Patriotism. It’s a word that all at once can mean so much and in the next moment have its meaning stripped away by cynical campaigners looking for the latest political score.
For Pat Gavros, patriotism has become so much more than any of that. It’s become her way of life—who she is.
The 60-something Oswego resident and mother of one son began 2011 on an unusual mission—to lead a more patriotic life. Gavros, who is polite to a fault, set out to accomplish one act of patriotism each week.
Her quest has led her to Santa Monica, CA, where she took part in the weekly Arlington West project, in which volunteers place crosses on the beach to commemorate the U.S. military personnel lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That trip inspired Gavros to organize a similar event July 4 in downtown Oswego. About 160 volunteers lined the streets of town with plaques bearing the names of those from Illinois that have died in our two wars.
“In the end, about 160 wonderful, caring, patriotic, country-loving individuals showed up to hold the names of the fallen,” Gavros wrote in her Oswego Patch blog she uses to spread the word of her mission. “The signs contained the name, rank, branch of service, age, hometown, and date of death. It wasn't just a piece of paper that they held; it was so much more. Each of those signs was a life cut short, a family shattered, because that person stepped up to the plate and did what they thought was right."
The success of the July memorial got Gavros thinking about something even greater. With no organized memorial planned in Oswego for the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, she knew something had to be done.
Gavros describes herself as a creative person who pays great attention to detail. These attributes would serve her well as she devised a plan once again to line the downtown streets with a new memorial.
This time Gavros would set about to gather nearly 3,000 pairs of empty shoes to mark the lives of the men, women and children who died during the attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and United Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania.
With just weeks to plan and execute the event, she knew the response from the community would have to be swift and overwhelming. She was not disappointed.
“This makes me really emotional,” Gavros said just days before the anniversary. “People from all over the community have been immediately on board. People are so thankful to be able to participate in something like this. I think our town is the greatest town.”
Gavros announced Tuesday that she had collected well more than the 3,000 pairs of shoes she had solicited. In fact, she said the number is likely to swell closer to 4,000. In another act of charity, the shoes will be donated to the Kendall Food Pantry, Goodwill, Purple Heart Veterans, AMVETS and Wayside Cross Ministries of Aurora.
And Sunday’s event has grown into much more than the just the shoes that will line Washington Street from Route 71 to downtown. The names of each victim will be read aloud in front of the Church of the Good Shepherd, eight Oswego Fire Protection District vehicles will lead a silent salute down Washington Street, and a Walk of Honor will be set up in Hudson Crossing Park.
None of this would have happened without the tireless efforts of Gavros, who has spent more than 300 hours organizing the event, and the hundreds of volunteers who have joined her cause.
Oswego’s schoolchildren have stepped up in an incredible way. Students from the junior highs and high schools collected hundreds of shoes, and members of the Oswego High School football team will be on hand Sunday to volunteer in the teardown.
“As far as the students are concerned, this shows that people have stopped, taken the time think about that day and get involved. It’s truly inspiring,” Gavros said.
Though Gavros has appeared on TV and spoken to many reporters about her efforts, she’s done none of this for the glory or recognition it has instantly brought her. It’s just who she has become.
“I think patriotism begins much like a stone thrown into a pond, creating concentric circles reaching outward,” Gavros said. “The epicenter is me. ... I am the stone. This is the core of patriotism; where it begins. It's one person who turns thought into action for something positive for themselves, their family, the community, others, or perhaps their country.”