About 200 people, including students and veterans, gathered Saturday on the Cheektowaga Central Middle-High School campus for the Walk for Warriors Project Walk-a-thon.
Frank Marchese Jr., co-director of the high school’s guidance program, launched plans for the Walk-a-thon after the October death of his father, a World War II veteran, at the age of 92. An Army sharpshooter, Pvt. 1st Class Frank Marchese Sr. served in the European Theater, then worked 32 years as associate director of claims for the Veterans Administration.
Helping veterans was instilled in the son at young age.
“I’ve been raised and immersed in the idea of giving back, doing for veterans,” he said.
Twenty-five teams registered for the event and raised more than $7,000 before embarking on the walk-a-thon around the school’s track. That amount is expected to rise when individual registrations and the proceeds of a raffle are counted.
The money will go to Wounded Warrior Project, which assists injured veterans, and the Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial, which will be dedicated Sept. 13 in downtown Buffalo.
Four veterans who went off to war before graduating also were awarded diplomas:
• Sgt. Douglas L. Eason, the father of Jackie Jurek, the district’s College and Career Center co-coordinator, who served in the Army Reserves in Germany and was honorably discharged in 1963.
• Staff Sgt. Russell M. Haberl Sr., father of Cheektowaga physical education teacher Matthew Haberl, who served in the Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1966.
• Cpl. Eugene J. Walek, who served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1968.
• The late Michael D. Walek, the twin brother of Eugene Walek, who served in the Army as a spec. 4 during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1966.
Jurek nominated her father because while she was growing up he made sure she and her five siblings graduated because he understood the difficulties of not completing school.
“Education is very important,” she said. “He instilled that in us.”
Eason decided to leave school at the age of 17 because his parents were divorced, he couldn’t find a job and he wanted to serve his country.
“I got everything done at once,” said Eason, who was surprised by the honor.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said. “It was nice of everyone to think of us.”