Poppy Days to honor veterans will be next month

A red poppy is more than just a small but meaningful gesture to honor our fallen soldiers because it also serves as a fundraiser to support our country’s war veterans.

As Memorial Day draws closer, red poppies — made of fabric or crepe paper — start to make their annual appearance, sometimes pinned to people’s lapels or hats.

After World War I, the poppy flourished in Europe. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. From the dirt and mud grew a beautiful red poppy. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle following the publication of the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written by Lt. Col. John McCrae while serving on the front lines.

Poppies also are worn as remembrances in many British Commonwealth countries on Nov. 11, the American Veterans Day.

On Sept. 27, 1920, the poppy became the official flower of the American Legion family to memorialize the soldiers who fought and died during the war. In 1924, the distribution of poppies became a national program of the Legion.

Led by the legion Auxiliary each year, members of the legion family distribute poppies with a request that the person receiving the flower make a donation to support the future of veterans, active duty military personnel and their families with medical and financial needs.

Vicky Stainbrook, president of American

Legion Auxiliary Unit 89 in Seymour, said the auxiliary is currently preparing for Poppy Days, which will take place next month.

“The poppy has become an internationally recognized symbol of the lives sacrificed in war and the hope that none died in vain,” Stainbrook said. “One hundred percent of donations go directly to help veterans.”

American Legion Auxiliary Unit 89 is part of a family that includes Post 89, Sons of the American Legion 89 and American Legion Riders 89.

“We have requested to set up May 13 on the corner of Second and Walnut streets in Seymour, and we also make donation boxes with poppies to place in local businesses,” Stainbrook said. “We strive to involve as many locations as we can with the volunteers we have.”

Stainbrook, chairwoman for the event, said the organization will accept donations any time but will probably be set up for only one day downtown.

“We hope to have other collection spots and plan to reach out to several local businesses and the Seymour post office to see if we can distribute poppies outside,” she said. “I’ve also made ‘a field of poppies’ consisting of Styrofoam to put the poppies in and a box attached to drop in monetary donations, and if any Seymour businesses are willing to place one in their shop or restaurant, that would be much appreciated.”

Stainbrook said Poppy Days is an event that some people feel led to help with in memory of loved ones, but more volunteers are always needed.

“We’re allowed to distribute poppies any time during the year now, and we can also do other things, such as some auxiliary groups distribute poppy cookies as a fundraiser, and we’re looking into other things,” she said.

Volunteerism for the Poppy Days roadblocks is an issue, but Stainbrook hopes in having the event two weeks before Memorial Day, more people will be able to help.

“Donations collected during Poppy Days are funds raised strictly for veterans and their families for things they might need,” she said. “We’ve given money for a variety of things, like a washing machine, food, and we’ve sponsored veterans at the Indiana Veterans Home in Terre Haute.

Stainbrook said they’re also getting ready to start a food pantry for veterans in need, so a lot of the money collected for Poppy Days will go toward that, as well.

“The veterans at the veterans home or veterans hospitals are the ones making the poppies, so they get paid for making them when we buy them,” she explained. “Our unit orders 1,000 poppies, and we usually give them all out.”

Stainbrook said most people remember having a poppy handed to them at a parade when they were little or maybe when going into the grocery store with their mom.

“We have many members who have stories to share of memories of Poppy Days past when they worked with their mother or even ones who do it in honor of their brothers,” she said. “Two of those are sisters, Tina Burbrink and Betty Oberring, who grew up at the post, and way back when, their mother was president of the auxiliary.”

Burbrink remembers their mother crocheting little red, white and blue hats for her and her sister to wear when helping at Poppy Days.

The sisters, who grew up in Seymour, are members of the auxiliary and have worked the roadblocks together for Poppy Days

When 57-year-old Oberring of Seymour said she has been a member of the Legion her whole life, she’s not exaggerating. She was three days old when her parents signed her up.

“Three days after I was born, my parents were taking me home from the hospital and on the way, they literally drove to the Legion and signed me up before they took me home,” she said. “My parents were John and Betty Jean Quigley, and the Legion was their community work and their charity work.”

Oberring said when she was young, she was in the legion’s Junior Auxiliary.

“I was very involved and that’s when my mother was very involved, as well, and I held all of the offices and even state offices at that time,” she said. “Then there’s that period of time when the kids were young and I wasn’t involved for a while, but now, I’m more active in auxiliary since we have no kids at home.

”I can remember being about 5 years old back when there was a Danners 3-D store where Big Lots is now and my mom took me out there and set me up in front of the adults to offer poppies for donations,” Oberring said. “I remember being in front of K-Mart, too, and everything was decorated with poppies and we had little outfits and dressed in red, white and blue.”

The women would all wear floppy hats decorated with poppies, almost like those worn at the Kentucky Derby. Betty Jean liked to crochet and made red, white and blue hats for her daughters.

“Poppy Days used to be a much bigger deal, but the older generation is kind of dying out and there isn’t much recruiting to get younger generations involved,” Oberring said. “We do have some younger ladies that might be involved in the auxiliary because of maybe their dad or their grandpa or have a son who’s a veteran, but we’re still trying to get them involved to get things rolling.”

Burbrink, 64, lives in Elizabethtown and said their mother was involved in the auxiliary all her life.

“I remember being with my mom and we’d be holding the poppy buckets and sometimes it’d be in front of the bank, but we were little kids when my sister and I got started doing that,” she said. “My stepdad, John Quigley, was in the Air Force and he was a commander and mom was very patriotic, and we try to be that way, too.”

Millions of American Legion Auxiliary poppies are distributed annually by American Legion posts and their auxiliary units, raising money for veterans, active duty service members and their families.

Buddy Poppies

Prior to Memorial Day in 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States conducted their first poppy distribution, becoming the first veterans’ organization to organize a nationwide distribution. Shortly after, the poppy was adopted as the official memorial flower of the VFW and it remains so today.

According to vfw.org, it was decided in 1923 that VFW “Buddy” Poppies would be assembled by disabled veterans who would be paid for their work to provide them with financial assistance. The next year, disabled veterans at the Buddy Poppy factory in Pittsburgh assembled VFW Buddy Poppies. The designation “Buddy Poppy” was adopted at that time.

In February 1924, the name Buddy Poppy was registered with the U.S. Patent Office so no other organization, firm or individual can legally use the name Buddy Poppy.

Last year at Frühlingsfest, a two-day festival in Seymour presented and promoted by the Seymour Knights of Columbus, the VFW Post 1925 Auxiliary in Seymour had a plastic bin of poppies available during the festival and the booth was manned by members of the group.

The festival will take place again May 13 and 14 in the city parking lot in downtown Seymour, and the VFW will be set up and accept donations for poppies.

Anyone can participate in National Poppy Day by wearing a red poppy all day and tell everyone why, collecting donations at your workplace to give to the poppy program and by accepting a poppy and making a donation if you see a member of the American Legion family in your neighborhood distributing poppies.

Tell the story on Facebook of who you are wearing your poppy in remembrance or support of on National Poppy Day and use the hashtag #PoppyDay.