Cross-country Old Glory Relay to pass through Southwestern Pennsylvania
Before the sun rises Thursday, runners will depart John and Betty Rhoads’ Coal Miners Cafe in Somerset County with an American flag as it makes its way across the country.
Through a series of relays along a 70-mile route through much of Westmoreland County, the flag is to be delivered to Heinz Field on Pittsburgh’s North Shore that evening.
“I’m so glad and privileged to be able to carry the flag in such an ordeal to get it across America,” said John Rhoads, owner of the coal-mining themed Jennerstown restaurant and a Vietnam Marine veteran who was hurt in action and rescued by three comrades.
Passed from hand to hand, the Old Glory Relay flag will make stops in Greensburg and at Penn-Trafford High School as part of a nationwide event that started on Sept. 11 in Boston. Twenty people have signed up to carry the flag from Jennerstown to the North Shore, said local organizer Sarah Watkins.
“We expect a lot of people to be out cheering us on, too,” she said.
The fifth-annual relay is a fundraiser held by Florida nonprofit Team Red, White and Blue, whose mission is to connect veterans with their communities. Chapters of Team RWB exist across the county, including Pittsburgh.
The 62-day, 4,300-mile relay will pass through 24 states before ending on Veterans Day in San Diego.
“It’s really to connect the community with the veterans and military families, to show our appreciation and support for their sacrifices,” Watkins said.
Day 17 in Southwestern Pennsylvania will begin at 6 a.m., when Rhoads will unfurl the flag at the cafe he has run for 38 years with his wife and daughters.
The relay will move along Route 30 down Laurel Summit into Ligonier and Unity before turning onto Route 981 and eventually Donohoe Road. It is expected to stop at Penn-Trafford High School football stadium for a 12:30 p.m. ceremony, which will be open to the public.
Assistant Principal Amy Horvat said students and staff will be at the football field to meet relay members for a 30-minute ceremony. School nurse Lisa Popovich has signed up to carry the flag, Horvat said.
“It would be awesome if people would be lined up on (Route) 130 as well,” she said.
Horvat and her cousin, Watkins, have family members in the military and they understand the need to express their appreciation.
“I just think it’s important … to honor that kind of thing,” Horvat said.
The relay will continue on Route 130 to Monroeville and through Turtle Creek, East Pittsburgh, North Braddock and Homestead. It will follow the Monongahela River into the South Side and across the Smithfield Street Bridge to Point State Park at 5:30 p.m. and then arrive at Heinz Field’s Great Hall for a 6 p.m. closing ceremony, which also will be open to the public. World War II veteran Walter Blanko and former Steelers player Rocky Bleier will be on hand for the flag folding.
On Friday, the relay will leave Pittsburgh for Youngstown, Ohio.
Sign-ups for Day 17 can be made for $40 until Wednesday and a donation can be made anytime to support the relay here . The relay’s progress can be viewed here . Get updates on the local Facebook page here .
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.