Wreaths Across America returns to Ponaganset; Teachers, Glocester chief recognized with awards

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NRI NOW photo by Karen Iacobbo

GLOCESTER – Ponaganset High School students, administrators and staff, along with town officials, state representatives and guests of the school greeted Wreaths Across America on Tuesday, a program that remembers and honors veterans, and aims to teach younger generations the value of freedom. 

Michael Calenda, Wreaths Across America’s program director, explained that veterans gave first hand accounts of their experiences. 

“This makes history come to life for our students,” said Calenda, a teacher at PHS. He said this year’s theme for the program is “serve and succeed.”

“There are many ways to serve your community and country, and just as many definitions of success,” said Wreaths Executive Director Karen Worcester. “We hope through focusing on those stories of success we will help change the dialogue around what it means to serve your country.”

“I feel so proud of my school and honored to serve as the Wreaths Across America program director,” said Calenda. 

“It’s excellent the kids are picking up on history to learn about the ten percent who serve our nation – down to about one percent now,” said Bruce Ferriera, retired Master Sergeant for the United States Army. 

All too often, there are only one or two people present at a veteran’s funeral, said Ferriera, who is with the Rhode Island Military Collectors Club.   

During Wreaths Across America, students from schools such as Ponaganset place a wreaths on each veteran’s grave and read the headstone inscription aloud. 

Bruce Ferriera, retired Master Sergeant for the United States Army. NRI NOW photo by Karen Iacobbo

“Once a year when the wreath is placed, the veteran is remembered,” said Ferriera.

During the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour, Wreaths Across America gave Calenda the Legion of Honor Award.

“I was honored to receive the Legion of Honor award from Jane Deptula,” said Calenda. “The emotional ceremony is a tribute to Our Veterans. My love and respect goes to the Gold Star Families, as that has always been the driving force for me personally.” 

Other award recipients included Glocester Police Chief Joseph DelPrete, who received the Remember Award; Norman Taylor, who was handed the Honor Award, and Eric Rotondo, a Ponaganset teacher and volunteer fire fighter for the town of Foster, left with the Teach Award.

Mitchell Porter, a PHS graduate with the Class of 2023, was enlisted in the Air Force during the ceremony by U.S. Air Force General Thomas Hannon, who administered the oath. 

Among the speakers were retired General Reggie Centrocchio, Director of Veteran Affairs Kasim Yarn and Lt. Col. Brendan Carroll, a1997 Ponaganset graduate. 

The event drew an audience of a few hundred, including the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club, featured music from the school’s band along with several speeches, and drew politicians such as Gov. Dan McKee, state Reps. Brian Rea and Michael Chippendale and state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz. 

Gov. Dan McKee addresses the crowd. NRI NOW photo by Karen Iacobbo

de la Cruz, the Senate minority leader said of the gathering, “I’m grateful for the opportunity to show my respect and gratitude to our heroes.” 

She’s said she was thankful to Calenda for hosting the, “wonderful event,” and is, “always amazed by the dedication and patriotism of the students, staff, and community members who organized and participated in this event.”

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to show my respect and gratitude to our heroes,” said the senator.

Wreaths Across America will now gather for a ceremony and wreath placement on graves in the Veterans Cemetery in Exeter on Saturday, Dec. 16. Learn more at the program’s website here.

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