Park founder, veteran 'Mac' LeVay, honored at Leeds ceremony



Published: 05-29-2017 9:23 PM

LEEDS — Local veterans and their families stepped away from Memorial Day celebrations to solemnly remember fallen veterans near and far at Leeds Veterans Memorial Park on Sunday.

During the service, a new stone memorial and plaque were dedicated to World War II veteran and park founder, Rene “Mac” LeVay, who died in 2009. His brother, Brad LeVay Sr., told the story of how Mac gathered up community veterans and friends in 1979 to build the veterans’ memorial park in the then-vacant lot across from Leeds Elementary School.

“One man never confused the meaning of Memorial Day — that was my brother Rene ‘Mac’ LeVay,” LeVay said. “Mac knew that with the creation of this park, the people of Leeds would always have a quiet place to remember.”

Leeds Elementary School fifth-graders Daniel Horton and Juliet Langer opened the ceremony with the Pledge of Allegiance and Gettysburg Address to a crowd of about 40 Northampton Veterans Affairs officials, the LeVay family, friends and residents.

LeVay, a lifelong Leeds resident and himself a Marine Corps veteran, remembered his brother as friendly, full of life and humor — and above all a proud U.S. 82nd Airborne Army veteran. LeVay said Mac was dubbed “the mayor of Leeds” because of his dedication to his hometown. Mac LeVay served in a number of battles during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge.

“The people who we’re honoring, they gave us today,” LeVay said. “We don’t know about tomorrow, we don’t have it yet.”

LeVay said he and his wife, Carolyn, both Leeds natives, visit the park often. Carolyn LeVay explained how much the park means to her and her husband. She said that when Mac and Brad began working on the park, it was because Mac was upset by vandalism occurring at other memorial parks in the area.

The LeVays and the community put in a great deal of work on the park, and Carolyn LeVay said many who worked on it have died since building it.

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“It brings back a lot of good memories for Brad,” she said. “And there’s still work to be done, keeping it up.”

Steven Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, spoke on the importance of remembering fallen veterans on Memorial Day, aside from marking a celebration for the unofficial beginning of summer. Noting that this year marks the 100th anniversary of when the United States joined World War I, Connor said 31 Northampton service members died in that war, and emphasized the need to reflect upon their sacrifice to their country and the loss to their family, the community and the nation.

“It’s important to make sure people understand that (the remembering of veterans) happens all year long for a lot of people, especially (veterans’) families,” Connor said. “The biggest thing they want out of life is to remember the person who died.”

Jane Bowie, a nurse at the VA in Northampton, described her journey as a woman joining the Navy at 19, and her path to becoming a military nurse.

She told the story of the first critically injured soldier she encountered: a “handsome young man” who, among other injuries, suffered burns and shrapnel wounds to his face. She recalled the emotion she felt at his request to look at the damage in a mirror. “And then we both cried,” she said.

Northampton Mayor David Narkiewicz read a proclamation commending the “courage” and “ultimate sacrifice” honoring of the nation’s fallen veterans and their families, as well as honoring Rene “Mac” LeVay.

Several other members of LeVay’s family also attended the service, including his children, Dawn LeVay, 66; Mark LeVay, 62; and Candice Rutka, 68. Brad LeVay Jr. was also in attendance.

“I think it was great what they did for my dad,” Mark LeVay said. “It’s pretty special because my dad was pretty special. It’s good to see him honored.”

The Rev. David Whitely, chaplain of the VA hospital, gave the invocation of the service dedicating the memorial to Mac LeVay. The ceremony also included a color guard, a wreath-laying ceremony and the playing of taps.