Celebrating pride: Festival highlights American spirit, patriotism



American flags billowed in the breeze as they hung from nearly every pole throughout the community.

On Thursday evening, a large crowd gathered for the opening ceremonies of the 44th annual Crothersville Red, White and Blue Festival.

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The event celebrates patriotism and Old Glory. It also brings the small community together.

Its origins trace back to 1976, when the U.S. government asked communities throughout the country to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial.

Some organizers believe the Red, White and Blue Festival is the longest continuous celebration from that time.

“We’re Indiana’s most patriotic festival,” Director Sherry Bridges said.

If the amount of red, white and blue seen throughout the community is an indicator, then Bridges may be right.

“There’s a lot of pride here,” she said. “I love it. It’s a small farming community, but we’re awfully proud.”

The evening took a more somber tone during opening ceremonies when Bridges read the story of D-Day to the crowd.

Typically, the festival honors a local veteran, but this year organizers wanted to honor those who served on that day 75 years ago.

Bridges is usually emotional during that portion of the event, she said, but was even more so knowing it was a significant anniversary.

“Some never even made it to the beach,” she said of those who stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. “Those boys were scared to death, but because of the oath they took, they pressed on for their country.”

Jackson County has a history of veterans who served on D-Day as part of Operation Overlord. More than a dozen men from the area served during the operation, which was the largest seaborne invasion the world has seen.

Sgt. Walter Waldkoetter of Brownstown Township died after he was shot swimming to shore when his tank sunk in the rough sea. He’s buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

Bridges said she is emotional about the Red, White and Blue Festival because of the way she was raised.

She comes from a military family. Her grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and even changed his birth certificate so he could enlist, she said.

He lived in northern Indiana and Bridges would visit a few times a year.

While not every visit was exactly the same, there was one constant. He flew an American flag at his house and took it down each night, she said.

It was during that time she learned how to properly fold and respect the flag.

“If I didn’t do it right, I had to stay out there until I got every fold crisp with three stars on the top and tucked the way it should be,” she said. “I can still do it.”

Her father, William Brumett, served in the navy to help cleanup the aftermath at Pearl Harbor. He was a Seaman 2nd Class and a gunner on the U.S.S Sitka. Her uncle also spent 32 years as a U.S. Marine.

“It’s just in me,” she said. “I always try to thank veterans for their service.”

That kind of pride has always made Bridges emotional while honoring veterans during the opening ceremonies.

“I always think of my daddy,” she said. “He’s not here anymore, but he was proud to serve his country.”

She displayed his picture on a memorial table set up at the festival with other photographs of veterans.

A group from the Indiana National Guard Reserve and a few local veterans presented a color guard and demonstrated a Battlefield Memorial, which honors a fallen soldier with a display of his boots, rifle and helmet.

Retiring organizers of the festival also were honored during the opening ceremonies. That included Bridges, who has served as director for 37 years. Also recognized were Doris Kovener, 44 years, Terry Prine, 43 years, Bobby Deal, 20 years, Marion Gill, 12 years and Cami Brummett, four years.

Throughout the years of the festival, there has been a lot of rain, but a lot of fun, too, Bridges said. Looking back on the memories and people she has met brings a smile to her face.

“It has been nerve-racking, but the memories and the good times and the laughs and the tears have made it worth it,” she said. “I have vendors here who have been here for 20 years and they’re like family.”

She became involved in the festival when she suggested there should be a pie baking contest.

“They said, ‘Yes, we would like to have one, and you’re in charge,’” she said.

Bridges continued to organize that contest, and soon oversaw the booths. Then, 24 years ago, she became director and has not looked back.

She never had a target date to retire as director, but around Christmas she knew the time was coming.

“I’ve done my community service and it’s time for others to get involved,” she said. With a grandchild coming later this year, Bridges said she wants to have more time to enjoy being a grandma.

Erica Gorbett will take over as director and has been working with Bridges to learn how the festival is planned.

“I’ve been walking her through it, giving her notes and I will always be a phone call away,” Bridges said.

Kovener, who has helped organize every Red, White and Blue Festival since its inception, said it was always important to celebrate the community.

“I love that Crothersville has a festival,” she said. “I’d like to see it continue, and I think moving forward, it will take on a different flavor after new people take over.”

Kovener said she has always taken pride in helping oversee the finances for the festival.

“It was always great to see the bills were paid and we had some left for the next year,” she said.

The festival also has helped her serve the community, which is dear to her, she said.

“I think it’s good for the community and I hope people realize how important it is,” she said. “It’s a fun time in Crothersville.”

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