Missouri News

'Hometown Heroes' project captures the hearts of local families

Cookie See poses for a photo in from the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Mo., positioned behind a poster of her late husband Terry on Thursday, May. 30, 2019. Hannibal is hanging banners around the downtown to commemorate local military veterans as part of its yearlong Bicentennial celebration.. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 2, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Jun. 3, 2019 11:39 am

HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Terry and Cookie See of New London were big fans of Mark Twain. They worked for years as volunteers at the Mark Twain Museum Gallery on Hannibal's Main Street.

"We loved working there," Cookie said.

But the Sees had to give up their volunteer work after Terry became ill with heart disease. His health rapidly deteriorated as he awaited a heart transplant. He died at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis on Nov. 30 -- Mark Twain's birthday -- in 2014.

Terry, who had a 43-year railroad career before retiring in 2010, also was a U.S. Army veteran. He earned a Bronze Star while serving in Vietnam.

When Cookie learned the Hannibal Bicentennial Committee was planning to hang a series of banners this year on downtown utility poles showing the faces of "Hometown Heroes" who served in the military, she decided to submit Terry's picture.

Then she made a special request. Cookie asked bicentennial officials if Terry's banner could be hung on a lamp post outside the Mark Twain Museum because he loved that place so much.

Bicentennial officials agreed to honor her request.

Shortly before Memorial Day weekend workers began hanging the 216 specially made banners throughout the downtown area, and Terry's banner took its place just outside the museum.

"I went down and took a picture of it," Cookie said. "He was such a big fan of Mark Twain and the museum, and he enjoyed working there so much. That meant the world to me."

The Hometown Heroes project has been getting rave reviews ever since the banners were unveiled.

"I get phone calls everyday from people thanking me," said Cindy Lovell, the bicentennial's event director who also serves as chairman of the Hometown Heroes project.

"People cry on the phone telling me their stories" about the military men and women pictured on the banners, Lovell said. "It's been very moving and a real honor for me to work on this."

The Bicentennial Committee launched the project as part of Hannibal's 200th anniversary celebration in 2019.

"The military plays such a big role in our history, so it just makes sense to honor those who served," Lovell said.

Gail Bryant, chairman of the Bicentennial Committee, agreed that "the bicentennial is a perfect time to remember those that have fought for the freedoms that we enjoy in this country."

The Committee initially planned to hang 141 banners on utility poles. But the number was increased as pictures of military men and women poured in.

"We just couldn't say no to people," Lovell said.

Eventually, the Bicentennial Committee had to cut off the banners at 216, matching the number of available lamp posts in the historic district. Then it agreed to print 53 more banners that will be hung in the windows of downtown businesses, including City Hall.

Independent's Service Company of Hannibal donated the banners as a way to salute local veterans.

"We are honored to be able to highlight some of these brave man and woman during Hannibal's bicentennial," said Allan Atkins, the company's sales manager.

Lovell said additional photos of veterans submitted this year will be displayed on hannibal2019.com/hometown-heroes.

Lovell said people also can go to that site to order a "keepsake banner" that Independent's will print for a fee.

She said the banners will be displayed downtown through Veterans Day.

Lovell said many local families have expressed appreciation for the banners.

"We've had an amazing positive response," she said. "People are so happy about this project."

One such person is Phyllis Hunsley, a Hannibal native now living in Columbia. She submitted a photo of her late husband, Dennis Hunsley, a Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Bronze Star medal winner who was killed in Vietnam in 1969.

Phyllis and Dennis both attended Hannibal High School. They started dating in 1964 -- two years before they got married.

Phyllis says she'll never forget Oct. 8, 1964, which was "Band Day" in Hannibal. She was working as a waitress at the lunch counter in the now-closed S.S. Kresge store on the northwest corner of Main and Broadway as the HHS band marched by. Phyllis ducked outside to watch Dennis march while playing the flugelhorn, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet.

"It was just so cool," she said, recalling the memory. "That night I got his high school ring."

At her request, the bicentennial committee agreed to hang Dennis Hunsley's banner on the corner by the former Kresge store.

Phyllis went to see the banner on Tuesday -- their wedding anniversary.

She's delighted to know her beloved husband is getting some recognition for his military service after all these years.

"This is really very special to me," she said.

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