In 1946, the National Council of State Garden Clubs adopted a momentous venture designated as the “Blue Star Memorial Highway Program,” which was modeled after a project in New Jersey designed to honor the men and women of the armed forces who had only recently returned from service during World War II.
As the program began to unfold on a national scale, it expanded with support of local gardening clubs throughout the country. Under the auspices of what became the National Garden Clubs, Inc., the group “enlarged its mission in 1951 to include all men and women who had served,” as noted in the “Guidelines for Blue Star Memorial Markers.”
The key component of the program was the purchase of memorial markers that were—and continue to be—placed at parks, civic and historical grounds, and along various highways throughout the United States.
“We are up to 90 markers in Missouri,” said Cynthia Brodersen, who has for the last several years served as the Blue Star Memorials chair for the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri, Inc. (a member of the National Garden Clubs, Inc.), with 125 affiliated local garden clubs throughout the state.
A member of The Grow and Glow Garden Club in Tipton, Broderson explained that although her involvement with the Blue Star Memorial Marker program came unexpectedly, it has provided her with the opportunity to honor her three uncles who served in the military, one of whom was killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
“I was familiar with the marker that is in Otterville and my husband actually attended its original dedication in 1950,” she said. “Back in 2006, the community was preparing for a re-dedication of the marker. At that time, the previous (state) chair was experiencing some health problems and asked me if I would be willing to take over.” She added, “I have really found it to be a very worthwhile cause and one that I am proud to be involved with.”
With five markers now rising above beautifully landscaped flowerbeds in Jefferson City alone—the most recent of which was dedicated on the grounds of Lincoln University late last year—Missouri has served as host to Blue Star Memorials since the placement of the first marker in 1949.
“Three hundred members of the Missouri Federation of Garden Clubs and a few special guests attended the dinner and program given Thursday afternoon in the Highway Gardens at the fairgrounds,” noted the August 26, 1949 edition of The Sedalia Democrat.
During the program, the newspaper article explained, Mrs. J.E. Dvorak, who was at the time national chair of the Blue Star Memorial Program—touted “the work being done by the Missouri Garden Clubs in bringing the Missouri Blue Star Memorial Highway through Missouri.”
Located in Bradford Roadside Park about six miles west of Sedalia, the website of the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri states the memorial was stolen in 2011. However, a new marker has since been placed near the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and State Fair Boulevard in Sedalia, said Broderson.
Although the expense of markers continues to rise, Broderson said that the entire cost of these tributes oftentimes develops into a project supported by the community in which they are to be located.
“Back when Otterville first got their marker (in 1950), there was a lady that went around to all of the local basketball games and collected quarters to help pay for it,” she said. “We (garden clubs) have also helped cover the costs of some of the markers through our fundraisers, along with donations from community businesses and veterans’ organizations,” she added.
Jefferson City resident Jeanne Schwaller, who has been actively involved with the placement of several markers locally, stated that in addition to being a member of both the Bittersweet Garden Club and the Capital Garden Club, enjoys sharing the history of the program and facilitating its growth to other communities throughout Mid-Missouri.
Discussing the program’s history on the local level, Schwaller stated that the first marker in the Jefferson City community was dedicated in a roadside park once located near the Capital Mall, but during the mall’s construction in the late 1970s, the marker was moved to make room for expansion of roads in the area. The memorial, sponsored by the former Hawthorn Garden Club, eventually found a home at the roadside park across from Steak ‘n Shake on Missouri Boulevard; however, according to Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, will soon be re-dedicated at a location inside Washington Park, less than two miles away.
Emphasizing a viewpoint shared by many who remain active with the Blue Star Memorial program, Schwaller explained that her family’s history of military service has been an inspiration for her continued involvement with the garden clubs’ initiatives to honor the memory of all local veterans.
“My husband served during World War II and was one of three boys—all who served during the war,” she said. “All three of them were fortunate enough to return home and programs (such as the Blue Star Memorials) help ensure their service is always remembered.”
For more information on the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri, Inc. and the Blue Star Memorial Markers, please visit www.fgcmo.org.
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.