A Blue Star Memorial, given to the Veterans Memorial Museum by the local Friendly Neighbors Garden Club, will be dedicated at 1:30 p.m. on June 12 on the lawn across from the museum in Chehalis.
“We acquired this land in January of 2019 … The Alexander family donated it to us. The vision is to keep this green park strip for monuments,” said Chip Duncan, executive director of the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis. “And this will be the first memorial to go in.”
The Blue Star program honors all those who serve or have served in the United States Armed Forces. As Duncan described, beginning in World War I, mothers with sons overseas would display a flag from their windows. On the flags, inside a white field bordered by red, were embroidered blue stars — one for each son. If a son died in combat, his star was changed from blue to gold. From this tradition, the blue star came to symbolize veterans and active soldiers alike.
During World War II, the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs planted 8,000 dogwood trees, each a living memorial to veterans. In 1945, the National Council of State Garden Clubs (NGC) adopted the symbol of the blue star.
With each sponsored by local garden clubs, NGC began placing Blue Star Memorials across the United States off of major highways.
Friendly Neighbors Garden Club was founded in Chehalis in 1938.
It became a member of the Federation of Washington State Garden Clubs in 1955, which itself is a member of the Pacific Region of the NGC, covering California, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Hawaii and Arizona.
The Pacific Region has recently dedicated funds toward erecting Blue Star Memorial markers anywhere they can. They reached out to Anne Stedham, president of Friendly Neighbors, to ask if she and her club were interested in sponsoring one. Stedham and the Friendly Neighbors gave an emphatic “yes.”
Stedham, who is originally from England, became a member of Friendly Neighbors upon moving to Washington in 1995 with her husband Mike Stedham. Mike died earlier this year. He was also the brother of former Friendly Neighbors president Maryann Kostick.
Mike’s death made this project all the more important for the Friendly Neighbors.
“My husband had served, his elder brother Red Stedham who was an insurance agent in town had served in the second World War, and their dad had served in the first World War. He went out from Fort Lewis and over to France,” Stedham said. “This (memorial) is just so important.”
Convincing Duncan of the project’s value was not a challenge.
“The truth is, Anne called me up and was like, ‘we’ve got a memorial marker, do you want it at your museum?’ and I was like ‘sure,’” Duncan recalled. “We used to travel across the country and I do remember seeing a couple of the highway ones, and how they were just dedicated to veterans — all veterans. And of course, that just fits in with what we do (at the museum).”
Saturday’s dedication of the Blue Star Memorial will include a musical tribute, the history of the blue star, a laying of a memorial wreath and a benediction by Pastor Denny Taylor. The memorial is currently standing on the lawn across the street from the Veterans Memorial Museum parking lot at 100 SW Veterans Way, Chehalis.