New Milford and friends around world remember the ‘flag man’
NEW MILFORD — Flag enthusiasts from around the world know New Milford for one reason.
On the upper-left side of the package that contained countless gifts, flags, lapel pins, and kindly correspondence would be: Peter Orenski. New Milford, Connecticut.
Orenski, a well-known New Milford resident and vexillologist known as “flag dude,” and “flag man,” died Saturday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.
“He was such a credit to the town,” said Katy Francis, who worked with Orenski on several projects for the town’s tricentennial.
New Milford residents remember him as a devoted citizen. The man who donated the flag that flies above Town Hall and the ones that stand in the Town Council meeting room. He’s the guy who decided that New Milford needed a flag of its own, and then went about making one happen; the avid walker, often spotted on the green in reflective sneakers, that designed New Milford lapel pins for the town free-of-charge.
The first time Mayor David Gronbach met Orenski, Orenski told Gronbach the Connecticut flag in the Town Council room had the wrong ornament, or finial, Gronbach said. Soon after, Orenski donated a proper one.
“He really invested in the town,” Gronbach said. “He had a tremendous attention to detail, and he recognized that the details matter ... I was just impressed with his level of patriotism.”
New Milford mayors aside, the world’s flag lovers knew him, too. As the word spread of his death, they called out on Facebook in English, French and German. Several of them had only met the man once, they said. But his kindness had endeared and motivated them.
Edward Mooney Jr. of Redding, Calif., can’t count the times he has seen “New Milford” in his mailbox, he said. But he remembers the package he got soon after his daughter was born one July 14.
He got a little French flag from Orenski, a baby-sized one for his daughter who had been born on France’s independence day. Mooney also remembers the late-night call he got when his family had a health scare, it was Orenski, who had stayed up until 3 a.m. just to check-in.
In Arkansas, Zachary Harden, 30, said he has considered Orenski a mentor for the past 15 years. He, too, can’t count the flags he has received.
“Peter was a great mentor to me as a young vexillologist almost 35 years ago,” said Paul Lindsay, an Australian man who only got to meet Orenski once at flag conference in Sydney, but who has corresponded with Orenski for much of his life.
Orenski first came to America after 20 years “on the run” in Communist Romania. Fittingly, he arrived in 1960, the year the 50-star flag was first flown.
He went to Columbia, and graduated in 1963. In 1967, he received a Ph.D. in chemistry.
For the next two decades he worked for chemical-company Union Carbide, and upon retirement he devoted himself to his passion. He started a flag company, Ambassador Lapel Flags, and designed flags and lapels while consulting with vexillologists. He wanted to make his flags perfect, friends said, he wanted the perfect colors and the exact design on each of his projects.
The company started after a 1984 handshake deal with a Rhode Island supplier, and had been going, out of Orenski’s kitchen, since.
Friends say, like his ceaseless correspondence, his designs are simply uncountable. One of the designs, for a Native American tribe, took him hours on the phone with the tribe’s chief to create.
Another flag he helped design: New Milford’s. Unhappy with the town’s lack of a flag, he had the town hold a contest for the flag’s design. Then, after a winner had been picked, he had them made in 1995.
“With flags, you can explain to the world who you are by tying symbols with history,” Orenski said in a 2009 News-Times article.
No matter where they were from, friends of Orenski said he wouldn’t need a flag to tell them who he was. He was “giving,” they said.
“Just giving,” Mooney said. “That was Peter.”
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