MANTENO — Bonnie Rogge walked down East First Street toward Illinois Route 50 when her five daughters told her to stop and look up at a light pole.
When the 89-year-old looked up, she saw the man she met in 1943 on a blind date at a Minnesota bowling alley; the man she wrote overseas for two years; the man she married and raised five daughters with.
There was her late husband, Joseph, watching over her on a military banner on Route 50. He was among the 200 hundred veterans Manteno has honored with its military banner program.
“It was very heartwarming,” Rogge said. “It was a big surprise. I have trouble walking, but I can go out there every day and say hi to him. I am grateful.”
Rogge met her husband when he was on a three-week leave from the Navy. They went bowling near their hometown in Minnesota and wrote letters to each other while Joseph shipped supplies from the U.S. to Asia during World War II.
“I was tickled every time I got a letter from him,” Rogge said. “I always waited for his letters.”
Joseph returned to the U.S. in 1945. The couple got married in 1947 and had five daughters — Kristen, Kathryn, Marijo, Michelle and Lori — together. They settled down in Richton Park for 50 years until Joseph passed away in 2005.
Rogge took care of her husband for the last 15 years of his life as he battled complications caused by multiple strokes. A year after Joseph’s death, she moved to Manteno to live with her daughter, Michelle Karvunis.
In May, Manteno launched its military banner program to honor veterans with ties to the village. Rogge learned about the program through a Daily Journal article, but did not think her husband would qualify since he originally was not from the area.
Her daughters, though, worked in secret. All five of them chipped in to have a banner made for their dad. Rogge’s daughter, Kathryn Punter, asked the village if they would place the banner down the street from her mother. The village obliged.
To surprise their mother, the five daughters gathered and took Rogge on a walk. They got to the end of the street and pointed it out.
“We said, ‘Look, Ma.’ She looked up. The look on her face was priceless. Her mouth was open, and she just started crying,” Punter said.
“I just thought it was wonderful that my five girls did that for me,” Rogge said. “My husband is buried at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery in Elwood. We don’t get there often, but now I can go out there when I want to and stay there a minute or two. It’s almost like going out the the cemetery, but it’s not so far.”
Rogge’s banner will hang from the light pole until the village takes it down after Veterans Day. It will go back up next Memorial Day and stay up through November. After that, the family will get to keep the banner.
The banner program has been popular in the village with about 200 decorative light poles displaying veterans.
“Relatives come into town and take pictures under their family member’s banner,” Mayor Tim Nugent said. “It is a source of pride and patriotism. I am glad the village has done it. Our only problem — and it’s a good problem — is we are running out of light poles.”
Accommodating Rogge, though, only adds to the small town pride.
“It’s nice that we were able to do something to make her day,” Nugent said. “Now, she can walk down the street and see her husband. That is special.”