Community out in full support for deceased veteran
BROCTON – At the sound of the horn, runners and walkers set out to honor and remember Army Staff Sgt. Darren Manzella-Lapeira Saturday. Darren’s parents, Nancy and Mike Manzella of Portland, were overwhelmed by the community’s support at the inaugural Memorial Fun Walk and 5K Run.
“You are all helping keep Darren’s legacy alive,” Nancy said. “To have our hometown, friends and family, commemorate his life in this way means the world to our family. Darren would be so proud and humbled.”
The John W. Dill Post 434 honor guard led by Post Commander Al Valentin recognized the local hero for his service along with his stance and work against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Darren came out in an interview and was dismissed from duty in 2008. In 2011, the military repealed the policy. Valentin said that Darren fought to protect and give voice to those who served under the fear of the policy.
“Our honor guard is here today to honor this brave veteran’s service to our country during a time of war,” he said. “We also remember to honor his heroism at home for having the courage to change an unfair status quo.”
Nephew and niece of Darren, Felix and Rosemary, stood at the start line and blew the horn as runners and walkers set out down Main Street toward Pecor Street. The last leg of the race came through Brocton on Main Street where they finished by the legion. First-cousin of Darren’s, Jann Heyden, stated that a little over 200 people participated in the Fun Walk and 5K Run.
“The local community support is fabulous along with family and friends’ support,” Heyden said. “Everybody wants to pitch in and they want to help.”
The run originated when Darren’s first cousin Melissa (Thies) Seavy had the idea to organize the memorial walk and run, according to the Manzella’s. Family and friends of Darren took over and planned the whole thing. They commended the community along with family members who helped bring the event to fruition.
“The whole community got behind it and helped,” Nancy said. “We’ve had plenty of volunteers along with gifts and donations. It’s really a community event. They support you and it’s just amazing.”
Mike said that the event represents Darren and his life since he enjoyed being around people and having fun. He mentioned that Darren was a strong proponent of gays in the military. He took an active part in trying to get the DADT policy repealed.
“He loved to help people, just like the people that are around helping us today,” Mike said. “He liked to help veterans of the country, and that was most important to him.”
The family set up a fund through the Chautauqua County Community Foundation, the Darren Manzella-Lapeira Veterans’ Assistance Fund. The fund raises money for any veterans who are in immediate need of groceries, medical care and rent. At the end of the race, the family came together and presented $10,000 for the foundation. Nancy explained how important it was to Darren to help other troops in need.
“He worked at the Canandaigua Veterans Hospital,” Nancy said. “He was on the crisis line and he was the only veteran on there. He helped them in the direction they needed to get help. That was so important to him to help fellow troops. We’re really proud of the person he was.”
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