonte’s journey into the military. With his father and many relatives serving in the Army, he sought a path distinct from his father’s and initially considered the Marines. However, a chance encounter with an Air Force recruiter steered him towards the Air Force, a decision he never regretted. Demonte began his journey in the Air Force at basic training in San Antonio, TX, which Demonte enjoyed due to his strong physical prowess as a former high school athlete telling us, “I enjoyed the structure and the challenges it (basic training) offered.”

Throughout his service, Demonte achieved notable accomplishments. From winning a drill instructor competition during tech school to earning the title of Airman of the Year in the Netherlands, his dedication to excellence shone brightly. His varied postings, from Wyoming to the Netherlands and Montana to New Jersey, provided diverse experiences, from nuclear security to being a patrolman.

Reflecting on his time in the military, Demonte cherishes the camaraderie and interacting with those he served alongside and the general public, especially during his tenure as a patrolman in New Jersey.

Demonte elaborates, “I liked being a patrolman because it was more hands-on with the community versus dealing with nuclear security out in the middle of nowhere protecting something you can’t see.”

An unfortunate car accident in the Netherlands led to a medical retirement in 2014, transitioning him back to civilian life. Returning home presented its challenges, with the pace of civilian life feeling uneventful compared to the day-to-day action of being in the military. Demonte found purpose and fulfillment in giving back to his community, becoming involved in organizations like Ruff Ryders, dedicated to community service and outreach in his hometown of Benton Harbor. Whether helping to coordinate events like National Night Out in Benton Harbor or organizing fundraisers, Demonte remains deeply committed to making a positive impact in Benton Harbor.

For Demonte, community service is not just a duty but a calling. He finds joy and fulfillment in helping others. In particular, he loves giving back to the local youth, whether he’s helping to provide them with backpacks and school supplies or donating funds and companionship to go Christmas shopping as part of Present Pillars’ “Shop with a Pillar.”

His advice to struggling veterans is to seek support and stay engaged in positive activities, echoing his own journey of resilience and service.

Demonte Clark’s story exemplifies the resilience, dedication, and community spirit of our Hometown Heroes. As we honor him this March, let us remember the profound impact individuals like Demonte have in shaping our communities for the better. Thank you for your service and continued dedication, Demonte!

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February 2024 Hometown Hero

Mike Parker, South Haven

This February we’re proud to announce our Hometown Hero is Mike Parker of South Haven. Mike is a Vietnam veteran whose commitment to his country and his community exemplifies the spirit of what it truly means to be a Hometown Hero.

Following in the footsteps of his Navy veteran father, Mike served in the United States Navy as a Seabee (Naval Construction Battalion) with combat training as an 81 mm gunner. His dedication to duty led him to Vietnam, where he spent 10 months there as part of the Naval Construction Battalion. Despite facing uncertainties and unexpectedly having to go into combat instead of construction upon his arrival to Vietnam, Mike’s proudest accomplishment was returning alive. His deployment, cut short by a transfer to the Antarctic, presented unique challenges, including designing an air plenum system for a heating plant sinking into the ice. Mike’s experiences showcase not only his dedication to serving our country but also his adaptability and resourcefulness in challenging situations.

Returning home was not without its challenges. Veterans faced a less-than-welcoming environment, and Mike vividly recalls the societal unrest during that period. Despite the difficulties, he embarked on a journey of education and self-discovery while attending Ferris State University and the University of Michigan. While he initially set out to become an architect, Mike found he didn’t like sitting still for long periods, which led him to pursue a career where he could actively helping others. He ultimately found fulfillment as a Michigan State Trooper for nearly 24 years. His passion for helping people and solving problems shaped a career that he loved.

Beyond his law enforcement career, Mike’s commitment to serving the community extended to operating and maintaining a riding and boarding stable for horses, which involved providing riding lessons for disabled people at the Cheerio Riding Center. His commitment to giving back, deeply rooted in Christian values, also led him to teach TSA around the country after he retired from the Michigan State Police. In addition to his love of educating others, Mike served on a County Mental Health Board in Paw Paw, a cause that was near and dear to his heart.

Mike’s advice for veterans facing challenges after returning home is simple yet profound—stay busy. Engaging in positive activities, such as training dogs for obedience or participating in summer camps for kids, helped Mike find purpose and stay connected to the community. His emphasis on positive addictions and being helpful reflects a resilient spirit that continues to inspire and make a difference in the lives of others.

As we honor Mike Parker this February, let us remember and celebrate the sacrifices made by veterans like Mike, whose unwavering commitment leaves a lasting impact on our community and our hearts. Thank you for your service, Mike!


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January 2024 Hometown Hero

Rosetta Valentine, Benton Harbor

We are proud to announce our Hometown Hero this January is, Rosetta Valentine from Benton Harbor —an Army veteran who not only served her country for 13 years but continues to serve her community with unwavering commitment. Nominated by her friend Delia Chandler, Rosetta stands out for her continuous volunteer efforts to uplift and support those in need within her community.

Rosetta served in the US Army from 1977 – 1991. Rosetta’s story of service began when she enlisted on a deferred plan at the young age of 17, with intentions of joining the Army after her 18th birthday. Eager to explore the world beyond her hometown of Benton Harbor, just one week after her 18th birthday, Rosetta chose the Army as her path to adventure. Her primary role while serving was patient administrative specialist, which involved crucial responsibilities such as managing hospital paperwork, handling birth and death certificates, and overseeing medical discharges.

Despite spending most of her active duty time in the field during wartime conflicts. Rosetta specifically remembers her time in Honduras when the US Army was trying to depose the de facto ruler of Panama, General Manual Noriega. Another memory that stands out to Rosetta was meeting Queen Elizabeth during a trip to England. She particularly enjoyed traveling around Europe, as she served all over the continent as a hospital administrator, spending a significant amount of time livnig in Germany with her young daughter.

Among her proudest moments was winning Soldier of the Month within her platoon during her time of service. Yet, amidst the accolades, one of the most memorable and challenging experiences was being deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield. Rosetta’s dedication and responsibilities included helping manage death certificates—a responsibility that weighed heavily on her, especially while she was simultaneously worried about her 3-year-old daughter who had to be sent back to the States during that time.

Reflecting on her time in the military, Rosetta said one of the most important lessons she learned was, “Be true to your word. That’s all that we have is our word. When we break our word, we have broken a bond.”

Returning to Benton Harbor after 13 years of service brought a different set of challenges for Rosetta. The once-familiar town had changed, and adapting to civilian life was not easy. Despite the challenges, she found purpose working at Lakeland Hospital and later transitioned into construction, ultimately retiring in 2018 to care for her father during his final days.

Post-retirement, Rosetta has continued her commitment to service by becoming a home healthcare worker. Her involvement in the community is extensive, from volunteering at United Way Whirlpool Appliance Sales to volunteering at food banks and serving meals at her local men’s shelter. Every year, she also volunteers at Wonderland Toy Store’s Christmas toy drive to make sure children in our area wake up to gifts on Christmas morning.

Rosetta also often makes meals for families in need, after trying times like the death of a loved one or for anyone who she hears about that could use a little help. When we asked Rosetta what motivates her to give so much of her time to volunteering, she said, “It’s a gift from God that I am able to this for others, and I am more blessed because I give. It’s better to give than to receive, and I live my life by that.”

Rosetta’s journey took an unexpected turn when she faced cancer—first ovarian cancer in 2009 and, more recently, Triple Negative Breast Cancer in 2022. With resilience and faith, she overcame both challenges, undergoing treatments and surgeries while maintaining her spirit of volunteerism. Her dedication was evident when, just weeks after a double mastectomy, she was back in the community, volunteering at a Trunk-or-Treat event for the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor.

For veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life, Rosetta’s advice is simple yet profound: Seek help, talk to someone you trust, and connect with other veterans who understand your journey. Her own experiences and resilience serve as a beacon of hope for those facing adversity.

Rosetta Valentine’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of service, resilience, and a compassionate heart. As BOSS Services celebrates her as the Hometown Hero of the Month, the community acknowledges and appreciates Rosetta’s continued dedication to making a positive impact on the lives of others.


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December 2023 Hometown Hero

Dan Mills, St. Joseph, MI

We are excited to spotlight our December Hometown Hero, Army Sergeant Dan Mills of St. Joseph. Dan served in the military for 17 years and in that time he was stationed domestically in Detroit to secure the bridge after 9/11, served two tours of Iraq, and one in Afghanistan.

Dan comes from a proud military family. His father, grandfather, and brothers also served in the Army. In fact, during his first deployment, Dan, his father, and two brothers found themselves all stationed in Iraq at the same time.

His proudest accomplishments during his service were the strong bonds he made with his fellow soldiers, “The camaraderie and friendships I developed while serving in the Army are the thing I remember most,” he says. “A lot of the people I served with I now consider brothers.”

During his time in Afghanistan he reflected on how they were able to help the people there discover democracy. “We were able to give the people a chance to be free-thinking like we are allowed to be in the U.S.”

While on his tours in Iraq, his unit was able to ensure the safety of military and civilian traffic by patrolling roads and securing routes to make sure insurgent groups were not planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on the roads.

When Dan returned home he was overwhelmed with the support he received. “There is a rush of emotions when you come home and realize that some didn’t return from serving,” he says. “It was very emotional.”

When Dan, a father of nine, returned to civilian life, he had to spend some time readjusting to daily family life.

“I spent time at home trying to get reacclimated to the chaos of having nine children,” he laughed. “I wanted to get back home and help with the things my wife has taken care of by herself, and spend a lot of time in the bleachers getting caught up watching my kids’ games.”

“Sgt. Daniel Mills is my husband of 19 years and my hero!” says his wife Nicole. “We have been truly blessed by God that he has returned safely each tour.”

Mills also emphasized the importance of being able to get help and resources from the VA. “I struggled when I came home,” he says, “I was able to talk to someone and get help. Veterans should not be afraid to get help and I want to encourage all veterans to use the resources the VA has.”

Mills describes his time in the Army as an adventure and a commitment, “Serving our country is the ultimate form of giving back because you are doing your part to keep our home, and the world safe.”

Thank you for your service Dan!


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November 2023 Hometown Hero

Diandre Hureskin, Benton Harbor, MI

We are excited to spotlight our November Hometown Hero, Marine Lance Corporal Diandre Hureskin of Benton Harbor. Diandre’s path to the Marines was initially sparked by his cousin Demetrius, who was a recruiter, but when he caught sight of the Marine’s dress blue uniform and knew he wanted to be in the Corps.

When he left he was nervous, and a bit scared. “I was a homebody,” Diandre admits. “In the Marines, you see and experience things you’ve never encountered before, and I was unsure and a bit afraid of what lay ahead.”

Among his proudest moments were earning his EGA (Eagle, Globe, and Anchor) and conquering the grueling 54-hour Crucible, a test every Marine recruit must endure before earning the title of “Marine.” The Crucible tests potential Marines physical stamina, mental toughness, and the ability to think critically while under multiple levels of stress including hunger, sleep deprivation, and physical exhaustion. Diandre remembers holding the golden EGA in his hand and how it marked a moment of self-discovery and enabled him to tap into a perseverance and drive he didn’t know he had.

Stationed at Parris Island in South Carolina, the same iconic location where “Full Metal Jacket” was filmed, Diandre received the National Defense Service Medal for his service during the critical period of 9/11 protecting our domestic military sites against terrorism.

“I was assigned to tour the states and provide defense to our military bases, which were on RED/HIGH Alert during that time, ” remembers Diandre. “It wasn’t easy. I am a people person, but I would have to hold people at gunpoint until they were able to identify themselves as not being terrorists, or a part of terrorist organizations looking to harm our troops and dismantle our bases state-side.”

Returning to Benton Harbor after his tour, Diandre faced the challenge of finding his post-military path. He earned a degree in Internet Marketing from Full Sail University and eventually became a case manager at MI Works, helping individuals overcome barriers to employment, a mission that is deeply meaningful to him.

Diandre’s passion for the community also shines through his photography and videography business, ‘REASONz to Share.’ He is often found capturing memories of graduations, parades, community events, and special moments, ensuring families have access to high-quality images and videos to cherish forever.

“My community of Benton Harbor doesn’t always have the resources for professional photos and edited videos of special moments or events,” explains Diandre. “Everyone has milestones and their own reasons to share, and I’m here to capture those proudest moments.”

Diandre’s commitment to giving back reflects his roots, and he strives to inspire, offer hope, and sow seeds of motivation wherever he goes. He firmly believes that when we uplift others, our own spirits soar. Thank you for your service Diandre!

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October 2023 Hometown Hero

Larry Smith, Bridgman, MI

We are excited to spotlight our October Hometown Hero, Larry Smith of Bridgman! Larry’s service to our country began in 1982 when he was 21-years-old and trying to find out a way to pay for electronics school. A family member suggested he talk with the local Naval recruiting office about their technical training program for enlistees. The Navy gave him a series of tests to see what he would be a skilled fit for when one officer suggested they give Larry the ‘nuke test’. His performance on that test led to the beginning of his journey as a nuclear reactor operator on the USS Batfish SSN681. 

The USS Batfish was a nuclear-powered attack submarine in the United States Navy. Her primary missions were anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, and screening carrier battle groups. Larry served in the Navy and for nine years he was either in training on dry land or running a nuclear reactor somewhere below sea level in the Batfish during the Gulf War. 

“I was in the sub for about six years. We trained and ran drills every day because we always had to be ready. There were 120 men and 20 officers in that small space,” says Larry. “You get close and become a big family, you pick on each other like brothers, you support each other, and go through joy and loss with each other when news comes from home. You are all going through the same things, day in and day out, together.” 

During Larry’s time in the Navy, he was able to achieve the rank of ET1(SS) Electronic Technician 1st Class and would sometimes sleep hugging a Mark 48 torpedo because space was so confined. His crew’s constant drills paid off one evening when a fire broke out in the submarine. Because of their constant training, they were able to put it out quickly. 

When Larry left the Navy he went to work at DC Cook Nuclear Plant. With his background and training, it was a good fit, but he had to learn how to occupy all the new free time he had. 

There is always something to do in the Navy. I had no idea what this overtime thing was,” Larry laughs. “It was tough to wrap my head around not being on call all the time. And getting paid more when you work over 40 hours.” 

He filled his time working as much as he could to provide for his family, learning woodworking, and spending time with his children. 

“I can remember him working long hours at work, then coming home and helping around the house before going to bed. He always told my sister, brother, and I that it’s better to work for something, rather than have it handed to you. He’s also said mistakes were okay because you could always learn from them. He’s always tried to instill a good set of morals and values in his kids and now he passes these lessons on to his grandkids,” says his daughter Shannah. 

Larry’s daughter says he is always giving back and doing whatever he can to help people. Whether helping mend fences, building ramps for seniors, or making sure foster kids and people who are alone have Christmas presents, Larry counts every blessing he has. 

“When I was a child I hated Christmas. We didn’t have money for presents and I would go to school and listen to kids talk about what they got. Now, I give to kids so they don’t wake up on Christmas without anything. We give to Toys for Tots, Operation Christmas, and fill wishes on the Angel tree for the kids in Head Start and foster care. We even did an Angel tree for seniors who are shut in and don’t have any family,” says Larry. “Now, I love Christmas, it’s about the present that God gave us and giving that to others.” 

Larry also helps fellow veterans who have returned from service with mental or physical issues, by inviting them to his church or to outings so they don’t feel isolated and alone. 

“Anyone who joins the military is out there for something bigger than yourself, you are defending and protecting your country like you would your family so that everyone in this country can sleep well at night. Our returning vets have to see that someone cares about them. So I do what I can to be there for them,” says Larry. 

Thank you for your service, Larry Smith!

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September 2023 Hometown Hero

Vernon Evans, Berrien Springs, MI

Picture of Vernon Evans

We are excited to spotlight our September Hometown Hero, Vernon Evans of Berrien Springs! Vernon was a Specialist 4th Class in the Army for 2 years of active duty and 4 years of inactive duty. He was stationed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, fighting in the Battle of Suoi Tre, which holds the record in the war for the largest one-day enemy kill. Vernon had several people who nominated him, including his neighbor, Michael Tan who also told us why he is not only an Army hero but also a hero in his local community:

“Vern is a wonderful neighbor to all around. When I was not able to, he came over and mowed my yard, despite his not being able to walk very well. He serves as a member of the honor guard at the funerals of other Veterans. He is rarely seen  without a smile and a ‘Hello.’ Vern makes this little corner of Berrien Springs a great place to live.”

Vernon was drafted into the Army when he was just 20 years old alongside one of his good friends from high school, David Berkholz. Being the selfless person that he is, Vernon wanted to pay tribute to his friend, David, who unfortunately lost his life on January 21, 1967, during his time of service in the Army. 

David was part of a 15-man squad, that went on ambush patrol every night to sit and watch for enemies in the area. One fateful evening, David went out on patrol, and the enemy discovered them and opened fire. Unfortunately, the injuries David sustained from this fateful night led to his death two days later. Thankfully, the other men in his squad survived. 

When remembering him, Vernon told us, “David was a really nice, fun guy. We went through a lot together. We shared high school classes together and ended up being drafted together. He deserves to be honored just as much as I do.”

Vernon’s service in the Army began on Dec 9th, 1965, when he took a bus from Detroit to Fort Knox in Kentucky. After 2 weeks in the reception area there, he moved to Fort Lewis in Washington and started basic training on January 1, 1966. He was then moved to Headquarter Company as an Army mechanic in Fort Lewis after his basic training was completed. 

On September 20th, 1966, the day after his 21st birthday, Vernon sailed off to Vietnam on a 21-day trip. Vernon recounted his time on the ship, “It was definitely not a cruise ship. 800 of us were in compartments sleeping in hammocks for nearly a month.”

Vernon says the most memorable battle he fought in was The Battle of Suoi Tre, the largest one-day enemy loss of the Vietnam War. On March 21, 1967, as part of the mechanized infantry, Vernon found himself in the midst of an intense fight against overwhelming odds. The North Vietnamese Army, armed with information from a mole, launched a massive attack, greatly outnumbering the U.S. soldiers (2,500 North Vietnamese soldiers against 450 US soldiers). Amid the chaos, with bodies strewn across the landscape and helicopters burning, the United States defeated the North Vietnamese in the battle, with 38 soldiers sacrificing their lives to bury 648 North Vietnamese enemies. 

After 11 months in Vietnam, Vernon returned home to Hinchman, MI, a place that seemed both familiar and changed. The transition back to civilian life was not easy, but Vernon’s determination and strong character guided him. He dedicated his time to his family’s businesses, including a grocery store, a fruit-receiving business, a tractor dealership, and more! His devotion extended beyond the confines of his family’s enterprises, as he later served as a member of the honor guard at the funerals of fellow veterans to pay tribute to their legacy.

Now 77 years old, Vernon’s commitment to honoring veterans and helping neighbors continued to shine. He remains active and engaged, participating in Lest We Forget reenactments, and he is a member of his local legion in Berrien Springs.

His advice to his fellow veterans?  “Write your story down. Get it out of your system. Join a legion, and talk to other veterans. Odds are, others have been through similar things and can relate to what you’re going through. If you do write your story, bring it to Lest We Forget and we’ll publish it for you in a book of local veteran stories. Your story will live on for generations to come.”

Thank you for your service, Vernon Evans!

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August 2023 Hometown Hero

Elizabeth Hunt, Hartford, MI

Elizabeth Hunt, Hometown Hero

This month, we had the honor of interviewing Elizabeth Hunt from Hartford as our August Hometown Hero! Elizabeth served in the Army as a Staff Sargent for 16 years stationed in a variety of countries all over the world. 

Elizabeth joined the Army in 1998 right out of high school, her first duty station was Vilsek, Germany and in 1999 her unit was among the first boots on the ground as U.N. Peacekeepers in Kosovo. When asked what lead Elizabeth to enlist in the military, she shared that she “wanted to see the world.” And she did just that! From Germany to Iraq and then areas around Texas and Kentucky, Elizabeth experienced a lot in her 16 years of serving her fellow soldiers. 

Looking back on her time in service, Elizabeth shared that her proudest accomplishment was winning the Philip A. Connelly Award for best food service operation in Fort Hood, Texas. Elizabeth and her team of five soldiers could feed anywhere from 400 to 600 soldiers in 1.5 hours or less. Super impressive! After 16 years, Elizabeth created strong friendships with people all over the world, most of whom she still keeps in touch with to this day. 

When asked about the lessons learned that she still carries with her today, Elizabeth acknowledged that she learned the importance of organization and prioritization – both of which she applies to her current job at Lane Automotive where she packs parts to be shipped internationally!

Upon returning home, Elizabeth joined the National Guard which she shares was a huge help in the transition back. She received her associate’s degree in culinary/hospitality services from LMC which lead to a job as a cook for Four Winds Casino and later as a chef for Whirlpool until the COVID shutdown. 

As a closing statement, Elizabeth recommends “keeping in touch with those you served with, creating a good support system, finding things you enjoy doing, and don’t be afraid to talk to someone if needed.”

Thank you for your service to our country, Elizabeth Hunt! 

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July 2023 Hometown Hero

John Testini, Benton Harbor, MI

This month, we had the honor of interviewing John Testini, as our July Hometown Hero! John served in the Navy for 2.5 years in the South Pacific and now resides in Benton Harbor, MI with his daughter Suzanne. Nominated by his caretaker, Lori, stating that John deserves this recognition because:

“He is a kind, sweet, gentle-hearted man and an overall great human being with a great sense of humor.” John served in WWII as a Gunner’s Mate 2c on the LST 586 at the early age of 19 after being drafted in 1943. He shared that he comes from a line of military veterans as his father fought in WWI, and both of his brothers fought in WWII and the Korean War so we are thrilled to honor John and his family.

Now, at age 98, John reflects back on his time in service, and some of the things he experienced. Overall, John said he doesn’t have a lot of great memories, he saw a lot of men die, heard a lot of gunshots, and witnessed many bombs going off throughout the 2.5 years. His family stated that “John’s ship was blown up and he floated for days until another ship came to save him.” He also survived two typhoons while at sea, experiencing what he thought were at least 50-foot swells!

When asked what lessons were learned during his time in service, John said most importantly he learned discipline and how to properly shoot and handle a gun. 

As one could imagine, John shared that he was extremely happy to make it home to his family and begin his career as a local die caster for Paramount Die Cast for 50 years and then at Quality First Die Cast for 17 years, where he finished his career, retiring at the age of 78.

John has spent his time involved with his church, the local VFW, and the American Legion, all of which he said helped make his transition home much easier. He was also voted Grand Marshall of his hometown of Iron River Michigan in 2021. 

As a closing statement, John recommends veterans returning home to find a job, get involved, and “keep after it, keep moving forward”. 

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, John Testini!

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June 2023 Hometown Hero

Gaylord Rochefort, Bridgman, MI

This June, we are pleased to honor Gaylord Rochefort as our Hometown Hero! Gaylord actively served as a Specialist E5 in the US Army for 2 years and now resides in Bridgman, MI with his wife. Nominated by his daughter Monica, she states her father deserves this recognition because:

“Gaylord is a veteran who has dedicated his life to helping other veterans receive the assistance they need and deserve. He is a Vietnam Vet with lasting effects not only on his body but also on his mind from his time at war.”

In 1965, Gaylord said he was drafted into the military by Uncle Sam and was a part of the first division to go and fight in Vietnam. Something he is really proud of accomplishing for his country. This courageous act of service he has since been awarded two Army Commendation Medals! When asked what his most memorable experience was while in service, Gaylord reminisced on his time on a Navy ship where they traveled around to different areas of the world, making a stop through the Panama Canal.  Gaylord shared that he always felt supported by the Army and that “those that were working hard were rewarded.”

After returning home on March 31st, 1967, Gaylord found it difficult to adjust as his return home was during the time of the 1967 riots. Although he was happy to be back in the US, it wasn’t a great time in our country. He decided to enroll at LMC where he joined a Veteran Group and later went on to finish his degree at Western Michigan University. 

Gaylord stays involved with his community by helping at his church, collecting boxes of goods to donate to the VA, and participating in the Veteran’s Day events at his granddaughter’s school. At the age of 79, Gaylord also stays active in walking local 5Ks that help give back to various organizations like Lory’s Place!

As a closing statement, the number one piece of advice he would give to any Vet returning home is to “Sign up for the VA benefits you have earned and deserved.”

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, Gaylord Rochefort!

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May 2023 Hometown Hero

James Ball, St. Joseph, MI

This month, we are so excited to honor James Ball as our May Hometown Hero! James actively served in the US Army for three years after being a prisoner of war in Korea for 2.5 years and now resides in St Joseph, MI. Nominated by Amy Revels, stated he deserved this recognition because:

“James loves his country and is a proud American.  He’s humble, kind, extremely generous, an encourager to others, and always willing to help those in need.  Even at 91, he is still active & serves in his local church.  He is a man of great integrity.  All who know him have high respect for him.  His incredible story has given him a powerful testimony. He is the definition of a war hero and St. Joseph should be proud to have him as a Hometown Hero.” And after speaking with him, we couldn’t agree more! 

When we asked what led James to enlist in the Army back in 1946, he stated that “his father was a coal miner and he didn’t want anything to do with that industry.” He began his years of service in the Korean War and after just a few months, he became under captivity by the Korean government for 2.5 years. During those years of imprisonment, James shared that “he and the other soldiers were tortured, lacked food, and suffered from tuberculosis, head lice, and frostbite amongst other horrific conditions.” Although this was an extremely difficult time, James shared that surviving those years is his biggest accomplishment. 

James went on to share that the lesson he learned from his years in service is that “freedom isn’t free, the cost is the life of everyone that serves.” Such a powerful reminder of the incredible sacrifices our military personnel makes every day for our country! After returning home, James went to school for two years to earn a degree in business which allowed him to obtain an accounting job for a Chevy dealership, and went on to live a beautiful life with his wife. 

He has since earned a Purple Heart for being a wounded soldier, a medal acknowledging the strength it took to be a POW survivor, and joined the Lest We Forget organization of Berrien County. 

As a closing, James shared his biggest piece of advice for other veterans who may be struggling after coming back home: “Talk about it. Don’t hold things in, it’s much easier to deal with things if you talk to people.” 

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, James Ball!

***

April 2023 Hometown Hero

Craig Smith, Portage, MI

This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Smith, our featured Hometown Hero this April! Craig is a proud veteran, who achieved the rank of Sergeant in the Army, telling us, he served “8 years, 6 months, and 14 days.” He is a Portage resident and was nominated by Shawn Boris, the Principal of Oakland Academy, a school where Craig volunteers every week.

Shawn shared, “Craig Smith is a proud US Army veteran, honorably discharged and disabled, he has never stopped serving; his family, the community, and his country. He is a volunteer with the US Naval Cadet Sea Corp organization and has been an active volunteer with our school (Oakland Academy) and PTO as a proud grandparent for over ten years.” 

When we interviewed Craig and asked why he devotes so much time to giving back to Oakland Academy, he said “It’s important to share knowledge with the next generation and help them look forward to their future.” At the Oakland Academy, Craig teaches the students how to raise, lower, and fold the American flag properly while sharing his life stories and helping them build pride in their country.

During his time in serving our country, Craig reflected on feeling proud about his overall experience. While deployed, Craig served in areas all over the world, like Germany, Korea, Thailand, and Japan, but his most memorable moment was meeting his wife who was also in the service. They got married in beautiful Hawaii and shortly after welcomed their first son! 

Like most veterans, when he returned home, finding a job was no easy task. He spent about four months searching for a job that was welcoming to military personnel and that would allow him to utilize his skills so he could provide for his family. 

The number one lesson he carries with him to this day is reminding himself that even when times are tough, push through. This mantra is something he enjoys teaching to the students he works with on a regular basis.

One piece of advice he has for veterans returning home is to “find a battle buddy and lean on each other.” He quickly got involved with the American Legion and has found a lot of joy in serving his community over the years.

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, Craig Smith! 

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March 2023 Hometown Hero

Kenneth Shelby, New Buffalo, MI

This month, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth Shelby for our March Hometown Hero spotlight! Ken served in the Army, and Air Force then later on the reserves for 37.5 years, and spent the first part of his service in Japan during WWII at the early age of 17. Nominated by his daughter, Kathy Dohner, who stated her father deserved this recognition because:

“Even after 37 years of service, he would do it all over again!” At the age of 94, Dohner says, “Ken still serves his community & VFW as a youth representative – he promotes VFW essay contests and funds them yearly. He’s been a scoutmaster/scout commissioner for over 70 years. His dedication to the US, his family, friends, church, and community is like none I’ve ever seen.” 

We asked Ken what led him to enlist at the age of 17 and he said “after failing his senior year of high school and feeling bored of life in Westville, IN,” the last thing he wanted to do was return to school so he rode his bike to La Porte, IN to fill out the application and was quickly sent off to training before deploying to Japan.

Looking back on his time of service, Ken reflects on the memorable adventure he found himself on while stationed in Okinawa, Japan: his hike of the highest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji. He said it took him over 11 hours to complete and that this experience taught him the importance of commitment and to just “stick to it” to accomplish great things! 

While on leave from Japan, Ken went on a blind date and met his wife, Marianne, who he said helped make the transition home from service easy and comforting. They were married for 44 years and have five beautiful children together. 

Ken currently is a New Buffalo resident and is still very involved with his local church and enjoys sharing artifacts from his time of service with those at his church. His final piece of advice for other veterans who may be struggling after coming back home is to “surround yourself with friends and family and to get involved with the community.” 

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, Kenneth Shelby! 

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February 2023 Hometown Hero

Robert Burkhard, Benton Harbor, MI

We are excited to spotlight our February Hometown Hero, Robert (Bob) Burkhard! Bob served in the US Marine Corps for 20 years and was stationed in Vietnam during the war where he met his wife! Bob is a Benton Harbor resident and was nominated by his daughter, Sue Burkhard who told us he deserved this recognition because:

“He became a strong advocate of promoting military appreciation and pride, and has proudly worn his colors ever since. He is 85 years old now, and is still proudly wearing his colors. He is a life member of the Fleet Reserve, and in his younger years was very active in their programs to support vets. He’s long participated in the AA program and served as a visiting chaplain at the Brig. When he lived in North Carolina, he helped soldiers in their journey towards sobriety for years, he also volunteered at the Salvation Army thrift store, and has been a very active member of the Alano House in Stevensville helping others.”

When we asked Bob what led him to enlist in the military at such a young age he said “I was told I was too small and would never make it, so I wanted to prove them all wrong.” And he did. Within his 20 years of service, Bob did such a good job, he got promoted, earning the title of Capitan

During his time of service, Bob said his most memorable experiences were the three years he spent in Washington, DC at the Marine Corps. Headquarters because he said he “learned so much and was able to apply the lessons learned to his life in and out of the military.”

Like many veterans, along with feeling accomplished for serving his country for 20 years, Bob’s biggest accomplishment was surviving and making it back home to his wife and three kids. Although the return home was a very difficult transition, after many jobs turning him down because of his years of service, he finally found a job at Employment Services where he was appreciated and life turned around for the better. He got promoted and finally started to find his footing again post-war.

Today, Bob spends his time giving back to the community by helping people recover from addiction through the Alano House of Southwest Michigan in Stevensville. Bob himself is a recovering alcoholic and says working with this organization reminds him of “where he was and where he doesn’t want to be.”

Bob is a big believer in completing the mission at hand, and something we could all use as a reminder when times get tough is to “do the best you can and don’t give up. You’ll always feel better about the work you’ve done when you complete the tasks at hand.”

His final piece of advice for other veterans who may be struggling after coming back home is to “get involved with veteran-led local activities.”

Thank you for your service to our country and our community, Bob Burkhard! 

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January 2023 Hometown Hero

Phil Bell, New Buffalo, MI

Our January Hometown Hero is New Buffalo resident, Phil Bell! Phil was nominated by Sarah Senne who told us he deserved this recognition because:

“Phil proudly served 8 years in the US Army and served a tour of duty in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom conducting security convoys delivering supplies to other Army bases throughout Iraq. He went above and beyond taking care his family & friends over the years. He’s an extremely hard working, completely reliable, dedicated, and a patient person. He personally took his time to teach me how to drive & get my driver’s license after suffering multiple mini strokes and a massive stroke. He had the kindest disposition and patience. 52 drive-time hours and 6 months later I passed my driving test and got my license. He’ll always be my Hometown Hero.”

Phil Bell was a United States Army E-4 Specialist who served his country for 8 years, including a 1 ½ year tour of duty in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. During this time, he conducted security convoys delivering supplies to other Army bases throughout Iraq.

Phil enlisted in the Army because he felt a strong calling to serve in the military, following in the footsteps of several of his uncles. In January 1999 he enlisted, and that September, he went to bootcamp in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Here he completed boot camp and AIT (Advanced Individual Training). Phil tells us:

“Bootcamp is pretty similar to what you see in a lot of movies. It’s not easy, but I loved everything about it. I Ioved the structure, camaraderie, and meeting people from all over the country.”

In 2004, Phil’s unit got activated, and he went to serve a tour of duty in Iraq, where he was an 88 MIKE transportation specialist, driving hummers and freightliner semis. He enjoyed working with different convoys and working alongside people from all over the world. At times, the road missions were dangerous, and he encountered bombs and small arms fire, but thankfully, he was unharmed. 

Phil says he is still friends with many people he served with in Iraq, and they get together almost every year for a reunion.  He also learned several lessons he still takes with him today, among them, he says, 

“Always show up on time…I still have the hurry up and wait mentality. I’m never late for anything.”

After his tour of duty in Iraq, Phil left the Army and picked up right where he left off with the support of his family and friends. When he got back home in 2005, he began working at a small production company and then Blue Chip Casino in the security department for six and a half years. Today, Phil works in Events and Promotions and Four Winds Casino, where he enjoys coordinating car drawings, gift giveaways, and helping with concerts. In his spare time, he loves going to horror movie conventions.

Phil’s advice to other veterans is as follows, “If you are struggling, the support is out there. Don’t hold it in. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it.”

Thank you for your service to our country, Phil Bell!

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December 2022 Hometown Hero

Jason Burgess, Coloma, MI

Our December 2022 Hometown Hero is Coloma resident, Jason Burgess! Jason was nominated by his wife, Jennifer who told us he deserved this recognition because:

“Jason served 8 years in the Army. During his 8 years he did many great things, including serving in Germany for some time. Following his 8 years he continued to stay in as a national guard member out of South Bend. He’s continued to work in the community as a veteran. Jason has stated on numerous occasions that serving in the Army was his greatest accomplishment.”

Jason served in the US Army from October 1994 – October 2002 as a Specialist E-4.  He then continued serving our great country for 2 years inactive in the National Guard. Jason felt it was his duty and honor serving in the Army, following in his father’s footsteps. His father Roger Burgess of Eau Claire, Michigan was an MP in the Army during Vietnam, serving for 4 years. 

Jason enlisted between junior and senior year when he was at St. Joseph high school. He says, “I was 17, and knew the Army was the best place to mature and get the discipline I needed in life.” Jason remembers the culture shock of going to bootcamp for the first time after graduating high school: 

“My biggest memories are from basic training. It’s a shock. You get off a bus and somebody is yelling at you right away. Then you go and get your equipment and fill out all your paperwork and get your shots. During that period, they are preparing you for basically what it’s going to be like serving. I definitely learned a lot and got the discipline I was looking for!”

After bootcamp, Jason went to Texas for a couple of months and then took the opportunity to go to Germany. Jason vividly remembers his time in Germany and having to adjust to a different culture and new experiences as a young man. Thankfully, he had strong relationships with those he served with:

“Military is like a family and you never really go anywhere alone….you go with your brothers and sisters, and it’s a tight knit community. You always feel like you have someone you can go to and talk to. It was a joy and honor to serve alongside everyone.”

Jason served in Germany for 4 years as a generator mechanic, working in the motor pool. During this time, he worked on Humvees, 2 ½ to 5 ton trucks, and more! He says his biggest lesson he learned while serving was “how to be disciplined, organized, and always be prepared and be aware of your surroundings.”

After 8 years of active service, Jason decided to come home and continued to serve in the National Guard in South Bend for 2 years. When he came home he said, “Life was different and not as structured, and that structure was one of the things I missed the most after my time of service.”

After his time in the National Guard, Jason worked a couple factory jobs, but as he got older he started looking for a career. He now is a production supervisor at United Container. In 2002, Jason married his wife, Jennifer, and they have a 15 year old daughter and currently live in Coloma. 

In Jason’s spare time, he enjoys doing every veteran motorcycle ride he can participate in. He does the Memorial Day ride every year with the VFW in South Haven and several others. He loves the camaraderie of getting together with other veterans during these rides.

When asked what advice he would give to other veterans, Jason says, “Always stay positive and stay connected with friends and family and put your mental health first”. 

Thank you for your service to our country, Jason Burgess! 

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November 2022 Hometown Hero

Harvey Belter, Stevensville, MI

Our November 2022 Hometown Hero is Stevensville resident, Harvey Belter! Harvey was nominated by his friend, Tamara Schermer, who told us he deserved this recognition because:

“Harvey served in Vietnam and continues to serve as not only the Commander of American Legion Post 568 in Stevensville but also serves his fellow comrades who have answered the final call as Sgt. At Arms with the Honor Guard and untold numbers of funerals. He is tirelessly dedicated and devoted to continuing to serve those who have served and sacrificed for all of us.”

Sergeant Harvey Belter served in the US Marine Corps for 3 years and 1 month from March 1966 – April 1969. He grew up in Sodus, Michigan and enlisted in the US Marine Corps as a teenager. Harvey said knew he wanted to be a Marine and didn’t want to take the chance of getting drafted into a different branch. 

During his service, Harvey went to school for 8 months to learn radio repair in San Diego so he could work in radio and communications during his time in the Marine Corps. Harvey served in Vietnam from May 1967 – June 1968, where he said, 

“Against my better judgment, I saw and got close enough to combat to know that I was lucky that I didn’t have to live in the rain and mud every day.”

Harvey said the biggest lesson he learned while serving was, “If you think you can’t, you can’t, but if you think you can, you will surprise yourself and achieve what you set out to do.”

 

Harvey said what he remembers most about his time serving was how eye-opening it was to meet different people from different strokes of life from all over the world. He will always be thankful for that experience. 

 

Harvey eventually came home to Southwest Michigan when he was 20 years old. He continued to serve others by becoming a police officer for 11 years in Benton Township. After that, he began a 27 year career at the Cook Nuclear Plant. He started as a security guard and eventually became a security supervisor and then finished his career working in the operations department for I&M. 

 

These days, Harvey serves as Sergeant At Arms with the Honor Guard helping to organize funeral details and honor his fellow comrades. He also organizes other programs for special events like 21 Gun Salutes at the Coast Guard every Memorial Day.  Harvey is also an active member of the American Legion 568 in Stevensville, where he was Commander previously. Harvey says he enjoys getting together with other veterans because it’s easier to talk to people who have had similar experiences. 

 

Openly talking about his time in Vietnam wasn’t always easy for Harvey. He said when he came home, he didn’t talk about his time serving  in the Marines for 40 years. However, once he retired, he began getting more involved with the American Legion, and being around other veterans helped him to open up. 

 

Nowadays, Harvey has reconnected with some of the people he served, regularly keeping in touch. Every two years, he looks forward to a reunion with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment

 

At 75 years old, Harvey says he feels “lucky and blessed” to have had the experiences he has had serving his country and his community. Harvey says that if he could give veterans any piece of advice he would say, 

 

“If you need to talk to somebody, find somebody and talk to them because if you leave stuff pent up inside of you, it gets bigger and bigger, but if you get it out in the open and talk about it, it doesn’t feel as heavy anymore.”

 

Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for continuing to serve and honor veterans in our community, Sgt. Harvey Belter! 

 

October 2022 Hometown Hero

Mark Copeland, Stevensville, MI

We are proud to announce our October Hometown Hero is Stevensville resident, Mark Copeland! Mark was nominated by his friend, Michele Collins, who told us he deserved this recognition because:

“This man goes above and beyond volunteering locally for many causes. Moose 1570 (in Benton Harbor) is still open and functioning because of his ability to come in and establish what needed to be done…He donates blood regularly, and even the dogs on his mail route appreciate him with his doggy treats he is always in supply of!”

We were inspired by Mark’s story of service and how he continues to serve his community! 

Mark served in the US Marine Corps for 8 years, leaving active duty in 1997. He came home and continued to serve in the Michigan Army Guard, and retired in the Army Reserve as a Staff Sergeant E-6 after 20 years total of service to his country.

When Mark graduated from Lakeshore High School, he knew he wanted to enlist in the military because it felt like “the honorable thing to do.” His grandpa served in the Army during the Korean War, which he always admired greatly.

While serving, Mark had two mobilizations: He served one year in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and one year in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Mark elaborated on his active duty experience:

“My proudest achievement is my tour of duty in Afghanistan, where my team worked with special forces to train the Afghan National Army. I’m very proud of the missions we did with the indiginous forces.”

When Mark retired after 20 years of service and moved back to Stevensville, he said it was a bit of a culture shock coming back home, but he enjoyed reconnecting with people he hadn’t seen in years. For those who know Mark, they know that connecting with the community is important to him. In 2006, Mark joined Moose Lodge 1570 in Benton Harbor because he liked the members and he liked being part of an organization that gives back to the local community. 

Now Mark is the Administrator at Moose Lodge 1570, where he has completely turned the organization around for the better, as his friend Michele Collins told us when she nominated him: 

“Our lodge was circling the drain when this veteran took over as administrator, not only did he keep us afloat during the pandemic (which without him we would have closed permanently) but we have prevailed and now have new equipment and are attempting to replace the decrepit doors on our building. He helps out many individuals with several projects. He maintains and fixes many different buildings and places.”

Mark said some of his favorite things he does as a member of the Moose Lodge is trying to figure out ways to give back with charitable initiatives each month. In September, Mark and other members put together an Adopt-a-Highway project and in August, they did a bake sale to buy backpacks and school supplies for 60 foster kids so they could have their own backpack heading into the school year.

Mark said he would love to get more people involved with the Moose Lodge in Benton Harbor so they can help with charitable projects like this that directly impact our local community members. If you are interested in joining, Mark encourages to stop by their location on 2180 Union Ave in Benton Harbor, MI 49022 on Union Street Mon-Thurs from 1pm-10pm, Friday from 1pm–Midnight, Saturday from noon-Midnight, and Sunday from noon-10pm

In addition to his volunteer work as a member of the Moose Lodge, Mark recently retired as a City Letter Carrier for the Postal Service this past September after 24+ years on the job. He said he will miss seeing the friends he  made on his mail route, including four-legged friends he brought dog treats for every day. In his spare time, Mark is also a reserve police officer for Lincoln Township.

When asked why he devotes his time to serving others, Mark says, “Something small to you might mean the world to someone else.”  

Thank you for dedicating 20 years of your life to serve our country, and thank you for all that you continue to do to impact our local community, Sgt. Mark Copeland! 

September 2022 Hometown Hero

Rebecca Payne, Lakeside, MI

We are proud to announce our September Hometown Hero is Lakeside resident, Rebecca Payne! Rebecca was nominated by her friend, Caitlin Yoder, who told us, “She is an amazing person who constantly gives back despite all she has been through.” We were inspired by Rebecca’s story of service in the US Army and how she continues to serve the community every month at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen.

Rebecca served in the US Army for 3 years, retiring as an E-5 Sergeant. Her military career began shortly after the Iraq War started. Initially, she had planned on becoming an FBI agent after graduating with a degree in sociology and law from Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Rebecca had passed most of the necessary tests to begin her career in the FBI by 2002, however, a hiring freeze occurred once the war started, putting a halt to her FBI aspirations.

Rebecca was not someone who wanted to sit around and wait to serve her country so she decided to go to the US Army Officer Candidate School. After sustaining an injury during that time, she decided to go the route of becoming a Military Police Officer. She trained for 1 year and then served in Iraq in the US Army for 8 months. There were only two other females assigned to her station, out of 8 in her entire unit.

While serving in Iraq, Rebecca survived 2 bombings. The first bombing was thankfully placed the wrong way, which saved her life and those serving beside her. Unfortunately, the second suicide bombing resulted in more destruction and casualities. On August 23, 2005, her unit members were finishing their lunch at 12:55 p.m when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the dining facility. The blast killed one of her unit’s officers, 1st Lt. Carlos Diaz, and one civilian law enforcement official, Mike Dawes, a Vietnam veteran who had served with the 82d Airborne Division. Six Soldiers were wounded and an Iraqi Policeman was also killed. 

During this attack, Rebecca was only 4 feet away from the bomber. She grabbed her gun and had her hand on the trigger to try to stop him, but unfortunately didn’t have time to do so. Fortunately, she was close enough to suicide bomber that her wounds were cauterized, and she didn’t even realized she was injured at the time. Despite her injuries, Rebecca was still able to leap into action. She called her radio for help immediately and tried to help as many people as possible. Rebecca pulled a couple people out of the bombed building, and tried to save Lt. Carlos Diaz, but was unfortunately unable to do so despite her attempt. 

Soon after the bombing, Rebecca was flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical facility. At one time her heartbeat was down to 10 beats per minute, and she was nearly called dead, but thankfully was brought back to life by two medics. She remained in a coma for almost two weeks, but thankfully survived after several surgeries. 

Today, Rebecca works at the Berrien County Courthouse as a Central Assignment Assistant Supervisor, where she works with the judges, handling paperwork, bonds, and training clerks. 

Rebecca also serves her community by volunteering once a month at the Benton Harbor Soup Kitchen, which she has done for the past four years. Every November and December, she puts together personal hygiene bags for people who live at the Salvation Army and guests in the soup kitchen as well. She said she loves helping people and talking to the guests, and it’s the most rewarding thing she does. 

Rebecca says her passion for serving her country and her community comes from her parents, as she said her parents were always very giving people. Her dad, Charles Payne served in the US Army for 21 years, serving in Vietnam for a tour in ‘68. Today her father lives in Niles, Michigan, and her mom unfortunately passed away while Rebecca was recovering in Walter Reed. Rebecca says, “I was raised by my hero and role model, my dad, and he is a big reason I decided to enlist.” 

Thank you for passionately serving our great country and continuing to serve our community, Sgt. Rebecca Payne!



August 2022 Hometown Hero

Brett Rathgeb, Benton Harbor, MI

We are proud to announce our August Hometown Hero is Benton Harbor resident, Brett Rathgeb! Brett was nominated by his wife, Dana, for his inspiring story of service in the US Army and his dedication to serving the community as a Berrien County Court Security Officer.

Brett enrolled in the US Army in 2011 and was medically discharged in 2016 holding the rank of E-5 Sergeant. Brett said he enlisted three years after graduating high school because he wanted to see the world and serve in the military like his father, who was a career-long service man in the US Navy. He also wanted an adrenaline rush and “a purpose to completely dedicate himself to with a ‘first-in, last out’ mantra.”

He began his service at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, followed by Anchorage, Alaska serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, an elite division that can rapidly deploy in just 18 hours’ notice. Brett and his fellow soldiers of the 82nd trained for forcible entry parachute assaults as well as other key military operations. Throughout his time with the 82nd Airborne Division, Brett completed 56 airplane jumps! 

Brett eventually was deployed to Afghanistan, where he survived 47 gun fights, IED attacks, and rocket grenade attacks before he was medically discharged in 2016. While his service in the US Army came to an end, Brett found a way to continue to serve his community as a Berrien County Court Security Officer in 2016. In this role, he provides security for employees and eight Berrien County Judges. He also leads active shooter training, first aid training, and more to ensure employees are prepared for any situation.

In Brett’s free time, he enjoys fishing, hunting, and spending time with his wife, 3 sons, and two dogs. Brett also enjoys coaching for his kids’ instructional baseball league as well as coaching a Lakeshore 9U travel baseball team. 

On a daily basis, Brett keeps in touch with two of his US Army recruiters and the drill sergeants that trained him, remaining close friends with them after forging an unbreakable bond during his time of service. On the day he was medically discharged, they told him, “The Army has lost a very good NCO (noncommissioned officer).”

Thank you for passionately serving our great country and continuing to serve our community, Sgt. Rathgeb!



July 2022 Hometown Hero

James Hurley, Hartford, MI

 

We are proud to announce our July Hometown Hero is Hartford resident Sgt. James Hurley (ret.). Sgt. Hurley served in the Michigan National Guard for 25 years from 1984-2009 spending the majority of his time serving in Iraq. 

He was nominated by Matthew Cooper for his historic impact in the creation of the laws known as the Hurley amendments. These laws have protected thousands of service members and their families from having to experience the hardships that Sgt. Hurley encountered upon arriving home from Iraq. 

While serving in Iraq, the Deutsche bank illegally foreclosed on his home in Hartford, removing his mother, wife and children from the residence. He had owned this home for 15 years, and was devastated to discover someone else was now the owner and living there when he arrived home after his retirement from the National Guard.

It took seven years total and five years in Federal court suing Deutsche bank. As a result, the US Department of Justice obtained its largest SCRA settlement ever. $123 million has now helped thousands of service members and their families experiencing similar circumstances and countless more because of the Congressional amendments to the SCRA. 

In the words of his Hometown Hero nominator, friend and lawyer, Matthew Cooper, 

“Sgt. Hurley served us in Iraq and his fight back home will serve all of us forever. His courage and determination is extraordinary.”

Sgt. James Hurley tells us that he would do it all over again, for love of his country and all the relationships he formed with his friends who served beside him. He continues to live in Hartford, Michigan to this day, and is a member of the Hartford American Legion Post 533 and the VFW Post 6248 in Decatur.

These days, James loves to spend his time with his children and grandchildren and enjoys hunting and woodworking. He even has his own business called Razor’s Edge: Custom Hand-Etching, where he burns custom pictures and more into cornhole sets and glassworks. You can view some of his work on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/james.hurley.3323

Thank you Sgt. James Hurley for your service and fighting tirelessly to protect other service members and families!

 

 

June 2022 Hometown Hero

Bob Stanwood, St. Joseph, MI

bob-stanwood-hometown-hero

We are proud to announce our June Hometown Hero is St. Joseph, Michigan resident, Bob Stanwood. Bob is a  Vietnam veteran who not only served his country for 2 years as a U.S. Army Sergeant, but he also continues to make an impact serving his local community.

Bob’s fellow New Heights CCDA board member, Chris Britton nominated him for Hometown Hero saying,

“Bob is the type of volunteer that every nonprofit dreams of having… When you consider the impact he’s made through First Church Do Something volunteer events, his leadership on the New Heights CCDA board, his volunteer involvement with New Heights Auto Services, and his work with I’m Saving Myself and the Benton Harbor Parks Conservancy, our community is significantly better because of Bob.”

Bob has helped with First Church of God’s Do Something volunteer event over the past several years, helping the event to generate 16,200 volunteer hours and over $400,000 worth of volunteer labor to area nonprofits and agencies. Bob even secured thousands of dollars in donated materials for many of these local outreach projects!

In 2009 New Heights Auto Services was started to help provide reliable transportation to individuals who couldn’t afford it on their own. Bob would show up once a month to rehab a donated car for an individual in need. He also generously donated thousands of dollars worth of his own tools and equipment to get the program started. 

As  New Heights Auto Services began to grow, Bob took on more and more responsibilities, such as acting as the shop manager. New Heights Auto Services has continued to grow, providing reliable transportation to hundreds of people, and Bob has worked on over 90% of their vehicles. 

If you see Bob Stanwood around the community, tell him thank you for his service to our country and local community. Thank you for everything you do, Bob! Proud to honor you this month as our Hometown Hero!

Nominate a Veteran to be Recognized

The veterans on our staff will hand-select one local veteran every month to receive a $100 restaurant gift card and $100 gas card as a token of appreciation on behalf of BOSS Services and community members like you.

We look forward to reading about the veterans in your life, and encourage you to share your appreciation for their service whenever possible!

Rules:

    1. You can’t nominate yourself. 
    2. You must fill out the entire form for it to be a valid entry. 
    3. Only one veteran will be chosen as the Hometown Hero of the month
    4. If your nominated veteran has not been chosen previously, you may nominate them again.
    5. Hometown hero must be a a living resident of Southwest Michigan.
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