Published: 2:00 AM - 11/14/04
Last updated: 1:51 AM - 12/17/10
If you've seen the grace of a bald eagle soaring over a canyon against a blue sky, it's unforgettable. When you hear Bette Midler's incredible rendering of the song "Wind Beneath My Wings," it's stirring.
And if you were present at the Orange County Veterans Cemetery on Heroes' Way in Goshen Tuesday evening, you had a mixture of similar feelings when a magnificent bronze eagle was unveiled.
The eagle was a gift from Lenny and Sharon Rifkin, formerly of Goshen and now residents of Port Charlotte, Fla. It had been ordered from England and shipped by air in time for the meeting, which is the second Tuesday of each month.
The Rifkins, planning to visit the area, wanted to visit the nonprofit Coalition. When the couple were moving and closing their antique business in the Village of Florida, they donated hundreds of items to the group. Money was raised through two auctions providing a nice "nest egg" for the group's nearly empty treasury. It enabled the group to pursue projects and help veterans in need.
Through conversations with Coalition members, Rifkin learned of the Coalition's involvement with the cemetery and dreams of having a bronze eagle top the Veteran's Memorial at the entryway. The eagle had been envisioned by Tony Zippo, Orange County Veterans Service director and the cemetery director. He created the Coalition as a way for veterans organizations to share information and to help where needed.
The veterans agreed a sculpture of an American eagle, a symbol of freedom and power, would be perfect, but the cost was prohibitive.
Rifkin's generosity was intended as a surprise for the veterans, but because Bob Benedict was able to cement it in place, the gift became a surprise for the Rifkins.
That evening, although the temperature was close to freezing and the sky was dark, light was provided by the Goshen Fire Department, and more than 300 people attended. Coalition president Bob Ibe introduced the speakers, state Sen. Bill Larkin, Catherine Bartlett of Orange County's administrative office and Orange County Legislator Ben Winstanley.
Coalition Chaplain Donald Stillwaggon offered a prayer, and Diane Nunziata sang the national anthem.
An emotional Lenny Rifkin said the moment was one of the proudest of his life.
"We can't do enough for the men and women who guard our freedom," Rifkin said. "The eagle is a symbol that Americans associate with freedom. It will stand over this sacred and hallowed place as a reminder of our appreciation to all who serve."
Rifkin was further surprised to have an award named in his honor. The Lenny Rifkin Patriotic Award will be given annually to a person or person who exemplifies Rifkin's unselfish nature.
The first recipients were Steven Nicoli and Conrad Flickenschild.
Nicoli, who served during the Gulf War, has sent hundreds of packages to soldiers in the Middle East, particularly Iraq. Flickenschild, a Vietnam veteran, was the first president of the Coalition and chairman of the Veterans Cemetery Committee. He dug most of the holes for the 46 flagpoles that line the entryway to the cemetery.
The eagle's arrival was an inspiring moment, one not easily forgotten.
This and that
The Amazing Grace Church on Warn Avenue off Route 302 in Pine Bush will be dedicated during services at 11 a.m. today. A luncheon will follow. The church sits on a peaceful hill overlooking the beautiful Shawangunk Mountains. The Rev. Elisha Cooper is pastor. For information, call 361-2626.
Barbara Bedell's column appears daily. Call her at 346-3125.
This article is from the Times Herald Record: