By Michael J. Billoni
Senior Contributing Writer
Elsie Martino has been the humble, dedicated volunteer secretary of the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee since the fall of 2018. She has been gracious and helpful in accomplishing many tasks while being supportive of every committee member as they accomplished the amazing goal of constructing a monument in honor of Grand Island’s World War II hero, U.S. Army Pvt. First-Class Charles N. DeGlopper and all town veterans.
For someone who has made it very clear she wants to remain in the background, Martino was in for the surprise of her life on May 16 when she arrived at the Charles N. DeGlopper VFW Post 9249 for what she thought was a committee meeting to announce the receipt of $100,000 from Albany. It was Martino’s tireless persistence, along with assistance from Brian Tippett, the post’s past commander, that finally saw the money deposited into the expansion committee’s account.
Once Martino took her place and roll was called, the committee began the surprise by asking members of her immediate family and local political leaders to quietly move into the room behind her. As secretary, Martino created the agenda and found it odd each officer replied, “No Report” when they were called. When it came time for project manager Dan “Double D” Drexelius to speak, he asked Martino to turn around.
“My entire family and Supervisor John Whitney were there, and they all had these big smiles on their face. I had no idea what was going on,” Martino explained.
At that point, Whitney read a certificate of appreciation concluding with him stating every May 16 will forever be known as “Elsie Martino Day” in the Town of Grand Island.
New York State Assemblyman Angelo Morinello read a citation acknowledging her efforts in securing the $100,000 grant and recognizing the town’s “Elsie Martino Day” each May 16. State Sen. Sean M. Ryan also presented her with a proclamation.
“I was mortified,” Martino said afterward. “I was completely surprised, totally humbled, and speechless. I prefer to do my work quietly, behind the scenes, without recognition.
“The person who is truly deserving of this recognition is Dan Drexelius. I do not believe the project would be completed without his leadership, dedication, and downright grit. There are, of course, several others who fall into the category. I am just so proud of what we have accomplished as a group, and the magnitude of support from our community.”
Martino’s recognition came because of a $100,000 grant that had been promised to the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee early in May 2018. During a press conference on the memorial’s site, early in the process, former New York State Sen. Chris Jacobs presented an oversized check to go toward sculpting the statue. Photos were taken and this recognition was one of the first on the committee’s website. The treasurer listed the amount under the fundraising goal and, although the committee could not cash the oversized check, members were promised it would be received soon.
They were never told it would literally take five years.
Complicating efforts to secure the grant, Jacobs, a Republican, became Congressman Jacobs two years later and Ryan, a Democrat, became the senator for this district. Then, COVID-19 shut the state down.
At each committee meeting over the past five years, it was stated the grant is tied up in the state but, in January 2022, Martino decided to dig deeper and work the phones and her computer to secure those promised funds.
“Quite honestly, if it wasn’t for Elsie Martino, we would not have this $100,000,” Drexelius said. “Anyone else would have given up and walked away from dealing with the bureaucracy of government, but not Elsie.”
“She is just a phenomenal person who did a super, super, super job for our committee,” said Ray DeGlopper, commander of American Legion Post 1464. “That $100,000 meant a lot to us and we really needed it. Elsie is a real bear – she latches onto something and never lets go until it is done.”
After spending nearly all last year hearing voice mails or responding to emails or completing more forms, Martino finally broke through and was talking to a real person in Albany who helped her get to the finish line.
“The process is amazing but, once she got us to ‘The Gateway,’ it led us to receiving the promised funds,” she explained. Rather than hearing “the check is in the mail,” Martino provided the committee’s bank information for an electronic transfer of the funds.
“I was in shock when I saw the funds in our account on May 16,” Martino said with relief. “This was a real eye-opener to me. There should be a better system to access these dollars, especially when grants are going to nonprofits who do not have a big staff or are volunteer-run. There needs to be more clarification from government officials when these ‘fake checks’ are presented.”
Whitney said Martino’s commitment as a volunteer member of the committee is “what makes Grand Island so great.”
“Elsie worked so diligently and so hard and is super-committed, and that is why she was able to secure these funds, which will help the memorial become a federally recognized fund,” he said.
As Martino reflected on what the memorial site at Baseline and Grand Island Boulevard is today, she said, “It is amazing to think of where we are today, from when Ray DeGlopper and a couple of people had a vision of an expanded site while sitting over a cup of coffee. The original plan was drawn on a napkin.
“This project came to fruition because of the extent of sacrifices of time, energy, thinking and planning from the committee, along with the monetary and in-kind contributions from our entire Grand Island community. There is no measure to match the sacrifices made by our service members and their families.”
Martino added, “The expansion has truly been a community effort. Everyone involved and anyone who picked up a shovel, bent a knee to lay down sod in the rain, came to meetings, supported the cause financially or with in-kind donations, those who came up with an idea to make the dedication ceremony the success that it was, deserves to be thanked.
“The opportunity to be part of this amazing project has been a very rewarding challenge. I am honored I had the pleasure of meeting and working with some very dedicated and hard-working people, and veterans with awfully big hearts. I truly hope everyone who participated in this project is gratified by what there is to show for their efforts.
“Our beautiful community and our committee created a distinguished tribute that will remain for generations to honor Charles N. DeGlopper, all Grand Island KIAs, and those who served.”
May 15 was named “Elsie Martino Day” on Grand Island. Supervisor John Whitney presented Martino with proclamations from the municipality, as well as from New York State Sen. Sean Ryan and Assemblyman Angelo Morello. She had no idea the accolades would be part of the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee meeting. Martino’s family members looked on as she was honored. (Photos by Robert Haag)