As fans return to the bleachers at Avon and Avon Lake’s high school football stadiums to enjoy football games under the Friday night lights, one particular seat will always be empty: The Chair of Honor.
The cities of Avon and Avon Lake and their military veterans organizations are preparing to honor Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action by dedicating a Chair of Honor at their respective football stadiums this season.
The Chair of Honor is a national effort by the motorcycle group Rolling Thunder’s Mission to provide a black folding chair with a white outline of the Prisoner of War and Missing in Action logos. The chair will serve as a reminder of those who made sacrifices for our country. In recent years, the program has been increasing its presence in Lorain County as local veterans continue to move toward their goal of having a Chair of Honor at as many of the 19 high schools in the county (not all have football fields).
Currently, there are Chairs of Honor at the football fields at Firelands, Brookside and Marion L. Steele high schools. The legion riders also hope to install a chair soon at Clearview High School in Lorain.
The seats will be in a cordoned off area of the bleachers and always will be unoccupied.
The first dedication ceremony for the Chair of Honor will be held Aug. 30 prior to the season-opening game at Avon’s Joe Firment Chevrolet Stadium between the Avon Eagles and the Avon Lake Shoremen. The ceremony will begin about 6:30 p.m. with a procession of the American Legion Riders and Patriot Guard Riders of Ohio.
That game is expected to draw about 5,000 attendees, Garner said.
Then, at Avon Lake's Memorial Stadium prior to the Shoremen's game against Westlake, a Chair of Honor will be dedicated about the same time on Sept. 20.
"The chair is put in place to remember the fallen, and it serves as a reminder (that) they always (will) have a seat when they return home," said Gary Garner, chaplain of American Legion Post 211 and a member of the American Legion Riders, a group helping organize the dedication alongside fellow veteran Ken Karpy. Garner served with the U.S. Army after he graduated from Brookside High School in 1967 until the end of 1970. His unit served in Vietnam for a year.
"It will be quite an event and quite and evening," added Garner, who is ready to rev up his 2019 Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide motorcycle for a half-mile procession involving 30 or more fellow riders leading up to the chair's dedication. 'It's always an honor to be a part of so we can remember those who made sacrifices before us and didn't make it home."
The events in Avon Lake are sponsored by the American Legion Post 211 in Avon Lake, the American Legion Riders from that post and VFW Post 7035 in Avon. They will be will be participating in the program with Patriot Guard Riders of Ohio, who are leading the procession.
The chairs are manufactured and donated by the Hussey Seating Co. in North Berwick, Maine, which has provided more than 500 POW/MIA Chairs of Honor throughout the U.S. Since World War I, more than 92,000 American military personnel are listed as missing or unaccounted for.
Garner said that the veterans organizations are grateful to the schools for swiftly stepping forward to allow the chairs in their stadiums.
"We're honored to be a part of it," Avon Athletic Director Erich Frombach said. "It's going to be a special event, and we're going to do it during the biggest game of the year. These guys are unbelievable in what all they do for these servicemen and women. We want to do a good job and the ceremony right and do it justice."
The procession will begin at Avon Middle School at 6:20 p.m. and consist of about 30 military veterans on motorcycles with 3-feet-by-5-feet American flags with attached POW/MIA banners. The riders will make their way from the parking lot of Avon Middle School to the south end of the track at the football field.
"As long as our health holds up, we'd like to dedicate two to three chairs a year at the high school football stadiums in Lorain County," Garner, 70, said.
The organization receiving the chairs has to pay shipping costs. The goal is to get a sponsor for each chair. There's not yet a sponsor for the Chairs of Honor in Avon or Avon Lake, Garner said.
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