Boyertown American Legion Post 471
Boyertown, PA 19512
Mark Malizzi--Custom Fabricator
Jeff Graber, Graber Letterin'--Painter
Boyertown’s 2016 Citizen of the Year Mark Malizzi has added yet another accomplishment to his community service resumé recently in customizing and installing the Honor Bear, the latest addition to the Bear Fever project.
Malizzi was eager to add two Bear Fever bears to the community’s public art project and requested an estimate to make the specific changes and additions to the basic model to meet the visions he had for them. The estimate revealed, however, that those changes would add substantially to the price of the sculptures. In addition, the fabrication company was beginning to experience supply chair and staffing issues and could not promise a timely delivery.
And so, Malizzi decided to utilize the knowledge and skills he’d acquired from working with fiberglass in repairing Corvettes as service director for over 20 years for Ford Beans Ford of Boyertown and make the changes and additions himself.
When he had a minute.
More time passed than he’d planned, but finally, Malizzi, along with Jeff Graber of Graber Letterin’, installed the first of his two bears, the “Honor Bear” at 9:00 a.m. on 9/11/2022. The “Honot Bear” now stands proudly over the recently-created Veterans’ Memorial Garden located on the grounds of Boyertown’s American Legion on Walker Drive.
“It was raining the morning of 9/11, and Jeff asked me if I wanted to pick a better day to install the bear,” explains, Malizzi, “but I thought it important to have the bear show the same dedication that the Honor Guards at Arlington National Cemetery demonstrate,” he adds. “They’re on guard in all kinds of weather, 365 days a year, as their lifetime commitment, even during a hurricane from which they had Presidential permission to seek shelter.” And so, promptly, despite the rain, at 9:00 a.m. on 9/11/2022, the “Honor Bear” began its duty.
“Folks have been moved—some, to tears and hugs, actually—at the professionalism of the garden including the 60-foot flagpole, walkway, and the bricks along the walkway that bear the names of veterans—those departed and those still with us,” he continues.
“The flags that fly in memorials like this one are often those that were draped over the coffin and given to families to honor a departed veteran. In those instances, that very flag will fly over our garden for 30 days at the family’s request. There is one organization,” he notes, “that has flown a family flag for 380 consecutive months.”
Malizzi was eager to represent all branches of the service; and so, copying the stance and the uniform of the Honor Guard became the goal. Customizing the “Honor Bear” was a time-consuming project for Malizzi involving the addition of sunglasses, the creation of a replica of a rifle from assorted materials and painting it realistically. Malizzi found two hats at a local Army/Navy store, cut them in half to accommodate the bear’s ears, treated them with wire netting, fiberglass, and rosin and screwed them into the sculpture.
The bear’s feet were treated with putty and paint to resemble the soldiers’ polished black boots. Pieces were cut out of the bear’s paw to enable a repositioning and wire netting added to hold the rifle. Malizzi figures that at least 50 hours of custom work were dedicated to creating the “Honor Bear,” hours that included creating layers, applying netting, fiberglass, cloth, body filling, and sanding. Painting and clear coating required Jeff Graber’s expertise.
“We wanted the bear’s face and body to have fur-like texture but the uniform to be a smooth finish,” he explains. “The three sergeant stripes on the bear’s sleeve are my ‘signature,’ he admits. “Naming him the “Honor Bear”—was done as a sign of respect for the ‘Honor Guard.’”
Bricks were placed as part of an Eagle Scout project; the walkway showcases the skill and efforts of Jason Konnick. Bricks to honor veterans are available for purchase at the Boyertown American Legion or by visiting the website boyertownamericanlegion.com.
Chaplain Mark Malizzi
“I’m known as “the divine instigator” in my efforts to help all people by spreading the love.” Malizzi—regional chaplain and vice president for Boyertown Fire and Rescue and many other police, fire and EMT programs in Berks County—goes by the adage that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
“People are looking to work with people they trust—in volunteer efforts and in their everyday lives. Building trust in relationships helps business, too. My bosses Fred Beans and Dennis Malloy know that my community work benefits the business.
In addition to his fulltime work with Fred Beans Ford Boyertown and his work as regional chaplain, Malizzi founded the non-profit organization now known as Thunder Outreach Ministries in 2006 that began as a block party in 2005 titled Thunder in the Valley.
Today Thunder Outreach Ministries is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records; Ripley’s Believe It or Not, earning the World Record for the World’s Largest Community Food Drive in 24 Hours; and has acquired three National awards in the American Police Hall of Fame among other awards, honors, and commendations.
Malizzi’s mission includes recognizing the unique gifts each person brings. “We’re a diamond of many facets,” he explains, a rainbow of many colors, a garden of many flowers. “Working as a team, with each person bringing different skills, refusing to put square pegs in round holes—we can get so much done.
“What it takes is the artist’s vision—the ability to see the sculpture in the block of clay, the willingness to hammer out the chunks—what doesn’t add to the final work of art, what we don’t need to do or worry about. Seeing the best in all of us looks like a miracle and, in the process, improves the world around us.”
Listen to Mark Malizzi’s episode on the “B Inspired” podcast available on your favorite podcast platform: Spotify, Anchor.fm, Google, Apple, Castbox, etc.