New Milford honors Peter “Flag Man” Orenski on Veterans Day
NEW MILFORD — Peter Orenski did not serve in the military, but he spent much of his life making sure those who did were honored and remembered.
Better known as the “Flag Man,” Orenski, who died last year, created flags, raised money, promoted projects and wrote a 300-page book celebrating local veterans during his 76 years, 30 of which were spent in New Milford.
So it seemed fitting the monument created in his memory was unveiled Saturday after the annual Veterans Day ceremony.
Before uncovering the plaque, Jim Delancy, a commander of the town’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, told the crowd Orenski was always there if the veterans needed a flag, or anything else.
“(Peter) loved the USA so much he dedicated his life to everything USA,” Delancy said. “He could never be in the military, but he believed in our veterans and he was there for everything that we ever did.”
The plaque, designed by veteran Ray Crawford and funded by a resident’s $1,000 donation, remembers Orenski not only for his “generosity and kindness,” but for his contributions to the town as a “renowned vexillologist,” or flag expert.
Orenski, who came to the United States as a Romanian refugee when he was 7 years old, organized the New Milford Flag Design Competition in 1994. The contest would would lead to the creation of the town’s flag, designed by Jeanne Price, which is still used today.
Retired teacher Kathy Shemeley said she still remembers helping her third-graders design flags to enter into the competition. She said she was always impressed by the amount of research and time Orenski devoted to the project.
He would help the designers one-on-one, created instructions including a history of symbols or colors and compiled the information with the hope other towns might hold competitions of their own, Shemely said.
”It was set up so that any community anywhere can look at what he had done and create a program in their own community,” she said. “But he was always in the background. ... It was never about Peter. It was always about the winners and getting the community together.”
Shemely said she hopes the plaque will let those who don’t already know about Orenski learn about the history behind the flag and some of his other projects in town.
Orenski donated the flag outside New Milford’s police station, led the project to put flags on flag poles lining the streets and helped develop the town’s 9/11 memorial.
The monument dedication in front of Town Hall was held immediately after the annual Veterans Day ceremony on the town green.
Dozens of veterans and residents gathered for the ceremony around the town’s All Wars Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated earlier this year. The crowd was surrounded by luminaria lining the green, each dedicated to a specific veteran.
Mayor David Gronbach, Delancy and Shemely, who is president of a prisoner of war advocacy group, spoke to the crowd about celebrating those who have served and ensuring they are taken care of when they come home.