One mile of Highway 51 in Beloit renamed "VetsRoll Drive"


Vets Roll originator and organizer Mark Finnegan (center) holds a new street sign that will be displayed along the path of Vets Roll trips. Beloit City Council President Regina Duncan made the presentation as supporters looked on..

When eleven VetsRoll buses leave Beloit for Washington DC on May 19, 2024, they will celebrate a new distinction after an honorary street renaming ceremony at the Rotary Center in Beloit, WI on April 7.

Beloit City Council President Regina Duncan presented Vets Roll founder Mark Finnegan with a sign reading, “VetsRoll Drive.” The sign will be proudly placed in an area covering Riverside Drive (Hwy. 51) from Henry Ave. on the north end down to White Avenue on the south end, covering a total distance of one mile - part of the path of the next and future Vets Roll trips.

In the past 14 years, Vets Roll has hosted 2,470 World War II, Korean and Vietnam era veterans and "Rosie the Riveters" from 38 states and the District of Columbia on what has been called “the trip of a lifetime” - with all expenses covered by generous donors.

This year over 200 veterans will have the same experience.

Who is eligible to participate? The VetsRoll trip was created for "Rosie the Riveters" and WWII era veterans who were on active duty before 1949, as well as honorably discharged veterans who served before 1967. The buses also have 170 volunteer assistants on board.

Art: J. Howard Miller

What is a “Rosie-the-Riveter”?  VetsRoll says the term describes the "(mostly) ladies that went to work in America’s factories during World War II to fulfill a vital need of factory support to the Allied war effort and also to allow more “men” to enlist in the service" between 1941 and 1948.

Vets Roll started in 2010 by John and Mark Finnegan in loving memory of their father Sy who was a businessman and a WWII veteran. Their mom, Barbara, worked as a decoder for the War Department in Arlington, VA - a Army Signal Corps civilian office employee whom VetsRoll classifies as a "Rosie."

Vets Roll has traveled 337,000 miles by convoy, allowing Veterans to see memorable sites such as the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio, the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Korean, Vietnam and Lincoln Memorials, Arlington National Cemetery with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, National WWII Memorial in Washington, MLK and FDR Memorials.

Starting things off on the May 7, 2024 renaming ceremony was a check presentation from the Beloit Legion to Mark Finnegan who warmly welcomed everyone and recognized his family, and expressed gratitude to the entire community for their support of Vets Roll.

The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors by Rock County Sheriffs Office and the City of Beloit Police Department. Gary McAdams led in the singing of the National Anthem. Taps was played.

Beloit City Council President Regina Duncan was the first of four guest speakers. Addressing veterans, Rosie the Riveters, first responders and their family, she said, “On behalf of the City Council we are so proud to make this a reality.... Being from a military family I know first hand how hard it is when your loved one is deployed. It helps to show that their sacrifice made a difference. It is my sincere hope that 'Vets Roll Drive' will help to keep all of our veterans in our hearts and minds through this special gesture of kindness. May you each feel the gratitude you are so greatly deserving.”

Diane Hendricks of the Hendricks Family Foundation has given  monetarily and supports disabled veterans.

“I am always at the homecoming, America cannot live without you,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks reflected on a recent family trip and the impact of the sites they visited. “It was a moving two weeks, everybody should go to Washington DC.”

“We have built our 400th house for veterans who are unable to live in a traditional one. It has been an honor to know them - the disabled veterans. I am so proud to do my part for this community of great people and do what I can for disabled veterans.”

Bill Lock of Beloit Culvers reflected on flags going up around the region to honor Veterans Day week.

“Sixty Culvers stores raised over $60,000 in one week to be donated back to Vets Roll. These efforts have been ongoing for the past 15 years.

“We would like to express gratitude for everything that you do. This shows what good things can happen. Stores from as far away as Idaho are involved,” Lock said.

“This is done to recognize their hard work, their lives and everything they have done so we can have our freedom.”

Missy Laub spoke on behalf of Fairbanks Morse Defense. “We raised funds nationwide totaling over $30,000, in from a one day bicycle ride for the Wounded Warrior Project.

“Every time I think of Vets Roll we express our gratitude not just for uttering the words but to live by them, 'Closure, Gratitude and Respect.'

“Having been part of the flag waving and cheerleading at homecomings, I cannot think of a better name for this street. As ordinary citizens we cannot thank them enough. Thank you to Vets Roll, the Finnegans, and our veterans for your service. We salute you.”

Finnegan asked veterans and Rosie The Riveters to  stand to be recognized. Respectful applause filled the room.

World War II Navy veteran George Olson of Beloit, age 97, and survivor of the sinking of the USS Twiggs at Okinawa and 'Magic' Bill Hunter, age 101, of Roscoe,  who also served in the US Navy off Okinawa, were recognized at the ceremony.

Two local 'Rosies' that were unable to attend but are always part of Vets Roll events are Eva Hoff, age 97, of Beloit, an employee at Besley Products during World War II and Fung Scholz, age 98, of Janesville, an employee of Fairbanks Morse during World War II. Both were part of Beloit Senior High School Class of 1944, with the Finnegan's deceased mother Barbara Finnegan (also a Rosie).  

The majority of veterans in the room were of the Vietnam era.

“Vets Roll operates like a well oiled machine,” Finnegan said.

Finnegan recognized the Vet's Roll board of directors and each position they hold.

A team comes together including a volunteer flag crew, special recorder Brad Scott, Gayle Haab - also known as “Bev Snacks,” the photography team, Aaron Wilson of Channel 23 News, and videographers.

Bus leaders and motorcycle escorts play an important role.

“We have 170 assistants on the buses, who create a wonderful camaraderie.”

“Our medical team has the best professionals. Volunteers are instrumental in keeping conversations going. We don't do sex, politics or religion,” Finnegan said.

Hononegah students Issac Rukin and Josh Lawrence will be volunteering this year.

Residents are invited to bring their flags and signs to welcome our heroes home at the victory parade at the Eclipse Center on May 22, 2024 with an estimated arrival time of 9:15 to 9:30 p.m.

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