- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

NORTON, Mass. (AP) - When Herbert Church takes on a task, he doesn’t quit.

So, when the photographs of all the post commanders, past and present, of American Legion Post 222 in Norton were removed three years ago, Church, 87, took them and made it his goal to reunite them with their original owners and their families.

Norton’s Legion post officially closed in 2013, a victim of declining membership. And Church, a past commander himself, had the daunting task of trying to track down the subjects or families of 43 photographs dating to 1937.

Though faced with a sizable project, Church hasn’t backed down, and after months of hard work, he has just seven photos remaining.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “I’m definitely surprised.”

Last August, Church was chipping away at the number of photographs, returning them slowly but steadily.

A report in The Sun Chronicle in August helped spread the word, and through the publicity and word of mouth around town, Church was getting rid of photographs left and right, sometimes unloading three or four at a time.

“The thing just mushroomed,” he said.

Eventually, word of the project spread far outside Norton.

Patrick Coffey, a Hanover resident, saw a reprint of The Sun Chronicle report in the Patriot Ledger newspaper in Quincy. An amateur genealogist, he offered his services to Church to help track people down.

“I figured I could help,” Coffey said. “I had time available.”

Coffey, 45, a substitute teacher and stay-at-home dad, has been doing work in the genealogy field for about 20 years and has a certificate from Boston University.

He said he searched online through the Social Security index and through obituaries to find family members. Being a member of genealogy websites was also helpful.

While Coffey did some of the digging to find families, he turned the information over to Church so he could get in touch with them about the photos.

“I didn’t contact anyone,” Coffey said. “It’s his ballgame.”

Coffey said he first reached out to Church in the fall and estimates that he helped him get rid of about seven photographs.

Though many families still live in the area, Coffey tracked down the wife of one of the men in the photos in Las Vegas, and Church mailed the photo to her.

Coffey said he was happy to do what he could to help Church in his endeavor.

“It’s nice to see somebody do something like that,” he said.

For Church, it’s been a rewarding experience to return the photographs to their original owners or their families, and they have been appreciative to get these photos back, he said.

“It’s been wonderful,” he said. “I worked with these guys. I knew their families, their wives.”

Though he’s reunited more than 30 photographs with their original owners or family members, seven still remain, and he won’t give up until they’ve all been returned.

“When I do a project, I don’t quit,” he said. “I never give up on a project.”

The names of those in the remaining photographs and the years they served as post commander are: Oscar H. Valquette Sr., 1945; Paul W. Shaw, 1949-1950; Edward Silva, 1957-1959; Frederick Bell, 1964; Harold W. Cooper, 1979; Burt C. Newell Jr., 1986-1988 and 1991; and A. Duncan McKnight, 2004-2005.

Original owners or their families can collect their photos by calling Church at 508-285-4247.

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