Missouri Blue Star Memorial Markers
HISTORY OF THE MISSOURI BLUE STAR MARKER PROGRAM by Donna LantryDuring the State Presidency of Mae Jean Nothstine, 1993-1995, I was appointed State Blue Star Chairman. The National President, Mary Louise Michie of Texas, had requested all states to restore the Blue Star Program to its original status.
First we were to locate these Missouri markers. There were 13 original markers placed in Missouri from 1949 to 1962. Most of them were placed in the mid-fifties and 1962 was the last one until National placed one at their headquarters in St. Louis in 1995. The only record that the state had was a handwritten list of the 13 markers with a very short description of the location where they wereoriginally installed. The Eisenhower Highway Expansion program created new highways and relegated old highways to state road status or even abandoned them. This created havoc with the Blue Star markers as they were moved or taken down or lost. Many of them were no longer at their original locations as identified on the list.
My husband and I started the task of locating the markers by driving to the locations identified throughout the state. This took us over two years. When the location no longer existed, such as on a moved and/or abandoned highway, I turned to the local residents around the locations and tried to locate people who might remember the marker or the roadside park where it had been. This included going into a feed store in a small town and finding two gentlemen who remembered such a marker on a weed-filled lot on the corner. They thought it had been moved to a VFW hall. They were right! That’s where we found it.
I also wrote to the Missouri Department of Transportation to see what records they had or if they had personnel who might remember something about markers in their districts. Most had retired but one did remember a few of the moved markers.
The highways that were original designated as memorial highways were U.S. 40, 50, 66 & 67. Highway 36 was added as a designated highway in 1973. The highway expansion program had affected the three routes of U.S. 40, 50 and 66 extensively. Two of them were changed to state routes and highway 66 was abandoned. Some of the most difficult markers to locate and their brief stories are as follows:
The third marker placed in Missouri was at the east end of the Chain of Rocks Bridge on old U.S 66 on the northwest side ofSt Louis. During the expansion program, a sewer-line worker, not knowing about the Blue Star Program removed the marker and it ended up in the possession of a 10 year old boy. It stayed in his possession for 30 years until his mother read an article that I wrote for the Forum. The marker was recovered, refurbished in 1995 and today stands at the highway 270 Welcome Center at I-270 and Riverview in St. Louis.
Marker number 4 was placed by the Marshall Garden Club in the West Central District at a roadside park on highway 40 near Marshall. When highway 40 was abandoned in that area, MODOT moved it two times to different rest stops along the highway and it now resides at the I-70 West-Bound Boonville rest area. This meant it had been moved from the West Central District to the Central District. It was refurbished in 2006 and plantings are being planned by a club in Central Missouri from the Boonville area.
Marker number 9 now residing at the entrance to Powell Gardens beside highway 50 was moved during the expansion period from the Kansas City area and somehow became “lost” at the bottom of Wildwood Lake in Raytown. It was “found” when the lake was drained and it ended up in the Raytown Museum mounted on an outside wall. It was later taken down and placed in their storage room. In 1995, the Kansas City Garden Club, who originally placed the marker, had it restored and rededicated at Powell Garden 20 miles east of Lee’s Summit still beside highway 50.
Marker number 12 at Poplar Bluff had also been removed during the highway expansion program after being damaged by a bulldozer and taken to a forest service storage facility where it sat for many years since no one knew where it had been taken. As we were looking for it, a forest service ranger remembered seeing one like what we described in a storage shed. It was subsequently recovered, restored by a local technical school and rededicated at the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce grounds beside highway 67.
Some of the other original markers had been moved and it required some detective work to locate them. Most were in better shape than the above mentioned ones. The Carthage marker along old U.S. 66 was still standing, but was riddled with gun shot holes. We received a grant in 2003 from Shell Oil and it was restored and rededicated.
Of the original thirteen, a majority have been refurbished with present plans to refurbish the remaining markers. During the time period where we were searching for the markers, we also found Missouri’s only intermediate marker in Harrisonville. This was a very small and simple sign with only a painted blue star. This design is no longer used.
The Blue Star Program had a banner year in 2006. Missouri clubs have bought and dedicated twelve new markers making a total of forty three. Four older ones were refurbished. Presently at least two new markers are on order and are to be dedicated in 2007 and additional orders are expected
During my fourteen plus years as Missouri Blue Star chairman, I have:
· maintained an updated list of all markers
· kept MODOT updated with complete information for all markers,
· written the Financial Group grant request template used by several clubs to obtain grants,
· chaired the rededication of the Otterville marker,
· obtained state board approval for a refurbishment fund to be used for refurbishment only,
· prepared a complete slide history with over 100 slides of all markers with one set in St. Louis and one with me,
· written detailed articles for the Forum of each dedication/rededication,
· took and assembled over 500 photographs of all markers,
· compiled a historical scrapbook,
· set-up displays for state and district meetings,
· supported all clubs preparing orders for new markers or refurbishment efforts,
· supported clubs as they go through the process of planning, ordering, scheduling, etc.
· supplied background and ordering materials to clubs to obtain markers,
· attended 34 dedications and/or rededications as of Oct. 2006,
· drove over 10,000 miles,
· gave Blue Star presentations to state and district conventions and others who asked.
There are now many safeguards in place to provide for the future of all markers with funds for any required refurbishments. This will keep the Blue Star program as a top priority program to remember and honor all veterans, past, present and future.