New Home for Blue Star MarkersRepublished from January 2009 edition of INSIDE, the Iowa Department of Transportation newsletter
Fifty-five years of blustery winters and blistering summers can take a toll on a road sign. Two very special "Blue Star Marker" signs were recently refurbished and rededicated, each now occupying a place of honor, one each at the Interstate 29 rest areas near Council Bluffs and Missouri Valley.
According to their Web site, the Blue Star Memorial Marker Program of the National Garden Clubs Inc. began in 1945 to honor the men and women serving in the Armed Forces during World War II. The name was chosen for the star on flags displayed in homes and businesses denoting a family member serving in harm’s way. Garden clubs pictured a ribbon of living memorial plantings traversing every state. The designation of Blue Star Memorial Highways was achieved through petitions to state legislatures and with the cooperation of state departments of transportation. A uniform marker was designed to identify the highways. The Blue Star Memorial Highway Program grew to extend thousands of miles across the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii. All men and women who have served, are serving or will serve in the Armed Forces of the United States are included. Markers continue to be dedicated each year on highways, and at veterans’ facilities, national cemeteries, parks, and civic and historic sites, showing our appreciation for those who defend our country. Donna Helgen, Iowa Federated Garden Clubs’ Blue Star Program chairperson, said, "Right now we have 57 markers in Iowa. There are a few more to be dedicated, but we’re not sure when that will happen."
The two original signs near Sioux City were placed Oct. 18, 1955, along Iowa 75. They were later moved to I-29 near Minden. Over the years, the signs had fallen victim to vandalism and wear from the extreme Iowa weather. Marian McNabb, from the Little Sioux Federated Garden Club, contacted the Iowa DOT to see what could be done to bring the markers back to their original condition.
Steve McMenamin, Iowa DOT rest area administrator, worked with McNabb to develop a plan. "The garden club took responsibility for having the signs refurbished with the help of the American Legion posts in Council Bluffs and Missouri Valley and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Missouri Valley," said McMenamin. "The Iowa DOT agreed to help with installation costs, such as posts and concrete, and provide a place for the signs at the rest areas where they could be more visible to travelers."
With much fanfare, including a gun salute provided by the local American Legion posts from Council Bluffs and Missouri Valley, the signs were rededicated Oct. 18, 2008, in separate ceremonies at each rest area. A history of the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker Program was given by Central Region Blue Star Program Chair Jane Buck, along with speeches by Congressman Steve King and other dignitaries.
"These signs are significant to this group of people and we wanted to do all we could to assist in relocating the signs to a place of honor," said McMenamin.
McNabb said her organization is working diligently to continue the tradition of honoring veterans with these markers. "Iowa has a proud tradition of support for the Blue Star Marker Program," she said. "We have the only two counties in the nation, Buena Vista and Cherokee, to have a Blue Star Marker in every town in the county. By next summer there will be two more counties with that distinction, Clay and Benton. We’re also working to have markers placed in every Iowa county on Iowa 3, the American Veterans Highway."