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Bargiel's efforts help beautify Veterans Memorial Highway

Bargiel's efforts help beautify Veterans Memorial Highway

August 28, 2007|By JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Bernie Bargiel



Age: 82

Hometown: Wheeling, W. Va.

Where would you see Bargiel? At least once a week, Bernie Bargiel drives to the two memorial signs on Interstate 81 - one near his Maugansville home and the other one near Williamsport - that read Maryland Veterans Memorial Highway.

He plants, fertilizes, waters, weeds or prunes, even paints and picks up trash, depending on what is needed. The evergreens, day lilies, geraniums, ferns and irises have been planted over time by Bargiel, a World War II veteran and Ernie Unger of Clear Spring, a Vietnam vet.

Some of the plants and shrubs were donated, the rest paid for by the veterans. Bargiel and Unger, 56, first met at the local Disabled American Veterans group, Chapter 14.

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When Bargiel came up with the idea to beautify the memorial signs several years ago, Unger agreed to help and has been a dependable partner ever since.

"Both of us, we get pleasure out of doing it. It's really to honor all the veterans," Bargiel said.

The idea came to Bargiel as he headed north on I-81 to State Line, Pa., to do his banking. While not far from his house, it required he drive on the interstate on a regular basis.

As he drove past the brown wooden sign with its mulched base, Bargiel couldn't help but think that it didn't look like much of a tribute to the veterans it memorialized.

With Unger's support and the help of Gary Shank of the Maryland State Highway Department, the planting was approved. Eventually, the idea for a large flagpole with lights came up and that was OK'd for both locations.

The flagpoles now hold the American flag, along with a black and white Prisoner of War flag. Bargiel said he gets new American flags, when needed, from politicians and the Williamsport American Legion provides the POW flags.

There is usually a large wreath on a stand positioned in front of the highway sign, one with poinsettias at Christmas and a red, white and blue one made by Bargiel's wife, Frances, the rest of the time. Unger's wife, Becky, helps, too.

Bargiel won't discuss his military service. He feels it's history better left unspoken.

He does speak about how he moved here in 1949 from Ithaca, N.Y., as the station manager for All American Airways, renamed Allegheny Airlines, the first commercial airline at Hagerstown Regional Airport. After an array of other jobs, Bargiel then took a job as auditor for the state of Maryland, during the years Louis Goldstein was comptroller.

Bargiel retired from that job 15 years ago.

"I hated to retire. The last office I was in I enjoyed so much. I turned 67 and decided to go ahead," he said.

Bargiel met his wife, who is from New Castle, Pa., at a Polish wedding in Pennsylvania. They have been married 57 years.

Hobbies: Bargiel said he doesn't really have any hobbies anymore. He used to bowl and was a member of the Morris Frock American Legion and Maugansville Ruritan, but now devotes his time to the Disabled Veterans chapter.

"That's not a hobby. I consider it an honor," Bargiel said.

DAV Chapter 14 will be holding its annual Forget-Me-Not fundraiser the weekends in September. Those who donate will receive a Forget-Me-Not flower.

Look for DAV volunteers at Penn Avenue Meats on Sept. 7 and 8, Kmart on Wesel Boulevard on Sept. 14 and 15, Tractor Supply on Wesel Boulevard on Sept. 21 and 22 and Wal-Mart on Garland Groh Boulevard on Sept. 28 and 29.

The money raised will stay with the local chapter and will go into a restricted fund to help veterans, especially those who are disabled, said Bargiel. For more information, call Tony Pruchniewski at 301-7399-7911.

What does Bargiel like best about Washington County? "Oh, man, that's a hard one. Really, when you get right down to it, the people here are wonderful people. We love it where we're at," Bargiel said.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail janeth@herald-mail.com.

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