MANSFIELD - When Navy veteran Valerie Lechner saw a "Veteran's Appreciation Tent" that Jane Wilson had set up at Smythe Park during the annual July 4 celebration here, she said it inspired her to do something more to honor veterans in the area.
That was 2010, and Lechner said after she visited Towanda and saw their banners honoring service personnel hanging from utility poles, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
So in July of last year, after receiving permission from borough council, Lechner launched her "Hometown Heroes" banner program with assistance from co-chairwoman Wilson and the chamber of commerce, as well as local photographer Bruce Dart.
At first, she said, she was worried about getting interest in the banner program because they cost $130 each with shipping.
However, the shipping costs were generously covered by the local VFW, and all the banners have been hung by Blue Ridge Cable, she added.
"When we ordered our first 60 banners, we only had 37 pictures to go on them," she said, but that soon changed as word of the project spread throughout the community.
In order to qualify, the person honored must be or have been a military person must have a connection to Mansfield - either are from here, graduated from a local school, lived or worked in the Mansfield area, or are a regular member of the Mansfield VFW or American Legion, Lechner said.
"We didn't want to exclude neighboring communities like Roseville and Mainesburg but we didn't want to go as big as Towanda which covers the entire county," she said.
The concept seems to be spreading, as surrounding communities take notice and begin to investigate starting their own programs, such as in Blossburg, where the idea is gaining momentum.
"We were even contacted by someone in the Harrisburg area that wanted to start one for their area," she said.
Lechner said looking at the banners, which now number 182, with 16 more being readied, as they stretch from the Route 15 on ramps at the north and south ends of town, and east to west to the borough limits, is inspiring and makes her want to "get out and walk just to look at them."
Lechner has one and so does her father, Dick Crittenden.
Some families have multiple banners, such as the Darts, who have four and the Bartletts, who have seven, she said.
Though some of the banners were subsidized by scholarships at the beginning of the program that money is gone, and anyone wishing to purchase a banner must come up with the money themselves now, though it could be a "family project" if siblings want to do something to honor a relative, she said.
To order a banner, Lechner said people can either visit the chamber website at www.mansfield.org and print out the order form, and then bring a photo of their loved one with the form to Elite Therapy at 285 S. Main St. where Lechner works, or call 662-1400.