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From The Daily News (Longview, WA):

Longview’s Towering Tribute

Grocery owners use reader board to welcome home local military members
By Rick S. Alvord

It began, innocently enough, with a small-town mom and dad sharing their pride. Steve and Cheryl Mazzuca’s son, Randy, had just graduated from Coast Guard basic training, and the owners of Grocery Outlet in Longview decided to honor him by putting his name on the store’s reader board — 25 feet high, in bright-red letters.

Hey, it’s their store. Who was going to tell them no?

“We knew there was a possibility that he’d come home and say, ‘C’mon, Dad, that’s stupid.’ But he was very excited. And he’s still excited,” Steve Mazzuca said. “As parents, we were very proud and wanted to acknowledge what he had accomplished. What we’ve discovered is that we aren’t the only proud parents out there.”

For nearly two years, the reader board outside the discount grocery store on Ocean Beach Highway has served as a public platform to pay tribute to the area’s men and women of the military.

There is room for four names, two on each side, with their respective branch of service — and always a “WELCOME HOME” greeting.

“That’s the main thing,” Cheryl Mazzuca said. “It’s giving all of those family members and friends a place to say, ‘Welcome back!’

“The most surprising thing we get from this is when people can’t believe we would do it for nothing,” she added. “That (reader board) is valuable real estate for a grocery store. But doing this is way better payback than any corn advertised at four for a dollar.”

The board has become more popular than the Mazzucas ever imagined. Many patrons who visit the store, even ones without loved ones in the military, are aware of how important the endeavor has become.

“I think it’s an incredibly nice thing to do for the community,” said Mallory Clark, whose boyfriend, Kevin Aniker of Kelso, returned home for Christmas on Dec. 19, and departed for boot camp in Fort Knox, Ky., on Friday. “I had them put Kevin’s name up there, along with Jamison Passmore, a good friend. I’d heard that they did it free of charge. It’s just a great thing to do for people.”

Steve Mazzuca remembers how he and his wife felt when they witnessed their son’s graduation from basic training, and how proud they were when he aided in a massive high-seas cocaine bust by the Coast Guard.

“Having his name on the board was an extension of the pride we felt,” he said. “So why keep that to ourselves?”

The Mazzucas placed a sign on the door and at each check stand, and recorded a brief announcement for the in-store P.A. system that played every hour.

“We wanted to let people know that if they wanted to honor someone on the reader board, they could do it here,” Steve Mazzuca said. “At first, I thought we’d intermix a few here and there, along with putting up the green beans and whatever else on the board.

“But,” he added, “then it just took off.”

Customers began talking. Relatives of veterans, past and present, visited the store and made reader-board requests.

The names went up, two and sometimes four at a time, typically with a two-day minimum stay. Now, as many as a dozen a week make the board.

“They don’t have to be (serving) overseas, either. They could be just completing basic training, or sometimes we’ll just put ‘thank you’ by their names,” said Mazzuca, whose son, Petty Officer Second Class Randy Mazzuca, is stationed on the Fir, a United States Coast Guard cutter in Astoria. “We’ve had husbands and wives up there. We’ve had former employees of the store up there.”

Not long ago, a Vietnam veteran shopping at the store commented about how kind it was for the Mazzucas to recognize the returning service men and women.

“He said nobody had welcomed him back when he came home from Vietnam, so we put his name up there,” Mazzuca said.

On Thanksgiving Day, with the store closed, Mazzuca returned home after doing some work in his office. He and his wife, along with their son and his wife, were scheduled to travel to Puyallup for a family dinner.

“But I’d forgotten to put a name up on the board, and it was eating at me. So I told Cheryl we needed to get down there and put it up before we left,” Mazzuca said. “The scariest part was having my wife run the forklift, with me 25 feet up there. But she did fine.”

And how long will the reader-board tradition continue?

“Until we stop getting names,” Cheryl Mazzuca said. “There’s no way we can stop now.”

 

 Steve and Cheryl Mazzuca with their famous reader board.

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