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Making sure local veterans are honored

When Steve Kemmerle was a youngster in the Boy Scouts, he never imagined that one day he would be coordinating what has become "the largest Veterans Day Parade north of the Golden Gate" in the town of Petaluma. But he does admit to a penchant for liking things to be organized.

In his last semester before receiving an MBA, Kemmerle was drafted and stationed in Germany for two years from 1969 to 1970, where he gained an appreciation of the role of a serviceman. He also had a degree in mineralogy, an interest he acquired from his grandfather. But fate led him to a career as a controller for a variety of companies.

As a history buff and a resident of Petaluma since 1972, Kemmerle reached out to his comrades in the military, eventually becoming the Commander of American Legion Post 28. In that role, he ultimately took on the responsibility for the Petaluma Veteran's Day parade from Julius Forcucci, who had almost single-handedly kept the event alive from 1967 to 1986. When Forcucci died in 1988, Kemmerle was determined to carry on his efforts.

Kemmerle recalls that, "In the early '90s, the parade consisted of about 100 entries, and by 2012 it had 190 entries and over 30,000 people attended the parade and flyover." He added, "2013 is projected to be even bigger."

Recently Petaluma gave a big salute to Kemmerle, who turns 69 this year, presenting him with the Outstanding Community Service award for his work on the town's increasingly popular Veterans Day Parade.

Faced with government cutbacks and diminishing funds, Kemmerle has shown his spirit as a real trooper, raising money from local businesses and organizations. "I am very grateful to all who contribute to this event," he said. "We need to continue to support those who defend our freedom, sometimes giving their all."

Kemmerle's work with veterans has brought him in close contact with Joe Noriel, president of the Petaluma Historical Museum, which hosted an exhibit on the Vietnam War in 2010.

"Steve and I are kind of &‘joined at the hip,' laughs Noriel. "I've been at the museum four-plus years and whenever there is an event that involves veterans, Steve is there to help."

"Steve's an amazing guy," he added. "For a long time he was a kind of &‘unsung hero.' Nobody realized the effort it takes to put on this kind of event (the parade). It's not just the logistics, but since government funds have dried up, it's necessary to go out each year and raise money because it's expensive to put on the parade."

Marie McCusker, executive director of the Petaluma Downtown Association added that the Veterans Day Parade only gets stronger each year under Kemmerle's watch.


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