Johnson City American Legion Commander Robert Henry conducts a seminar on flag etiquette during Saturday's Flag Day Celebration at the McKinney Center. (Photo by Max Hrenda)
JONESBOROUGH – On June 14, 1777, in Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress adopted Betsy Ross’ design for the first American flag.
Two-hundred thirty-seven years later, Jonesborough’s Flag Committee tried to remind people of the importance of that moment, even though the flag has added a few stars since then.
On Saturday at the McKinney Center, the committee hosted the town’s first Flag Day Celebration in the hopes of teaching attendees proper flag etiquette and flag retirement, and celebrating Old Glory with a musical tribute.
Committee Chair Ruth Verhegge, who said she hoped this event would prove to be the first in a line of annual celebrations, said this year’s celebration offered those in attendance a mix of educational and entertaining activities to promote proper flag etiquette.
“We’re going to have discussions on flag etiquette (and) flag retirement,” she said. “We have a silent auction, all kinds of door prizes, and we have free food.”
Pizza Plus, McDonald’s, and local groceries donated all food and drink for the event at no cost. Food was available to everyone in attendance between 4 and 6 p.m., while, at the same time, the committee conducted seminars on flag-flying etiquette.
According to Verhegge, many who fly flags may be unaware that there are times when doing so can be considered disrespectful.
“There are times when people fly non-all-weather flags in inclement weather,” Verhegge said. “They shouldn’t. But the biggest thing is flying faded, torn or tattered flags.”
While Verhegge and her committee members hoped to correct improper flag-flying, at 6 p.m., she and everyone in attendance bore witness to an assortment of patriotic performances from groups like the Johnson City Senior Choir — who were slated to perform renditions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” — and individuals like Chuck Collins, who was arranged to sing “God Bless the USA.”
The Flag Committee was established in 2003 after Verhegge and others in the community insisted on flying flags in downtown Jonesborough. Though the committee was established in 2003, Verhegge said her efforts dated back to 2001.
“I’m kind of an activist,” she said. “After 9/11, we flew the flags for several months, and then they came down. I felt like the flags should continue to fly as long as we have troops in harm’s way.”
The Main Street flags are tended to and maintained by the Flag Committee, which raises funds to deal with those inherent costs.
“Our primary way of fundraising is through our flag adoption program,” Verhegge said.
Flags can be “adopted” by an initial fee of $50, which covers the replacement of a flag for up to one year. Those who adopt a flag also have an opportunity to dedicate it to somebody by having a name inscribed on a plaque adorning the flagpole. Once the initial year comes to an end, the committee offers the flag’s adoption at a renewal rate of $35, provided there are no alterations to the plaque.
In the 11 years the Main Street flags have flown, Verhegge said, she and her fellow committee members have received a good deal of support from the community. In some cases, she said, they may have even helped that community grow.
“We have had numerous people tell us they’ve moved to this area because of seeing those flags,” she said. “It’s very heartening when that happens.”
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