All Eyes On Old Glory

by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor.
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If we could gaze into each American flag and see its collective stories – every battle fought, courageous act, life lost, peaceful day, grateful glance, parent weeping, child pledging – we would look up in awe for hours at the tales and emotions unfolding with each graceful wave on the wind.

The opportunity for such gazing and reflecting is available each day at the entrance to Pennsylvania College of Technology. There, a massive, majestic Old Glory gathers its own stories of a riverside community in reverence, overflowing with allegiance to the red, white and blue. From an energetic octogenarian embodying the essence of an American flag “pied piper” to dedicated preschool children toting donation jars of loose change for the landmark’s maintenance, everyday patriots are stitching together a legacy of local loyalty, thread by thread, act by act.

Anthony L. DiSalvo addresses a crowd on the Penn College campus following the annual God, Country and Community Flag Day March. Photo by Tom Wilson.The 1,800-square-foot American flag, the largest permitted to be flown on a pole, was first raised on its 120-foot post at the college’s entrance more than 12 years ago, thanks to the combined efforts of college and community leaders, most notably, the beloved local flag-waver, 83-year-old Anthony L. DiSalvo. It was DiSalvo who pleaded with numerous community organizations to install the large flag in a highly visible locale, and it was the college that ultimately honored his request.

“It’s in an outstanding location,” DiSalvo enthused. “Everyone coming up and down the highway, traveling by Williamsport, gets to see that flag. I get a lump in my throat every time I see it.”

Indeed, emotions run high for the high-flying flag and are most evident on June 14, when DiSalvo leads the annual God, Country and Community Flag Day March to the college’s entrance. The spirited tradition will celebrate its 30th anniversary in June and has grown in participation from approximately 150 to 850 patriots.

Accompanying the event are local musicians performing patriotic tunes and a sea of miniature flags held aloft by eager marchers, many of whom are area Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Himself a Boy Scout with more than 70 years of service, DiSalvo, a longtime scoutmaster, says it was through Scouting that he first learned to respect the American flag and sing its praises, so he hopes to pass that devotion for the flag onto youngsters.

"I get a lump in my throat
every time I see it."

Community members carry flags large and small to campus during the annual God, Country and Community Flag March, which ends near the 120-foot flagpole at the college’s entrance. Photo by Tom Wilson.Among his most faithful fans are children enrolled at Little Treasures Preschool in South Williamsport, where the curriculum includes flag history, as well as an ongoing effort, since 2001, to raise money for the acquisition of replacement flags for the community landmark.

“After 9/11, I wanted to do something, a community service project in our own community,” explained Laurie Randall, a teacher at Little Treasures. “The children were learning about their country, and I was teaching them what the flag means … and I wanted to focus their attentions on something they could actually see.”

Thus began their connection to the flag at Penn College.

Randall encouraged her preschoolers to begin collecting coins for the flag and conducted Flag Jar Days, during which the children would dress in red, white and blue and dump their small jars’ contents into a larger collection bank. The project and donations grew – to the point where DiSalvo was being invited to visit the preschool to receive a check, typically in excess of $1,000 annually.

To date, Little Treasures’ children have donated nearly $11,000 to the flag’s maintenance fund, administered by the Williamsport-Lycoming County Flag Committee.

“I never imagined it would grow into something of this magnitude, but that’s the power of education,” Randall said. “It’s pretty amazing, considering these are 4- and 5-year-olds who’ve raised this kind of money.”

The preschool teacher says her students have adopted a sense of pride, as well as ownership, over the flag.

“I told them it is their flag,” said Randall, “and they really do look at that flag and think it’s their flag.”

The community flag inspires many young artists to create replicas, including this paper mosaic, created by Georgia Randall, a child enrolled at Little Treasures Preschool in South Williamsport.DiSalvo said, when he’s out in the community, he is regularly greeted by former Little Treasures preschoolers who are now teenagers. Over the past 11 years, Randall said, nearly 400 children have been involved in flag education and donations.

The community landmark definitely requires attention – financially and physically. Each flag costs approximately $2,700 and flies for about six weeks before it requires repair due to wind stress. A flag normally lasts through three repair cycles.

To support the flag’s monetary needs, DiSalvo and other members of the Williamsport-Lycoming County Flag Committee actively seek donations and aim to raise sufficient money to permanently endow a fund for the flag at the Williamsport Lycoming Community Foundation.

The flag’s day-to-day needs, from raising and lowering to replacing, are attended to by members of Penn College’s General Services staff. The collegiate caretakers see to it that not only the flag, but its lights and landscaping, are kept in tip-top shape.

Although the flag is on Penn College grounds and tended to by college staff, William J. Martin, retired senior vice president and a member of the Williamsport-Lycoming County Flag Committee, is quick to point out that the flag does not belong to the college, but to the community.

“I really believe the flag is a symbol for the entire community,” Martin said, “and the community has certainly risen to support it.”

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