Palm Coast, FL (September 25, 2021) There was plenty of love and goodwill on tap for the inaugural fall festival presented by the nonprofit Remembering Vets, on Saturday as families flocked to Central Park in Town Center to enjoy the first weekend of fall, and among that, one off the few major events to take place in the county since the beginning of the pandemic.

Featuring a variety of vendors offering arts and crafts, goods and services, food trucks, and plenty of American-themed memorabilia, it was a celebration of community heroes under picture perfect blue skies.

Gathering for heartfelt moments, Remembering Vets founder Cathy Heighter presented handcrafted keepsakes from Quilts of Valor to seven community heroes and six first responder heroes including the families or friends of two special heroes, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Detention Deputy Paul Luciano and Daytona Beach Police Officer Jason Raynor.

It was a stark reminder of the sacrifice veterans and first responders make on behalf of those they serve.

Remembering Vets board members and Gold Star Mother Terri Gordon and U.S. Navy veteran Stephen Swarner help oversee the inaugural Remembering Vets fall festival on Saturday, September 25, 2021 in Central Park, Palm Coast.

Remembering Vets board member and Gold Star mother Terri Gordon was among those working to put on the event and her smile was bright and vibrant, capturing the special moments throughout the day.

But as she stopped to talk Saturday afternoon and the event began to wind down, her reason for being so deeply involved in the efforts was never far from her mind.

“We lost Brandon Gordon in 2007, on February 18th. He was a Night Stalker on the 160th Airborne Division. It’s a knock that you don’t ever want to get on your door. One that will never leave you,” she said.

Not only did she lose her son, 21-year old Army Spc. Brandon Gordon in service to the nation, but his loss traumatically impacted the rest of their family.

“To make it even more crazy to how it’s affected my family, our oldest and our youngest sons were both found dead from drug overdoses after Brandon was killed, so we’re, yeah… We have one son left, he works for the Department of Defense. He’s a very intelligent, very motivated young man. Brandon’s twin, actually,” said Gordon.

Helping to put on the event for others to enjoy provides her with sense of purpose and helps carry on the legacy of her son’s sacrifice. Working alongside Gold Star mother Cathy Heighter they epitomize the very definition of strength, honor and determination.

After learning about Heighter’s story with the loss of her son, 22-year old Army Pfc. Raheen Tyson Heighter in Iraq on July 24, 2003, new to the cause but equally supportive, U.S. Navy veteran Stephen Swarner, says it’s a genuine love and care for their mission as board members of the Remembering Vets organization that inspires them to give back.

“These two women are courageously strong,” he said.  “Terri’s a woman who’s been able to stand up, and been able to come and help other veterans, and not just other veterans, but other mothers who have lost their kids. To stand up, be strong and tell her story to the world, it takes more than a backbone and that’s part of the reason I wanted to come on board, to help them out. They are fantastic and mean so much to me.”

“The point of the day is to bring awareness to veterans and bring people into our community and show our love and support for our community,” shared Swarner. “Being a part of the team and getting this started really meant a lot to me and my family.”

Attendees were moved by the magnitude of the day including Rose Marie Preddy, Gold Star sister and President of the First Coast Blue Star Mothers, Inc.

“It is truly inspiring to see these Gold Star mothers organize such an event,” said Preddy. “It honors the memory of their own children by recognizing heroes among us today.”


Community Heroes:

Marlene Russell – Whispering Meadows Ranch, volunteer

Stephanie Ear – Matanzas High School, nurse liaison

Melinda Miles – Indian Trails Middle School, head custodian

Khady Harmon – Matanzas High School, teacher

Pastor Jearlyn Dennie – Jearlyn Ministries, community support

Nadine King – Christmas Come True, community support

Pastor Charles Silano – Grace Tabernacle, Grace Food Pantry, Open Door Re-Entry and Recovery Ministry


First Responder Heroes:

Driver Engineer Joseph Fajardo – Palm Coast Fire Department

Detective Richard “Stan” Petkovesk – Flagler County Sheriff’s Office

Chief Jerry Forte – Palm Coast Fire Chief

Firefighter Paramedic Christopher Ellis – Flagler County Fire Rescue

*Family of Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Detention Deputy Paul Luciano (deceased)

*Joe Rosa on behalf of the family of Daytona Beach Police Office Jason Raynor (deceased)

Learn more about Remembering Vets here.

Featured Image: First Coast Blue Star Mother Rose Marie Preddy joins Remembering Vets board members and Gold Star Mothers Cathy Heighter and Terri Gordon, for the Remembering Vets fall festival in Central Park, Palm Coast on September 25, 2021. Photo courtesy Rose Marie Preddy.