Residents and visitors alike have likely noticed the conspicuous sign outside of Borough Hall, a prime spot to be observed by pedestrians and vehicles on both sides of Kings Highway East.
The Blue Star Memorial plaque, dedicated to all members of the armed forces who have defended the United States, was installed on Aug. 14.
In a town whose high school is dedicated to soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and on whose grounds are more military memorials, you might wonder why the Garden Club felt it was important to add another piece of recognition for American service members.
“It’s not for the town so much, as for the country,” said club President Sharon Winge during a conversation with the Sun on Sept. 14. “It’s a living reminder not just for the dead, but for anyone who served. That’s why it is always placed on busy highways and byways.”
According to the National Garden Clubs official website, the Blue Star program began with the 1944 planting of 8,000 dogwood trees by the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs, a living memorial to veterans of World War II. The following year, the National Council of State Garden Clubs adopted the program and began a Blue Star Highway system that covers thousands of miles across the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii.
The Blue Star was adopted because it had become a World War II icon seen on flags and banners in the homes of sons and daughters at war as well as in churches and businesses.
Winge learned about Blue Star from her late husband, a retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine officer, as well as through the chairman of the Garden Club, who currently has two sons in the Navy. Incredibly, the club discovered there were five counties in New Jersey without a Blue Star plaque, Camden County included.
Winge, who had just begun her fourth year as head of the organization, decided to extend her term beyond the usual two years because she wanted to see the project through to completion.
“We worked on this for the last three years, dealing with the state and the borough,” she recalled. “Under their guidance, we put this in. About two years ago, Jeannette Leeds and I went to the board of commissioners (Mayor Neal Rochford and Commissioners John Moscatelli and Jeffrey Kasko) and received permission for the sign to go where it is located.”
Winge said the decision to purchase a sign and put it in front of the town’s municipal building came thanks to vocal club members.
“We walked up and down the town’s highways and we also looked at the parks on the edge of town because they were county parks, too,” she explained. “But Garden Club members said they wanted it in town and to have it set in an appropriate location.”
Blue Star signs alone run about $2,000, but upkeep pushes the true cost to two or three times that much, since the clubs in towns where a sign is placed are responsible for maintenance.
“We mainly raised the money within our membership, but the Rotary Club also contributed to it,” Winge added. “It was about $6,000 total. We had to pay for (the sign), pay for the installation, and we’re responsible for the cleaning as well.”
After going through the discovery and discussion process, then raising the money necessary to purchase the sign and clearing all bureaucratic hurdles, the plan came to fruition three weeks ago. But Winge was unable to bask in the glory.
“I was not able to attend the installation, since I was out of the country with my daughter for about five-and-a-half months and did not come back because of COVID-19 happening while I was away,” she revealed. “I was going through quarantine back here when the installation occurred.”
Beautification of the area is expected to continue In the next couple weeks, as the Garden Club will start planting around the sign. Plans are to officially dedicate the sign on Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11.
To learn more about the local garden club, visit: http://haddonfieldgardenclub.com/.
For more information on the Blue and Gold Star Memorials, visit: https://tinyurl.com/y5r5msb6.