When the Water Tower Advisory Council was fundraising to refurbish the park, our local VFW Post 5205 answered the call.
I first became aware of VFW Post 5205 as an attendee at their annual tribute to fallen soldiers that takes place every Memorial Day in Chestnut Hill. So in 2022, when the Water Tower Advisory Council was conducting a fundraiser to refurbish the park around the historic water tower and WWll Memorial, it was natural that we would reach out to the veterans of our local VFW for help.
We were surprised and grateful when VFW Post 5205 not only donated the entire cost of the memorial restoration but also funded repairs to the beautiful slate paths throughout the park. In addition to their generous monetary support, they provided expertise in developing plans and working with local contractors. The VFW has now partnered with the advisory council to share the stories of local soldiers with the community, and with a project to highlight the history of the tower and memorial through signage to be installed at the site.
The mission of the VFW is threefold: advocacy, assistance, and camaraderie, and this can easily be seen in the stories of its members, including two whom I have been fortunate to meet.
Steve Kurtz is a longtime member of the VFW and a Chestnut Hill native. Steve served in the army during the Vietnam War with the job of completing calculations for direct artillery fire. This is a job for which computers were later developed and it required the highest security clearance, but this work was not done in Vietnam.
“I was lucky to be stationed in Korea,” Steve said. He has always loved history and after graduating from St. Joseph’s College (now University), Steve became a teacher, but switched careers after a summer job working for a roofing company gave him the idea to start his own company. Kurtz Construction has thrived since its beginnings 52 years ago and is well-known and respected throughout the area.
Now “somewhat” less active in the business since Steve’s son Chris took over as president of the company, Steve has more time to spend with his wife Mary, and two grandchildren, and to employ his combined love of history with his knowledge of construction in various volunteer efforts to preserve historic sites throughout Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, and Germantown. He and Mary have been members of the Chestnut Hill Conservancy for many years, and Steve currently volunteers as a trustee of VFW Post 5205, which owns and is committed to preserving the beautiful historic building in which its headquarters are housed.
Joe Melendez is the current commander of VFW 5205. Joe was born in Puerto Rico and came to Philadelphia as a small child and has lived here ever since.
Joe served in Vietnam, and after returning home, began a distinguished 40-year career in the Philadelphia Police Department, where he rose to the rank of chief inspector. Now retired, Joe keeps busy advocating for veterans in a variety of ways. He is a commissioner on veterans affairs with the Philadelphia City Council, and he is on the Veterans Advisory Committee with the Saracini Community Base Outpatient Clinic and the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center.
Joe’s family includes his wife, Olga, and their two daughters, Jennifer, who is a high school principal, and Joyce, who is an electrical engineer. Education is a family value that has been instilled through the generations, from Olga and Joe to their children and five grandchildren.
When Joe is not busy volunteering he may be found enjoying one of the many books he reads every year, competing at chess with one of his grandkids, or perhaps golfing which is another of his family’s favorite pastimes.
As we approach another Veterans Day this Saturday, Nov. 11, please remember to thank a veteran and remember those like Joe and Steve whose life work shows their dedication to family, community, and the country we love.
Water Tower Advisory Council
For more information about VFW Post 5205, visit vfw5205.org. To learn more about our park project and upcoming fundraiser on Nov. 17, visit watertower.ticketleap.com