Vencion grew up in a foster home in Maryland. He received a letter from his aunt Imogene telling him his father was near death in Wayne County, Tenn., and might not recover.
At the age of 15, Vencion decided his father was not going to die without him being there to say goodbye. He bought a ticket with $20 his pastor gave him and boarded a Greyhound Bus bound for Waynesboro, in south central Tennessee, where his father served as chief of police.
The elder Vencion was later elected to the city commission and then as mayor. Before life in Waynesboro, he served in the Korean War.
“He’s been mayor for a longtime,” Vencion said of his 78-year-old father. “He’s done a lot of things. He even risked his life in the Wayne County jail fire.”
Vencion, 54, said the jailer lost the keys. His father, who is also named Robert, found the keys and rescued the inmates, with the exception of the one who started the fire in the padded cell.
“With all the toxic fumes, dad couldn’t get him out. He got the rest of them out, but he suffered a lot of smoke inhalation,” Vencion said. “He was honored and even given the key to the city of Chattanooga.
“I’ve always looked up to him as a hero. He’s a very patriotic person. He’s always stood for the flag and what’s behind it.”
It bothered Vencion when he saw the tattered American flag — strips of cloth, really — tangled in a tree in front of a home in Cleveland. He knocked on the door, but no one ever answered.
“It bothers me when I see something like that because I know how many people have died so we have the right to have what we have in this country,” Vencion said.
That’s why it was important to retire the tattered flag and replace it with a new one. Because his dad is a mayor who knows Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, Vencion asked if there were organizations in Cleveland that would replace the worn-out flag.
Instead, the mayor gave him money to buy a replacement. Vencion tried twice to present the flag to the residents. After the second attempt, Vencion took the flag to Rowland’s office and left it with an explanatory note.
Rowland turned the task over to the Boy Scouts, who were successful in replacing the tattered flag in front of a home whose occupants Vencion has yet to meet.
“I just thought what Mayor Rowland did was special and people ought to know about it,” Vencion said. “A lot of people see mayors and just think about the politics, but what he did was special.”