Garden clubs dedicate Blue Star Memorial Highway sign

Visitors and participants sat underneath a tent decorated in red, white and blue bunting at the rest area on southbound Interstate 77 near Mooresville April 28.

Ann Payne, Mooresville Garden Club president, welcomed the audience to the dedication ceremony for the second Blue Star Memorial Highway marker in Iredell County.

Members of the Statesville Garden Council and Garden Club of North Carolina were joined by representatives from local veterans organizations and the N.C. Department of Transportation. They paid tribute to all men and women who have served, are serving and will serve in the U.S. armed forces.

Juanita Daber, Blue Star chairman for the Garden Club of North Carolina, explained the memorial's history:

During World War I, a New York City father placed a banner in an apartment window to indicate his son was serving in the war. A blue star was sewn onto a white background, surrounded by a red border.

The idea grew and was revived in World War II. People began to wear blue star jewelry. Women with sons at war formed support groups and became known as Blue Star mothers.

In New Jersey, the Council of Garden Clubs designated six miles of highway as Blue Star Drive. At a national garden club convention in 1949, members adopted the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker program as a national project.

Today, there are 22 original signs in North Carolina. Since 1994, updated signs have been installed. The addition of the Interstate 77 Lake Norman marker increases the number of new markers to 15.

Jason Willis, DOT's division roadside engineer, said 400,000 visitors stopped at the southbound rest area in 2010.

"It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year," he said. As visitors park cars and walk into the building, they will notice the sign, placed in a bed of liriope. Later, bulbs and annuals will be added.

Project chairman Mike Trivette, president of Field and Stream Garden Club, has worked with Willis for the past two years to coordinate the installation. Although it may take a bit of time, he wants to see more markers scattered throughout the county. He sees a need to place them in local communities in honor of the men and women who have paid a tremendous price.

Iredell County Manager Joel Mashburn, a Vietnam veteran, said about 17,000 veterans live in the county.

Mary Lou Goodman, Garden Club of North Carolina president, said the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker stands as a symbol for all to see how proud we are of our military. Besides creating wonderful gardens, the organization works to keep North Carolina beautiful, safe and clean.

The Statesville Garden Council is made up of the Field and Stream, Happy Blades, Mooresville, Town and Country and Troutman garden clubs. Each club contributed $500 toward the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker. Members have been raising money for five years, selling aluminum cans and holding plant, white elephant and cutlery sales.

Future gardeners participated in fundraising and the ceremony. Five children, members of Troutman Green Growers and Little Ladybugs, placed a wreath of flowers at the memorial, thanked veterans for their sacrifices and passed out flags.

Museum exhibit

"Honoring Those Who Served Their Country" officially opened May 14 at the Mooresville Museum and will run until the end of July. Two World War II Blue Star service flags are part of the display.

The museum at 132 E. Center Ave. is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of each month.