The Story Behind Ponchatoula’s Flag

On clear days from miles away, our beautiful massive flag welcomes visitors to town, and on clear nights, even as far south as Manchac, well-lit, she welcomes her residents home.

With “Old Glory” telling its story and having a song written to it, “You’re a Grand Old Flag” – our flag, too, has a local story behind it.

A simple question at Jaycee Hall turned into a full-fledged Jaycee project when a member asked State Representative Dennis Hebert: “How do we get a flag for our city?”

Learning a large one cost an impossible $7,000, members pondered what to do and Representative Hebert volunteered his wife to come up with an idea. Thus, when Evelyn Thibodeaux Hebert turned to sisters Geraldine Wright and Ann Boudreaux and friend Virgie Laurent Sanders, the four became the “Betsy Ross Ladies”, setting out to hand sew a flag from special nylon material needed.

Starting with volunteers from their bridge club, they worked at the Hebert home until the flag outgrew the house and they moved to Jaycee Hall, many times crawling around on the floor or ground as it was still just material and not a flag yet. (Finished dimensions: 30’x50’, each stripe over 21” wide and each star about 22” tip to tip.)

It was a long and arduous task, beginning July 30, 1984, with last stitches, June 20, 1985, when the finished flag cost only $700 but contained a lot of priceless heart!

In 1984, South Central Bell donated a 175’ tall monopole microwave tower that volunteers scraped, sanded and painted. June 22, 1985, MECO Company moved the pole into place to be anchored in a large hole where bolts already had been sunk in concrete.

A “secret” test run was set up to raise the flag, but it happened just as a busload of tourists stepped off to visit the Country Market. Learning what was going on, they began singing the National Anthem and “God Bess America”.

Then the big day came and on July 4, 1985, at 7:00 a.m. citizens joined the Lion’s Club Softball team, church groups and civic organizations gathered in Kiwanis Park readying for the day’s activities, beginning with the 9:30 a.m. patriotic parade to downtown. Police shut down streets from 6th to 5th to accommodate the crowd.

By 10:00 a.m. starting time, among dignitaries in place were Jaycee President Timmy Chauff, Past-President Henry Penn, Treasurer and Chairman Ronnie Perrin, Co-Chairman Bruce Kinchen, Mayor Charles Gideon, Police Jury President Harry Lavine, Fire Chief Erlo McLaurin, Police Chief Ernest Peltier, South Central Bell representative Lawrence Kluka, Rev. Glynn Fendlason, Councilwoman Mary Carter, Councilmen Dave Perkins, Danny Pepitone, Julian Dufreche and S. N. “Gramps” Fitzmorris. Along with State Representative Hebert, other special guests were state Senators Mike Cross and Gerry Hinton and Superintendent of Louisiana Department of Education Thomas Clausen.

Realizing the event demanded national media coverage, the Jaycee’s had arranged for a nationally-known orator of inspiring patriotic speeches to come from Pensacola, Florida.

J. Terryl Bechtol was a past-president of the national Jaycee’s and a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Committee for Volunteerism. New Orleans WDSU Television covered the event.

Sometime during the ceremony, the Jaycee’s presented Mayor Gideon with the flag which weighed about 100 pounds and took 35 people to unfold. Past and present members of the Ponchatoula High School Band made up the Ponchatoula Patriots Band directed by John Babin, playing “Stars and Stripes Forever” while the flag was being unfolded and the “Star Spangled Banner” as it was being raised.

Cindy Newton had headed the project to collect over 1000 names of local citizens who served our country in military service and these names were placed in a time capsule buried at the base of the flag after the speech. She was assisted by Bryan Kuebler and the Eagle Scouts of Troop 101. Representative Hebert presented commissions to the four Betsy Ross Ladies, designating them as colonels of the governor’s staff.

Dotsy Gates from Holden’s Texaco Service Station had written a poem:

“Big Glory Wave”:
Old Glory flies high from Ma Bell’s given pole,
So big in size from a history old.
Big is the wave to greet morning light
In memory of the brave, such an inspiring sight.

The number of stars grew since made by Betsy Ross
In so bad times flew over much blood loss.
Just to gaze up from old Pine Street,
A full furl in luck, such a Patriotic treat.

After the speeches and the raising, Mother Nature seemed to put her approval on the ceremony when she sent a slight breeze and the flag began to wave for the 11:00 a.m. seven-gun salute.

At 11:15, the parade returned to Kiwanis Park for the noon Ponchatoula Family Picnic where residents like Jackie Kupper and Scott and others had lemonade, Jambalaya, hot dogs, snowballs, and watermelons disappearing in the hungry crowd. From 1:30 p.m. to 5:00, all ages played baseball, egg throws, sack races and scavenger hunts until dusk at 8:15 brought closing ceremonies followed by Jaycee and Kiwanis sponsoring a slide show and fireworks. Years have passed since that historic day and now the original handmade flag rests on display at Collinswood Museum.

But Ponchatoula’s Minutemen led by Ronnie Perrin continues to care for the pole and each new flag. Any citizen wishing to become a Minuteman can join by paying annual dues of $25.

Two quotes pertaining to that big day in 1985 still apply today:

One speaker said,

“This day will be remembered with pride by all that were here”

and Leonard Kraft later wrote,

“I was honored to be one of those chosen to hold the flag the first time.”

And every Fourth of July at 8:00 a.m., each of us holding our share of the new flag prior to lift-off has the same feeling: “It is an honor to hold that flag and feel the breeze lift her up as we sing the National Anthem, then say the Pledge of Allegiance — and we shall remember this day with pride as long as we live.”

(Special appreciation to Geraldine Wright for sharing from her personal journal and photos.)

 

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