October 2000/November 2000
Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757: In Service To America
By Jim Doyle
In his cover letter nominating VVA's Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757 for
Chapter of the Year, Region 8 Director Rocky Gothard said, "This
chapter has been the Chapter of the Year for Oregon the last three years.
They all work together and have become a vital part of their community.
This chapter lives by our motto, ‘In Service To America.' ''
Included in the binder submitted as part of the nomination are dozens
of news clippings from the local newspaper, the Curry Coastal Pilot.
The first article that mentioned the chapter prominently was published in
February 1996 when the chapter received its charter. The article reports
how the mayor of Brookings recognized the event with a proclamation. The
chartering ceremony was attended by county commissioners, law-enforcement
personnel, veterans, and their families. Some of those same county
commissioners and law-enforcement personnel were also members of the
Less than a month after the announcement of the chapter formation, the
local paper ran a banner story headlined: "Brookings Vets Take Over
Fireworks Show.'' This article described how Chapter 757 would be in
charge of lighting the sky at the annual Fourth of July fireworks
celebration. The chapter would work closely with the Chamber of Commerce
and other groups to insure the 15-year tradition continued.
"The Elks Lodge didn't have the money or personnel to do the
fireworks display,'' said chapter president Jerry Hartzell. "We felt
this was an important event so we just jumped in.''
On June 18, 1996, the Curry Coastal Pilot reported that the fund
was $3,000 short of its goal. Without the additional money, the fireworks
display would have to be scaled back or canceled.
"We have until Saturday to tell the distributor how many fireworks
we want, or if we don't get the needed $3,000, cancel it completely,''
said then chapter president Bill Lopez. "We can wait until 3:00 p.m.
on Saturday to tell them what we need, but right now we need $3,000.''
Three days later the newspaper reported: "Viet Vets Make Fireworks
"We're really proud of the community for digging deeper,'' then
chapter vice president Mark Brown said. "We still have people who are
When all was said and done, the chapter raised $12,000 and set that
figure as its goal for the 1997 event.
In 1997 the fund again was thousands of dollars short of its goal two
weeks before the deadline. The chapter began promoting the event in
the community and ended up only $300 short of their goal on show night.
The chapter's commitment to its community goes far beyond the annual
fireworks display on Independence Day. Chapter 757 has made a commitment
to demonstrate and celebrate that freedom on a daily basis.
When asked what makes the chapter so effective in the community,
Hartzell replied, "We have a variety of members. There isn't much of
a night life in Brookings, so people are involved in the community.''
Brookings is nestled along the southern Oregon coast, less than ten
miles on U.S. Highway 101 from the California border. The decidedly rural
lifestyle is quiet, friendly, and resolves around community.
Chapter 757 fits nicely because its members make up that community. As
Hartzell pointed out, "Our members have been working in the community
for years; now they're doing it as VVA members.''
On eight patriotic holidays each year along Highway 101 the chapter
flies the U.S. and POW/MIA flags. On Memorial Day 1999 the first 24 flags
flew along the route. Now, less than two full years into the project, the
chapter has secured sponsorships from more than 300 local citizens,
merchants, and businesses, and flags line the road for nearly two and a
The Avenue of Flags is the pet project of AVVA member Judy Anderson,
who is regarded with fondness as the chapter den mother. "I just pick
up the slack,'' Anderson said, "I've met the most wonderful friends
"This is the most wonderful thing I've ever done,'' Anderson said,
"The local paper receives letters to the editor from out-of-towners
who pass through on the holidays and see the flags. They say it's
beautiful. We've seen a real increase in patriotic awareness in the
"The chapter got permission from the city and they gave us the
drills to cut the holes in the sidewalk,'' said Hartzell. "We put
them along the route at 11- and 22-foot intervals, depending on driveway
approaches and other traffic issues.''
Individuals and businesses are solicited for annual sponsorships for
the display on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Independence Day, Gold Star
Mothers Day, POW/MIA Recognition Day, and other holidays. On those days
the route is lined with American and POW/MIA flags.
"We also fly 24 flags on the Chetco River Bridge,'' says Anderson,
whose brother served in Vietnam in 1969-70 with the U.S. Marine
The chapter has made a clear commitment to its community. Recognition
of Brookings-Harbor Chapter 757 as Chapter of the Year 2000 at the VVA
Leadership Conference in Buffalo crystallized that.
Chapter projects range from the generous to the facetious.
Nikki Becker was told she would never throw a javelin again after
shoulder surgery. Becker refused to accept this prognosis as anything than
a challenge to prove everyone wrong. The chapter reveled in the
opportunity to help her attend the Olympic trials and raised $6,000 for
On the ridiculous side of the ledger is the annual spring-summer
political spoof that names an honorary mayor of the mythical town of
Brookings-Harbor. The idea was the brainchild of former Marine lieutenant
and chapter member Bill Farrell.
Local community groups are asked to submit candidates for the position.
Money is raised by selling votes, a practice not unknown in the real world
According to Hartzell, children had little to do in the community after
school and gathered aimlessly on the streets. The "Mythical Mayors
Race'' was developed to raise money for a community youth center.
Candidates from each party spend the spring campaigning and
"selling'' votes at the price of 100 votes for one dollar. In 1998,
the Anonymity Party ran the Unknown Candidate, a guy with a brown paper
sack over his head. At the end of the campaign, the votes are counted, the
money is tallied, and the winning candidate is declared Mythical Mayor of
In 1998, the first year the contest was run, the chapter raised $11,000
and used the money to open the youth center, which provided an opportunity
for young people to congregate in a safe and secure environment and
participate in wholesome activities.
"Now they're on their feet and receive grants and other support,''
says Hartzell of the Community Youth Center, which is entering its third
year of service to the youth of the not-so-mythical Brookings-Harbor area.
The evidence submitted in support of the Chapter of the Year nomination
weighs nearly three pounds and documents a solid, long-term commitment to
community and the values of comradeship.
"The thing that makes me proudest,'' said Hartzell, "is that
I'm around a bunch of people who like to do stuff for other people and
enjoy doing it.''
"I've been involved most of my adult life in veterans affairs,''
said Anderson. "These guys are unique, there's not many like them.
These guys are the best.''
They now are building a Living Memorial to those who served.
In his presentation to the Brookings City Council, chapter member Gil
Rosario said the memorial would honor the men and women who served in
Vietnam and returned home.
The memorial is carved from the root of a redwood tree estimated to be
1,800 years old. The 12-foot-tall redwood pillar will represent all
branches of the armed forces and will stand near the Elmer Bankus Fountain
in town. An American eagle with wings outstretched will crown the
monument. The chapter has conducted auctions and other activities to
support the memorial and its construction.
In presenting the award to Oregon State Council President Robert
Palasch at the 2000 VVA Leadership Conference in Buffalo, N.Y., VVA
President George C. Duggins said: "The decision was a tough one
because the competition from so many chapters nominated across the nation
was simply amazing.''
In a congratulatory phone call to chapter president Hartzell, Duggins
said that what put Chapter 757 over the top as Chapter of the Year was
that its members had done so much in their community in such a short time.
In 1998, Tri-State Appalachian Chapter 172 in Cumberland, Maryland, was
so proud of its recognition as VVA Chapter of the Year that it had a
beautiful banner made to hang in front of chapter headquarters.
In 1999, when Chapter 310 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, received the honor,
Chapter 172 presented them with the "VVA Chapter of the Year'' banner
to hang in front of their headquarters, pledging to have it back in
Cumberland some day.
Now it's time for Chapter 310 to pass the banner on to the good folks
who call Brookings, Oregon, Chapter 757 home.