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W.Pa. residents find various ways to show their love of country

Madasyn Czebiniak
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Alex Prevendoski, 18, of Coraopolis made cleaning up Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Ferree’s burial site his Eagle Scout project.
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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Joseph McClain, 22, of Oakland applied to the Naval Academy between his junior and senior years of high school. However, his interest in computers put him on a different path and eventually led him to the University of Pittsburgh’s ROTC program and a commitment to the Army.
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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
True patriots put people first, and that sometimes involves telling the government it needs to do better, said “fractivist” Laura Dagley of the Strip District.
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Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
John Chepanoske, a teller supervisor at the Dollar Bank branch in the Penn Hills Shopping Center, is well-known for the array of flags he displays on his car,
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Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
John Chepanoske, a teller supervisor at the Dollar Bank branch in the Penn Hills Shopping Center, is well-known for the array of flags he displays on his car,
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Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Jayne Rhodes, 81, of Homewood retired in 1995 from PNC Bank but remains a pillar in the community through her activism and volunteerism.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Alex Prevendoski, 18, of Coraopolis made cleaning up Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Ferree’s burial site his Eagle Scout project.

Patriotism is defined as the love people feel for their country. But in what ways do Western Pennsylvanians express that sentiment?

On this Fourth of July, the Tribune-Review spoke with five people who express their patriotism in their everyday lives. One flies American flags. Another cleans the grave of a soldier who fought for our freedom. Another defends that freedom. The others volunteer and advocate.

These are the citizens who enthusiastically express their love for this country and those who live here.

These are the faces of patriotism.

The flag enthusiast

John Chepanoske remembers always having an American flag.

“I had to have one since I was 3 years old,” he said. “My mother told me I had the little ones on a stick.”

His love for the flag followed him into adulthood.

Chepanoske, a teller supervisor at the Dollar Bank branch in the Penn Hills Shopping Center, is well-known for the array of flags he displays on his white Honda Civic. He has five: two 5- by 8-inch flags on the outside mirrors; two 12- by 18-inch flags that roll up in the windows; and a 16-foot stationary flagpole bearing a 4- by 6-foot flag. The pole is held up by the weight of his parked car.

Chepanoske, 52, of Forward flies his flags to show his support for America’s troops and remind people of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“When 9/11 happened, you saw flags everywhere. Cars and everybody’s houses had them. Then as time went on, that sort of wore off, and now you don’t see it as much.”

His enthusiasm is evident at his home, too: His front yard is blanketed in red, white and blue. Fifteen flags line the sidewalk and edge of his yard, and 18 are placed in flower pots. Five flagpoles — crafted by Chepanoske from plumber’s pipe and aluminum conduits — bear Old Glory. The largest pole is 18 feet tall and features a 4- by 6-foot American flag and a 3- by 5-foot state flag. It is illuminated by a spotlight at night.

Chepanoske displays his flags year-round. He replaces the bigger ones every six months; the smaller ones last for about a year.

“Once they just start to tear a little bit, I replace them,” he said. “That’s what everybody should do.”

The Eagle Scout

Alex Prevendoski’s patriotic outlook has been shaped by a sash. His Eagle Scout service project involved cleaning up Revolutionary War veteran Jacob Ferree’s burial site in a Coraopolis cemetery.

“It was just perfect,” said Prevendoski, who found out about the cemetery through his mother and his Scout leader.

The Cornell High School graduate started his project in the spring of 2015. He finished in November after dedicating more than 1,000 hours of service — which included lots of weekends and time after school — to the once “very overgrown” burial ground.

Prevendoski, a member of Troop 358, cleared brush, planted flowers and added headstones for Ferree’s wife, Alice, and daughter, Livena. He also put in wooden benches and a 210-foot wooden fence.

The fence and benches will eventually bear the names of the community members who donated money to have them built. The majority of the upgrades were made possible through donations.

Prevendoski, 18, of Coraopolis said he did not undertake the project to send a message but “for the respect of the people in the cemetery.”

“When you go through a cemetery and you see stones that are knocked over, that bothers me because no one is caring for them,” he said.

He also greatly admires the military and spoke highly of Ferree, a founder of Coraopolis and gunmaker.

“I have a lot of respect for him being a Revolutionary War veteran and also for being a gunmaker in a time like that,” Prevendoski said.

Though his project is finished, he still visits the cemetery to care for the grave.

“As long as I live in this area, I’ll keep coming back,” he said.

The advocate

Jayne Rhodes is 81, but age has not stopped the Homewood resident from fighting for the rights of senior citizens.

“I’m old myself, but I like to be around older people to help them,” she said. “That’s my motto, ‘If I can help somebody, I’m willing to do what I can.’ ”

Rhodes retired in 1995 from PNC Bank but she remains a pillar in the community through her activism and volunteerism. An advocate for seniors, Rhodes is president of AARP Chapter 2612 in East Liberty and has held the position for more than 10 years. One of her contributions has been influencing legislative decisions — Rhodes has traveled to Harrisburg to work on certain bills and calls state lawmakers to express her opinions on legislation.

“I’m just glad that I can speak my voice whenever I want to,” she said. “I never miss an election. I do my civic duty.”

Rhodes volunteered with the Vintage Senior Center in East Liberty for 15 years and continues to dedicate time to the O’Hara-based Center for Organ Recovery & Education. Her sister, Diane, lives with a transplanted liver.

“That’s why we volunteer — for them — because we do know it works and it helps so many people,” she said.

The soldier

Joseph McClain is the son of a Navy officer. He grew up watching war movies and longed for the “patriotic aura associated with being in the military and serving your country.”

“I just wanted to be a part of that and at least leave some kind of impact in that way,” said McClain, 22, of Oakland.

McClain applied to the Naval Academy between his junior and senior years of high school. However, his interest in computers put him on a different path and eventually led him to the University of Pittsburgh’s ROTC program.

He joined the National Guard during the spring of his senior year of high school and spent seven months in the Guard before starting classes at Pitt.

“I joined the Guard to serve my country and help pay for school, but ended up receiving an ROTC scholarship anyway for Pitt, and now I (am) currently serving on active duty in the regular Army,” McClain said.

He was selected to receive an active-duty STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scholarship as part of his ROTC program. The scholarship ended his National Guard commitment and committed him to eight years of Army service after graduation.

His scholarship allowed him to study computer engineering and Russian, and he was able to study abroad in Estonia for two months.

He graduated in the spring.

“I’ve had so many opportunities come my way in terms of military service, being able to join ROTC, being able to go to a great high school in Grove City and then eventually getting into the University of Pittsburgh,” he said.

McClain will help with recruiting tasks at the ROTC battalion until October, when he will leave for a infantry basic officer leader course and Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga.

The activist

Laura Dagley is a different kind of patriot. Her hobbies include lobbying and protesting.

Dagley, 28, of the Strip District is a “fractivist” — someone who is against hydraulic fracturing, a method of drilling for natural gas. She has traveled to Washington, D.C., where she lobbied to stop or better regulate the gas extraction practice.

Independent of her activism, Dagley works with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit in Peters that provides outreach to communities affected by fracking.

She has been passionate about the environment since she was a girl, but she said her true devotion stems from the love she has for her fellow citizens.

Their homes and health are impacted by fracking, she said.

Activists can be seen as unpatriotic because they are fighting against their government, Dagley said, but true patriots put people first. Doing so sometimes involves telling the government it needs to do better.

“You love your country, so you love these people that make up your country. And you want so desperately to make things right for them,” she said.

Dagley said she was encouraged by the women’s rights movement and the “strength and stubbornness” of the suffragettes. Such movements show that if you keep doing what you are doing, “hopefully someone will listen and make the change,” she said.

“I like to find inspiration from that,” she said.

Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822 or [email protected].

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