Gold Star Family event will nearly double in size

This weekend’s event in FL, Vet’s Rest Camp will move to Camp Ripley in 2013

Entertainer Rockie Lynne will perform in concert at 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 3 at Forest Lake VFW Post 4210 as part of the Gold Star Family Weekend event. (Photo submitted)

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

When the idea formed three years ago for a weekend celebration to honor the families of U.S. service members who have died in defense of the country, planners were not sure what to expect.

The first Gold Star Family Weekend in 2011 in Forest Lake and at the Disabled Veteran’s Rest Camp in Scandia was a big hit. The families of 24 fallen military personnel turned out for a weekend observance and a chance to socialize and enjoy the weekend at the camp on Big Marine Lake.

“I had planned on doing it for just the one year,” said Ron Weiss, an active member of American Legion Post 225 and one of the architects of the weekend event. “When the weekend was over, it was clear we wanted to do it again.”

This year’s event is set to go this Friday through Sunday with events centering in Forest Lake and again at the Disabled Veteran’s Rest Camp. So far, Weiss says, the families of 35 fallen heroes have indicated they will attend.

After just two years, Weiss said, the event is outgrowing its quarters. Plans have now been locked in for 2013 to move the Gold Star Family Weekend to Camp Ripley near Little Falls. Next year’s dates are Friday, Aug. 23 through Sunday, Aug. 26.

“We initially expected to get folks attending from our border states,” Weiss said, pointing to Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota. “It just continues to grow,” he said. “We’ve had contact from people in Illinois.”

Three full days of events are planned this weekend.

Friday

The program opens at 4 p.m. on Friday with a reception at VFW Post 4210 in Forest Lake.

A 6 p.m. dinner will be preceded by the presentation of the colors by the joint color guard from Post 4210 and American Legion Post 225. Following dinner, a short program will begin at 6:45 p.m.

At 8 p.m., special guest entertainer Rockie Lynne will take to the stage. The concert is open to the public. A $5 donation is being requested to support the weekend. A two-hour concert is planned.

Saturday

Saturday’s events shift to the campgrounds on Big Marine Lake.

The events begin at 10 a.m. with the arrival of an estimated 70 motorcycles under the Tribute to the Troops flag. At 11 a.m., the attention will turn skyward with a World War II missing man formation fly over sponsored by the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charity.

The formal program will include the presentation of the colors and the singing of the national anthem, led by El Ewert of Forest Lake. The formal program will include information on the flags of the nation and special honors to the families of the fallen veterans.

The day will conclude with lunch and time for the families to enjoy the campground. Fishing and boat rides will be available.

Sunday

Sunday’s events include breakfast, a morning worship service and  campground checkout.

A Big Effort

When plans for the family weekend were formed three years ago, it happened thanks in part to the efforts of people from the area and many local sponsors, Weiss said.

The initial planning was aided significantly by the contributions from Merrilee Carlson of Hastings who lost a son in the Iraq War. Kathy Dunaway of Columbus quickly teamed with Weiss for a strong local planning group.

To help funnel donations, the non-profit Gold Star Family Weekend, Inc. organization was formed. It continues to have local flavor.

Carlson is president while Keith Hegstrom, manger of VFW Post 4210, is treasurer. Dunaway serves as secretary. Weiss, Mark Reiling of the VFW Post 4210 Men’s Auxiliary, and John Dehner and Dennis Theiling, both of Stacy, are all directors.

For the first year, Weiss said, $9000 was needed to sponsor the weekend. “We had no idea where we would get the funding,” he said.

But the funding was found through generous donations from military clubs and organizations across the state and many local and regional businesses and civic organizations.

Lynne, the singer who is donating his time this weekend, was quickly on board with his Tribute to the Troops organization, Weiss adds.

Metro restaurants Mancini’s of St. Paul, and Tinucci’s of St. Paul Park, and Vannelli’s by the Lake of Forest Lake, have been important partners in helping with the food, Weiss said.

Mattson Funeral Home and Roberts Family Funeral Home, both of Forest Lake, are also key sponsors.

The popularity and success of the first-year event has been invaluable in the second-year planning, Weiss said.

This year’s event is expected to cost in the area of $10,000. So far, Weiss said, $15,000 has been raised which will be a springboard to the 2013 event at Camp Ripley.

The move is necessary, Weiss believes. “It’s not really fair to take over the whole campground for a weekend,” Weiss says.

At Camp Ripley, Weiss said the event will find a home in a centralized location of the state that has ample accommodations for the families who attend.

For more information, visit www.GoldStarWeekend.com.

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