New River Garden Club of Sneads Ferry is raising funds for a Blue and Gold Star Memorial Marker, flag and landscaping at Onslow County Environmental Education Center and Sneads Ferry Branch Library to honor the local families involved in all branches of the military.
Throughout history, flowers and plants have been used as symbols to honor those in the armed forces. Most people are familiar with poppies, a symbol around the world used to remember those who have died in military service, and Laurel Leaf Wreaths, which have been associated with a military victory since Roman times.
But many may not be aware of the correlation between the often-seen Blue and Gold Star Memorial Markers and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. The history of these markers began in 1944 when the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs beautified a 5.5-mile stretch of highway. The club planted approximately 8,000 dogwood trees as a living memorial to the men and women in the armed forces from New Jersey. Along this route, they also added Blue Star Markers. The Blue Star comes from the service flag. During World War II, the star hung on the homes of families with a son or daughter in the service.
In 1945 the National Council of State Garden Clubs (now National Garden Clubs, Inc.) began and adopted The Blue Star Memorial Program, which honors those who have served, are serving or will be serving in the armed services of the United States. In 2015 the Gold Star Families Marker was incorporated into the National Garden Clubs Blue Star Memorial Marker Program. The Gold Star Families Marker honors the families of U.S. Armed Forces members who died in battle or in support of certain military activities.
In 2019 the New River Garden Club of Sneads Ferry (NRGC) continued this tradition by beginning fundraising efforts for Blue and Gold Star Memorial Markers to honor all military branches and families in the Sneads Ferry area.
“We are extremely excited about this project and hope the entire community will be there to support this too,” says Suzanne Livingston, president of the New River Garden Club of Sneads Ferry.
To raise funds, members of the NRGC have sent more than 100 letters to businesses and appealed to the public to help support the project. Most of their funding stems from their annual plant sale, sponsored by plant donations from Pender Pines, Johnson Nursery, Lowes and gardeners throughout the community. With the community’s help, the 24 members of the NRGC raised more than $4,000, enabling them to order the markers.
While raising funds, the group also had to decide where to place the markers. Many memorial markers are on highways, but when the NRGC approached the North Carolina Department of Transportation about a location for the marker, they hit a roadblock.
“We were told that with the expansion and growth in the area, if we put Markers on one of the major roads, it would have to be relocated when the road expanded,” Livingston says.
With traditional roadway markers out of the running, the club began to search for a new location.
There are three types of Blue Star markers: the Blue Star Memorial Highway Marker, which must have the approval of the Department of Transportation; the Blue Star Byway Marker, which is mounted to a boulder or piece of granite and placed in civic gardens, parks and historic sites; and the Blue Star Memorial Marker, which are placed in national cemeteries, veterans medical centers and civic locations and are maintained by an organization or sponsoring garden club.
“After much discussion, we decided to place Blue Star and Gold Star Memorial Markers on the grounds of the Onslow County Environmental Education Center and Sneads Ferry Branch Library,” says Elizabeth Simmons, 1st vice president of NRGC. “Once we decided on a spot, we worked with Assistant County Manager Sheri Slater, who has been so helpful in guiding us through the process.”
In November 2022 the Onslow County Board of Commissioners granted permission to utilize the library land for the memorial. With the added space provided by the library grounds, the NRGC decided to add to the project.
“As well as the markers, we are raising funds for a lit flagpole and landscaping around the markers,” Livingston says. “We want this to be a space that the community can really be proud of.”
With the addition of the lit flagpole and the landscaping, the NRGC is looking to raise an additional $3,000. They hope the community, which this small group quietly supports throughout the year, will rally to help support the project.
“Not everything we’ve raised over the past few years has gone to the markers,” Simmons says. “We raised $1,900 at the annual plant sale. And $1,000 will go to our annual Dixon High School Scholarship.”
The NRGC quietly gives back to the community when they hear of a need. Whether it’s the local backpack program at the schools or Wreaths Across America, they help where and when they can.
While raising funds and helping the community is vital to the NRGC, their genuine interest is in gardening!
“Our common bond is, of course, gardening,” Livingston says. “We meet on the fourth Thursday of each month (barring any major holiday.) And each month, a speaker comes in to discuss different aspects of gardening. We’ve had people for the N.C. Audubon Society, the Orchid Society and the American Camellia Society.”
The club is for anyone interested in gardening, from an avid gardener to a beginning gardener.
“We learn about anything to do with trees, bees, plants and biology,” Simmons says.
Can You Help?
If you are interested in learning more about how you can support the New River Garden Club’s Blue Star, and Gold Star Memorial Marker projects or to learn more about joining New River Garden Club of Sneads Ferry, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Suzanne Livingston at (910) 327-3393 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Elizabeth P. Simmons at (910) 526-2571 or email@example.com. Or you can message them on Facebook at facebook.com/NewRiverGardenClub/