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Veterans Day is 'every day' for Monessen native's family

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
A family tradition was emphasized when Julie Zavage graduated from the U.S. Military Academy’s Michie Stadium at West Point, NY. Celebrating the event are (left to right) John and Lisa Geis, Julie Zavage, Elaine Zavage, John J. Zavage and John D. Zavage.

No one has to remind John and Elaine S. Zavage that Monday is Veterans Day.

All three of their children — John, Lisa and Julie — and a son-in-law are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; and two of them are continuing distinguished active duty military careers.

“We are very proud of our son and daughters, just as we are of all men and women who have served or are serving our country,” said Mrs. Zavage, the former Elaine Spadafore of Monessen.

The Zavages live in South Park Township.

West Point was a major part of the family's life between 1990 and 2003,

“Our son John, a 1990 graduate of South Park High School, started the tradition,” Elaine Zavage recalled. “He saw the challenge of West Point and wanted to take it on.”

He graduated Infantry from the Academy in 1994 and after completing OBC (Officer Basic Course) entered Ranger School before going to his first assignment in Vincenza, Italy. His initial deployment was Tusla, Bosnia.

“That was a very difficult time for us,” Zavage said.

John, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army, has served on the DMZ and also was an observer-instructor at Fort Polk, La. He made a transition from Infantry to Foreign Affairs Officer and has studied Arabic at the Defense Language School in Monterey, Calif., and received a master of arts degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Among his many overseas assignments were deployments to Iraq and in Panmunjom, South Korea, were he served as company commander, Headquarters Company, with the Joint Security Area forces.

He also served in an Airborne Ranger unit and was a jump master.

He is now working at the Central Command Center at Fort MacDill Air Force Base in Florida as a Levant Branch Chief. John, 41, and his wife Chrisy, a native of Oregon, are the parents of four children — Danny, 7; Richard, 6; Lucy, 3; Evie, 1. The family lives in Tampa.

John's sister Lisa extended the Zavage presence at West Point after graduating from South Park High in 1993.

“She was so impressed with the tradition, history and discipline of the Academy,” her mother said. “She loved all the times we had up there to visit her brother, and she said this was the place for her.”

Lisa, 38, graduated Adjutant General from West Point in 1998 and married a classmate, John Geis, an Armor graduate.

Their first assignment was in Wurtzburg, Germany, and both were deployed to the Republic of Kosovo at different times before returning to the United States.

“Lisa served as a company commander with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley in Kansas while her husband was deployed to Ramadi, Iraq,” Elaine Zavage said. “She attained the rank of captain and served seven years before leaving the Army to start a family while John was an ROTC instructor at James Madison University in Virginia.”

Lisa and John, now a major, who also has served in Afghanistan and is now stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska, are the parents of three children – Alex, 8; Cassidy 6; Bridgette, 4. Elaine and John Zavage visited the family in Alaska last summer.

Julie Zavage, 32, is the youngest of the siblings and graduated from South Park High in 1999.

“Julie always said she was not going to West Point, but ended up following in the footsteps of her brother and sister,” her mother said.

She graduated from the Academy in 2003 with a degree in Western European Studies. Following OBC training she was assigned to Fort Carson, Colo., and was soon deployed to Baquba, Iraq.

“That was the hardest deployment for us to get through,” Elaine Zavage said. “John and I flew to Colorado Springs for her return from Iraq, and it was a very emotional experience watching her unit come back home safely. Many family members were there to see their soldiers return, and we shared a solemn bond in welcoming them home.”

Julie continued military service at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Once Julie, who rose to the rank of captain, completed her five-year post-West Point commitment, she left the Army and journeyed to Mozambique to teach residents how to farm and raise vegetables.

“She was not affiliated with any church group or the Peace Corps or sponsored by a corporation,” Elaine Zavage said. “She financed and paid for her entire eight-month stay. It was something she wanted to do, to reach out and help people across the world.”

When Julie returned to the United States, she earned a degree in organic and sustainable farming from the University of Colorado in Boulder. She took that education and life experiences to Skowhegan, Maine, where she is the head miller at the Somerset Grist Mill. She also is farming and raising wheat, buckwheat, oats, emmer and corn.

Elaine and John Zavage have been married 46 years and have resided in South Park for 38 years.

Elaine is the daughter of Tressa DeRose Spadafore, 98, of Monessen and the late Joseph Spadafore, who was retired from the Steam Plant Department at Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. Her sister, Connie Sadler, lives in Charleroi.

John, a native of Smithfield, is the son of Genevieve Zavage, 94, and the late John M. Zavage.

While Elaine graduated from Monessen High School in 1963, her husband received his diploma from Albert Gallatin High School in 1962. Both graduated from California University of Pennsylvania – John in 1966 with a bachelor of science degree in industrial arts and a master's in education and Elaine in 1967 with a bachelor of science degree in education.

Elaine taught Spanish at South Park High School for 22 years before retiring in 2010. Her husband taught mechanical drawing, architectural drawing and computer-aided drafting and design for 27 years at the same school. He retired in 2005.

Elaine Zavage has many fond memories of her formative years in Monessen.

“I remember family, school, friend and the neighborhood being the center of our lives,” she said. “The town was so unique because of he ethnic diversity. We walked everywhere — to school, church, friends' homes, downtown, football games, CYC dances. I lived in a wonderful neighborhood with people who were like extended family. I still appreciate growing up in a small town that had small schools where you knew all of your classmates.”

“John and I have been blessed with a wonderful life, lot of great times and memories,” Elaine said.

The military experiences of the Zavage children have given their parents a deep appreciation of those who serve their nation.

“I'm not sure that many people would understand what our young men and women in the military and their families go through,” Elaine said. “Our gratitude to all of them is perpetuated on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and every day. They deserve nothing less.”

Ron Paglia is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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