Being chosen as the 2017 Hometown Hero in Bristol is still sinking in and humbling for this writer, especially the latter of the two after viewing the names of those who preceded in receiving this recognition. Just look at the past three to understand these feelings.
Finishing out his year as the 2016 recipient is Dave Peplau, who graduated from Bristol Eastern in 1962, one year ahead of this writer. Peplau remains at the home he grew up in the Stafford School area off Louisiana Avenue, and after high school served in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 with the U.S. Army. A soft-spoken individual, he’s occupies his free time as a volunteer in many areas.
“First of all, I never expected it,” Peplau said when he was first told. “It’s truly an honor. I thought that I didn’t qualify. I thought there were more veterans out there more qualified.”
This wasn’t the case. According to Jim Bousquet, chairman of the Korean War Veterans Association in Bristol, of which Peplau is a member, “There isn’t a person I know that has had a bad word to say about him” and that goes back to his younger years growing up in Bristol.
Tim Gamache, the Hometown Hero in 2013, noted that Peplau always volunteers when needed, a humble and consummate volunteer who does his work quietly and efficiently.
Peplau, who is single, retired from New Departure in Bristol, and has spread out his volunteerism in many directions. They include the Zion Lutheran soup kitchen, Bristol Fish & Gun Club, and Immanuel Lutheran Church as an usher, member of the board of elders and volunteer with its Young at Heart Club.
Military-wise, beside the Korean War Veterans Association, he is in the American Legion as the assistant chaplain, a member of its executive board and serving with the local Honor Guard.
“It’s being able to show these (deceased) veterans respect in their last farewell,” Peplau said.
Originally from Waterbury, he’s the 2015 honoree who saw action during WWII with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He served in Italy and the walls in his home in Bristol are decorated with charcoal paintings by fellow soldiers and several medals, a bronze star and distinguished Service Award. He has bookshelves filled with WWII pictures and some of the items he used during the war, such as his backpack and snowshoes, sit on the windowsill.
After his service, Sileo, who worked in the paint business as a civilian, dedicated 50 years to the national Republican Party. He’s been an aide to former state representative Nancy Johnson, Connecticut Congressman Thomas Meskill, who later went on to serve as the state’s governor between 1971-1975, and Bob Dole, the Republican Presidential candidate in 1996, an officer he served under during the war.
Other involvements were spending 23 years with the late James “Doc” Gilhuly on the Bristol American Legion Baseball Committee, tutoring kids at South Side School, helping establish a scholarship at Siena College in New York in honor of the 50 men from his Army unit who perished, and being an active member of the Friends of the Bristol Public Library.
“When I retired, I wasn’t going to sit on a sofa,” Sileo said. “I’ve enjoyed doing it, especially reading to the kids at South Side School.”
Sileo and his wife, Jennie, who he first met at Lake Compounce, were honored with a surprise 70th wedding anniversary at Nuchie’s on Saturday. In attendance were family members, which included their four children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, and many friends.
When Bob Coffey was approached as being chosen as Hometown Hero in 2014, he didn’t want the honor saying, “There are better people around than me.” He was a doer, but never wanted the attention, never sought or enjoyed the spotlight. A Bristol native like Peplau, he graduated from Bristol Central in 1965, and worked for a year at New Departure before entering the U.S. Army, serving as a military police officer in the Central Highlands in Vietnam.
When he returned home after his tour of duty, he retained his job at New Departure, before becoming a Bristol police officer. He remained with the department for 25 years and today heads up Bristol’s Retired Police and Firefighters Association while also being heavily involved with American Legion Post 2. He’s served as post commander and has now logged in 50 years with the organization. These years of volunteering have been shared with his wife of 35 years, Darlene, a retired assistant director of the Bristol Senior Center.
Another important role he took on was being a member of the local Honor Guard, those who represent the military at funerals for veterans. Their presence at the cemeteries show the strong feelings and respect they have for their counterparts.
“That’s a good feeling,” Coffey said. “It’s rewarding. It really makes you feel good.”
The volunteering outside of his police and military circles has been with Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Meals on Wheels for the Needy soup kitchen and food pantry.
Other previous Hometown Heroes have been Matthew Lavoie (2010), Dave and Matt Carello (20ll), Tom LaPorte (2012) and Tim Gamache (2013).
Contact Bob Montgomery at email@example.com or by calling 860-973-1808.