Lifelong resident of Belgrade, John Roelike, has had the honor of putting up community flags in town for several years. He and his wife, Darlene, also put flags in the St. Francis de Sales Cemetery and the Grace East Cemetery.
“What we do has been done ‘forever,’” he said. “When you’re retired, you have to have something to do.”
Even so, it’s not just a walk in the park to install 13 3-foot by 5-foot United States flags on poles around town, twice each summer. It has to be done, rain or shine or sweltering heat and humidity.
With help from his son-in-law or his son, John uses the side of a pickup or a stepladder to put up the flags before Memorial Day each year. They stay up about a week.
“Taking them down saves wear and tear on the flags,” Darlene said. “Otherwise, the wind twists them and wraps them around the poles.”
The flags are put up again before the 4th of July.
“The only year they stayed up the whole time was in 1988, the year of the bicentennial,” said John.
For the past three years, John and Darlene, along with their grandchildren and a couple of friends, put flags in St. Francis de Sales Cemetery and the Grace East Cemetery for VFW and Auxiliary members.
“There are close to 100, total,” said John. “There are stakes in the ground to hold the flags, and by now we know who gets them.”
Roelike is a veteran himself, having served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. He’s been in the VFW since he returned. He has continued to serve his community as a volunteer firefighter for 31 years and a first responder for about 28 years.
The VFW numbers have been steadily decreasing in recent years, as the World War II veterans and Korean War veterans have passed on. Now, even Vietnam veterans are starting to go, John said.
“I just hope there’s somebody to (put a flag up) for me,” he said.
As he walks among the stones, honoring those who served their country before him, John remembers his dad and thinks of his brother, who were/are also VFW members.
“I know what they went through,” he said.
Belgrade has seven cemeteries to tend. The Roelikes’ friends, Ernie and Sue Jensen, put up firefighter flags at the two cemeteries that the Roelikes take care of, as well as two other cemeteries.
Community members are not stingy with compliments. John and Darlene’s efforts don’t go unnoticed.
“We get many compliments and thank yous,” she said. “A photo I posted on Facebook got a big response.”
It’s a task they do gladly. They appreciate the time with friends. Their grandchildren enjoy helping put in the flags and take them down again.
“As long as we can, we’ll keep at it,” John said. “If we can walk, we’ll do it.”