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New festival aims to honor military

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 29, 2011 - "A Tribute to the Troops" will be the theme of an upcoming festival to honor the nation's military.

Set for Labor Day weekend in Forest Park, the three-day event, held under the auspices of the Missouri Veterans Foundation, will recognize the armed services with a variety of happenings from Sept. 3-5 including an arts and crafts show, a 1K and 5K walk and softball, tennis and golf tournaments.

"It's St. Louis on Labor Day weekend so there will be plenty of people around anyway," said Steve Meier, a representative of the festival and president of Meier Jost & Associates, a locally based fundraising firm that is helping with the project. "Now they'll have plenty more to do."

The idea was the brainchild of local resident Robert Hermann Sr., founder of Hermann Companies Inc. A World War II veteran from the U.S. Navy, he has his share of experience launching such projects. Hermann founded the Veiled Prophet Fair, the forerunner to Fair St. Louis, in 1981.

"He's a great guy. Very down to earth, enthusiastic," said Dave Morgan, co-chair of the event and past commander of the Missouri department of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "And he believes in what he's saying and what he's doing. That's what's important."

Meier said the event's organizers are working to host everything from a flyover by B-25 aircraft to Civil War re-enactors. Military equipment will be featured as well as a "Veterans Village" of educational and informational exhibits. Vintage cars will be displayed and food, beverages, music and amusement rides will be available. Even the world-famous Clydesdales will be on-hand.

"I don't have a dollar figure but we're hoping to raise in the hundreds of thousands," he said. "That's our goal."

To that end, the festival, which has no admission fee, is searching for corporate sponsorship dollars to back the event. He said support has been good but they are still looking for more. Proceeds go to support the foundation.

"Anytime it's the first year, you have to sell the idea," he said. "It becomes easier the second year."

Morgan said conversations have been going well despite the fact that the lead time wasn't big.

"We've been talking to some major corporations," he said. "Even though we've come out late, we've had some major interest on our website."

Organizers said that in their research, they found that other cities have done similar events but they often weren't continued beyond the inaugural year. That's not the plan here.

"They were one-shot affairs, one-time projects," Meier said. "Bob's wish with this is that it becomes an annual event."

"This is the first time," said Morgan, himself a Vietnam veteran. "It won't be the last time. It's been a learning experience."

The event will be centered in front of the Muny at Pagoda Circle.

"Forest Park is a diamond in the rough," Morgan said. "It's about supporting all our veterans while having a good time in the park on a three-day weekend."

Morgan said organizers hope to draw as many as 200,000 or 300,000 to the festival. They are also seeking volunteers to ensure things run smoothly.

"We'd like to see all our veterans and families from across the St. Louis area show up," he said.

Visit www.vfstl.com for more information.

David Baugher is a freelance writer.

David Baugher
David Baugher is a freelance writer in St. Louis who contributed to several stories for the STL Beacon.

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