Active duty and veteran military service members will be honored at an event next weekend.
Stuhr Museum, along with a number of community sponsors, will host the Welcome Home event Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.
Curator Kari Stofer said the event pays homage to a 1919 welcome home party with which Hall County residents welcomed home soldiers returning from World War I.
“The war ended in 1918, but a lot of the soldiers did not get back to Hall County until 1919,” Stofer said. “There was a huge party in July 1919 for all of the guys who came home. Over 8,000 people showed up and celebrated them coming home. This year, on the anniversary of that party, we are going to have a party welcoming everyone coming home from every war and every overseas (service), regardless of what branch they served in.”
She said there will be a number of activities at the Welcome Home event, including a veteran motorcycle show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Reynolds Center parking lot, a concert by the Offutt Brass Band at 6 p.m., a watermelon-eating contest at 1 p.m. in Railroad Town, a flag retirement ceremony and historic presentations throughout the day.
A 38-star flag recently discovered in the former Bartenbach’s Gallery building will also be on display at the event. Admission to Stuhr Museum is free for those who wish to attend the Welcome Home event.
“We have some different military vehicles that will be on display, as well as a show and shine motorcycle display,” Stofer said. “We will have our regular crew out in Railroad Town. Our blacksmith will be doing special presentations. The kids will be able to write thank-you cards and we have a canteen set up for people to come and hang out.”
According to Stofer, “one of the big things” at the Welcome Home event is at 4 p.m. in the Stuhr Building, where a photo of all active duty and veteran military service members will be taken. She encouraged those who wish to be in the photo to arrive early.
She said she expects about 300 active duty and veteran military members to be in the photo.
“We are working with the Grand Island/Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Brad Mellema (its executive director) and he is trying to figure out a way where everybody in the community can get a copy of the picture,” Stofer said. “It will have everyone’s names on there, too. We are going to give everybody a paper for them to put their names on to hold up in the first shot. We will take a picture with their names and then we will take another picture without them.”
Gary Quandt, organizer of the watermelon-eating contest, said the contest will feature members from the different military branches competing against each other. Anyone interested in competing in the watermelon eating contest is encouraged to call him at (308) 382-8555. There is no cost to participate.
Stofer encouraged everyone who is able to attend the Welcome Home event and honor those who are serving and those who have served in the military.
“I think it is really important that we come together in Hall County to thank all of the active and veteran military,” she said. “It is a way to remember all of the service that Hall County has done and to thank everybody who is serving today.”