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BELLE CENTER — Melissa Johnston Molnar moved from Belle Center in 1984, but despite living near Fort Knox, Ky., she has never really left the Logan County village.
Molnar remains an active member of the Belle Center American Legion Auxiliary, she makes phone calls from her Kentucky home to the local area to generate interest in special events and returns home each Memorial Day and Fourth of July to design and build floats for the community parades.
Her roots are here, explained Molnar. Her family has lived in Belle Center since 1840 and has been in Richland Township since 1827. She may live in Kentucky, said Molnar, but her home will always be Belle Center.
Involvement in the local parades goes back to her grandfather and mother, said Molnar. As she was growing up in the village, her mom showed the Johnston children home movies of local parades.
She returned home after the death of her father and was surprised her mom was planning to create a float in the upcoming parade. She had gotten refrigerator boxes from a local store and told Molnar she wanted her to create the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima from the cardboard.
“She had started it, but couldn’t quite get it,” said Molnar.
The float was the first of many the mom and daughter created for Belle Center parades. Floats honoring World War II followed, along with memorials for Sept. 11 and the 80th anniversary of the American Legion.
One year, recalled Molnar, she built a Vietnam Wall in Kentucky and transported it home for a parade. She built the wall six feet longer than the trailer, but was not stopped by the detail. An extension was added to the trailer, she said.
With the floats, she said, came donations of uniforms from various wars and sources. The family now has between 15 and 20 authentic uniforms to go along with the floats.
After her mother died, Molnar said she continued to feel obligated to return to Belle Center for the summer holidays and build floats for the parades.
“A few years I wasn’t able to make it,” she said, “and I got letters saying, ‘Why didn’t you come home?’”
This year, she said, the float will feature the returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. Area returning vets are encouraged to ride on the float in Wednesday’s parade. The lineup begins at 11:30 a.m. at the former school location and the float will be under the “big tree.” The parade begins at noon.
“We want to welcome them home,” said Molnar. “I want to pay tribute to them. They come home here one at a time.”
Those wanting to ride in the parade are asked to call Molnar at 270-998-9115 to make sure there is a chair ready for them on the float.
Molnar said she returns each year out of a dedication to her hometown and out of respect for veterans. Her husband retired from the Army and her daughter is enlisted in the Air Force.
“I don’t do it alone,” she said. “I have friends help and my sister, Teresa, indulges me. She stores the trailer here and helps me with the floats.”
The building of the floats is like an annual reunion, said Molnar. The volunteers joke and laugh and catch up on each other’s lives.
“Mom would have loved it,” she said.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer