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Newsmaker: Old Glory unfurls in Jennerstown in display fueled by his patriotism

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

By Alisha Hipwell

Roy Meyerl sounds like he stepped directly out of a boot-stompin' country anthem. By his own account, he's been the first one to throw a punch all his life -- but "always over someone's honor."

He was wearing his cowboy boots "when country wasn't cool."

And the sight of the American flag gives him goosebumps.

So it seems fitting that the 40-year-old Mars resident was the driving organizational force behind the recent display of a 21-story American flag at Jennerstown Speedway in Somerset County. The flag was displayed in remembrance of the victims of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, six miles from the speedway.

Meyerl, an employee of Maxim CraneWorks in West Mifflin, coordinated the massive volunteer effort required to display the 210-foot-by-411-foot, seven-ton flag.

Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Meyerl had been talking with the flag's owner Ted Dorfman of Greensburg about setting up a display. Several months before, Meyerl's supervisors, Joe Connelly and Jim Workman, had e-mailed him an article about Dorfman and the flag. They encouraged Meyerl to talk with Dorfman about using Maxim Crane to fly it.

In August, Meyerl and Dorfman discussed displaying the flag at the Three Rivers Regatta or a July 4th or Labor Day celebration.

But the day after the attacks, Meyerl was back on the phone with Dorfman. "I called him and said 'If ever there was a time to fly this ... now would be a good time,' " Meyerl said. He thought displaying the giant flag might bring people some comfort or peace.

Dorfman initially suggested a display in New York City. But Meyerl persuaded him to keep it "in our own back yard, in Somerset County" as a memorial to the passengers of flight 93, some of whom are credited with overpowering the hijackers to crash the plane, possibly saving lives on the ground.

With that decided, Meyerl sprang into action, making more than 300 phone calls to customers of Maxim Crane in the space of just a few days to line up the crew of engineers, iron workers and riggers needed to display the flag. In the end, 12 corporations sponsored the event.

One of the first people Meyerl contacted was Mike Steinmetz, a friend since high school and owner of Electrastage Systems, a lighting, staging and rigging company.

"It was nice that we could do something locally," Steinmetz said. "It was a local effort, and that was Roy's idea to keep it that way."

Given the circumstances, everyone Meyerl contacted was eager to help, but Steinmetz said Meyerl can make virtually any sale. He helped get Steinmetz elected class president back in high school.

Born in Shaler, Meyerl later moved with the rest of his family to a 200-acre cattle farm in Cranberry. He graduated from Seneca Valley High School in 1980, then worked for his family's steel erection company for 10 years. When his father retired, Meyerl headed off to Virginia Beach to "do some things on my own." Among other things, he sold cars and ran a crane for bungee jumping.

After three years, Meyerl came home to work for Anthony Crane Rental, which later became Maxim Crane. He works in the sales department in charge of special events, such as the Three Rivers Regatta and Mario Lemieux's celebrity golf tournament.

The position is a bit of a contradiction for him. "I could be driving a tractor-trailer one day and be in a suit and tie at a board meeting the next," Meyerl said.

Still, it's clear that ties and starched shirts don't suit him best. Meyerl, who is married and has three sons, loves water and snow skiing and spending time at his camp in East Brady.

Meyerl and other key players originally considered displaying the flag at Seven Springs or Hidden Valley, but Meyerl said one look at Jennerstown Speedway convinced him that was the right place.

"It is tucked away in beautiful hills. It has a huge three- or four-football-field-long flat space of green grass that slopes up into natural grandstands. It was the perfect place to put a flag and invite 10,000 people," Meyerl said.

An unabashed patriot who says he believes in school prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance and family values, Meyerl was thrilled with the reaction.

"People were overwhelmed. The nicest thing was, at one point, I looked out over the field and there's hundreds and hundreds of people standing out there in the pouring rainstorm holding little candles."

Having pulled off the display at Jennerstown Speedway, Meyerl now has even bigger plans. He is working with Dorfman to organize a display of the flag in New York City's Central Park.

Alisha Hipwell is a free-lance writer.

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