Saturday, February 04, 2023

'All those years' Libby restaurant's wall of portraits honors service members

by John Blodgett Western News
| March 2, 2018 3:00 AM


Clarence Watson, left, and John Dickens reminisce in front of the “Wall of Honor” at Simple Simon’s Pizza Feb. 9. (John Blodgett/The Western News)

What started as nine portraits hung in honor of one family’s military service has grown into a “Wall of Honor” at Simple Simon’s Pizza in Libby.

Those first photos were hung Christmastime 2016, a few months after Pete and Jennie Lafond bought the restaurant at 30270 Highway 2.

“We wanted it to be a family-atmosphere-type restaurant,” Jennie Lafond said. “There’s no better way (to do that) than to honor those who serve.”

The initial nine portraits, representing four generations of Lafond’s father’s family, have since been joined by dozens of others that customers have brought in, encouraged solely by word of mouth.

The oldest image, of Robert Chaplin in his U.S. Navy seaman’s uniform, was taken in 1915 in France. It’s more solemn and formal than some of the more modern images, in which servicemen and servicewomen smile broadly.

“It was all business” in the early days, said Lafond’s mother Donna Watson, noting history’s sweep in the rows of photos representing every branch of service.

The portraits have been filling up the dining room’s west wall. Their goal is to fill up the north wall as well, Lafond said.

To help accomplish that goal, she invites anyone to bring in a 5-by-7 inch photo of a past or present service member, “hopefully a uniform picture.”

Copies are fine, and there is no need to worry about a frame because Lafond said she’s “been to every thrift shop between here and Kalispell” to buy every 5-by-7 inch frame she can find.

Customers have contributed more than photos to the Wall of Honor. One made a sign designating it as such, and Karen Dickens — who makes wreaths to hang on the Veteran’s Memorial at Riverfront Park — supplied the POW, MIA and American flags that hang on the wall alongside flags from each service branch.

“It’s just nice to honor the people who make a difference in the world,” Dickens said.

Opposite the Wall of Honor is a wall honoring those who make a difference while serving in law enforcement, fire and other emergency services. Hanging among various items is Lafond’s helmet from when she was a volunteer firefighter in Princeton, Texas for almost a dozen years.

People can bring in items for that wall as well, she said.

Yet it’s the Wall of Honor that draws the most reverence. Lafond recalled an older local man, supporting himself with a walker, who came in to view the wall, exclaimed “look at all those years,” and cried.

“He saluted them,” Lafond said. “He made me feel it was worth it.”

It was the phrase “all those years” that stuck with Lafond and her mom.

“If walls of pictures could talk,” Watson said.

“The stories they could tell,” her daughter finished.