'Stories' of sacrifice: Vietnam vets from area share experiences – Evening Observer

Apr 1, 2022
Submitted photo Four Cattaraugus County veterans, Norm Marsh, top left, Dick Gabel, top right, Rick Helmich, bottom left, and Gary Pancio, bottom right, will have their stories shared as part of a presentation at Gowanda’s Hollywood Theater on Friday, April 8. The event is being held by the Cattaraugus County Historical Society and Research Museum.
GOWANDA — The Hollywood Theater in Gowanda will play host to an important presentation, as on Friday, April 8, local Vietnam veterans Norm Marsh, Gary Pancio, Rick Helmich, and Dick Gabel will have their stories presented free to the public. The event is hosted by the Cattaraugus County Historical Society and Research Museum, which has been working to preserve the stories of Cattaraugus County veterans.
While the presentation is free to the public, the purpose of it is actually for education, with teachers being able to incorporate this information into their curriculums. Gowanda resident and school board member Dollene Christopher, also a teacher at Allegheny Limestone, is one of the teachers involved with setting up the program, along with Katie Wolfgang from Olean City School District. Christopher said the opportunity arose several months ago.
“John Tomerlin, a retired (audio/visual) teacher, wanted to work on doing more of these as part of a grant they got,” Christopher said. “It was his idea to make them compatible with New York state curriculum and get them into classrooms so kids have more access to these stories.”
Tomerlin used the expertise of Wolfgang and Christopher to figure out what topics would be used in the classroom, and helped guide him to make condensed versions of those topics, putting a narrative feature on them to give them more context, in order to further preserve the stories that will be shared.
“We’re debuting a program that not only preserves these stories, but also puts them in the classroom as well,” said Christopher.
As for the presentation, curator of the Cattaraugus County Museum, Brian McClellan will present about the program in its entirety, including detailing what’s available in the museum. Then Gowanda Mayor Dave Smith will introduce the four veterans. Background information will be provided on them, and one of the veterans will speak about his experience. Christopher will then outline the educational component, which will be followed by a four-part video presentation. The event will end with a small reception with the four veterans.
Christopher said this program comes at a good time, as education about Vietnam typically occurs at the end of the school year, meaning teachers could begin using these tools as soon as this year. For Christopher, bringing this education to multiple districts and classrooms is something that means a lot to her.
“I actually really find it important to connect what the kids learn in the classroom to life and when you can take a living history and these people that are part of our communities willing to share stories, it makes it that much more real,” said Christopher. “It’s something they wouldn’t have gotten through reading a piece of text. Regardless of where I am, the fact I can bring that to a lot of areas and incorporate as many people as possible makes that even better.”
Christopher gave most of the credit for the project to Tomerlin, who she described as an “energizer bunny,” and to the people at the Hollywood Theater for allowing them to host the event there.
The “What a Vet Wants You to Know” talk will happen at the Gowanda Hollywood Theater on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m.
More information can be found at http://historicpath.com/current-event/premiere-presentation-vietnam-what-vet-wants-you-know-918 and the video presentations can be viewed at http://historicpath.com/education/video-education-series-Vietnam-war.
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