Flag crew works to make downtown area patriotic
When Baldwin City wakes up on the Fourth of July, the "Avenue of Flags" along Eighth and High streets will be there to greet it. For the men who place the flags, it's a labor of love.
"It's what I want to do," said Archer Carlson of putting the flags up, which is something he's been doing for more than 40 years.
"The main idea is to make everyone feel good," said Carlson. "Everybody has a plus. People drive by and give thumbs up and thank yous. It's a public service primarily."
The "flag crew," as the call themselves, is always made up of Lloyd Beaton American Legion Post 228 members. It's usually a crew of three that puts the 32-35 flags in their holders on utility poles.
Normally, the flags are raised on six occasions Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veteran's Day and the Maple Leaf Festival. However, this year the flags were flown for several weeks after the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Carlson and John Hey, another regular member of the "flag crew," have been pleased by how more Americans view and display the flag since Sept. 11.
"I think people are much more aware now," said Hey. "It woke a lot of people up. They're more patriotic. You sure see more flags. Veterans always flew their flags, but now everyone is."
"They are just more aware," said Carlson. "They are more aware of respecting the flag and displaying it. There are a lot more flags on display at individual residences."
For the American Legion crew, that awareness has always been there. Baldwin's "Avenue of Flags" got its start in the early 1960s. A group of young businessmen came up with the idea for the "Commercial Club," which was similar to the Jaycees, but didn't have the national affiliation.
The Commercial Club put together the fireworks display on the Fourth at Baker University's Liston Stadium. The Baldwin City Volunteer Fire Department set the fireworks off. The Legion's contribution was the "Avenue of Flags."
"That's where the idea of flying flags downtown came from," said Carlson. "It was a fitting support theme for our nation's holiday and to promote community pride."
Although the fireworks and community wide celebration have had a rebirth in the last three years, the original version died off in the 1980s after the Jaycees had taken over for the Commercial Club in the 1970s. The loss of the event saddened Carlson, who remembers the day's activities vividly.
"The afternoon and evening before the fireworks display was filled with community entertainment at the Baker stadium, such as a band concert, beauty queen contest, model airplane show, turtle races, sack races, amateur shows of singing, plays, speeches, etc.," he said. "We did anything that was a crowd pleaser before dark and the fireworks display."
Carlson also realizes what did the Commercial Club in the bylaws read that no one over 35 could vote and, as he said, "Father Time took its toll and phased out the active members and the organization ceased to exist." Original members of the club who still live in Baldwin include Carlson, Dale Caruthers, Stanley Cook, Bill Deel, Bill Horn, Don Nutt, Fred Plank, Dean Richards, Leo Smith and J.C. Doudna.
But, the "flag crew" lived on.
"Certainly it lives on, but it's because of the American Legion promoting flag programs," he said.
Originally, the flags were put up using one of Baldwin's fire engines. But when the late Bill Hey had a truck modified to deliver tires with, that changed.
"When Hey Machinery Co. built its tire/wheel delivery truck with an over-the-cab rack on it, the members of the fire department asked Bill Hey if they could use it for the flags," Carlson said. "It worked very well and every since that time it has been used nearly every time. Bill Hey was very cooperative in planning his tire/wheel delivery times to coincide with the flag display schedule."
The old truck is still at it today. On Flag Day, June 14, Carlson, John Hey and Jeffrey Richards put the flags up at 7 a.m. and took them down at 5 p.m. That's what will happen again on the Fourth. Although it might not be the same trio, Carlson and Hey will be a part of it and they want a third.
"It's better when you have three," said Hey. "It works a heck of a lot better, although we have done it with two. It's easier to put them up. You can do that with two. But because you're rolling the flags up unless it rains when you take them down, it works better with three people."
It's a tradition that Carlson loves, but also knows has changed.
"I've missed very few," he said. "Bill Hey missed very few. We started doing it together in 1960."
Now it's John Hey driving the truck. He's no rookie.
"Anytime dad was going to be out of town, I'd do it," said Hey. "I've done it many times over those 40 years."
It means no holiday for him and the crew, but that's okay, they say. It's a labor of love.
"I don't have a day off on holidays. I'm used to going to work," said Hey. "I enjoy doing it. I'm proud of it. People enjoy seeing the flags."