INDEPENDENCE, Mo. When Barrie G. and Elaine S. McKay were called to serve at the Mormon Visitors Center in Independence, with Elder McKay as director, they were given the charge to "be a presence in the community."
They never dreamed that an opportunity to fulfill that charge, in part, would come this year as they became key organizers of a citywide celebration of the three weeks bookended by Flag Day on June 14 and Independence Day on July 4.
Apart from the obvious patriotic significance of its name, the city of Independence is a fitting locale for a "Flag Day to the Fourth of July" observance. Independence is the birthplace of former U.S. President Harry S. Truman. The Truman Library is one of the tourist attractions that the city boasts. He signed the joint resolution of Congress on Dec. 28, 1945, that made the Pledge of Allegiance the official pledge of the United States. Moreover, on Aug. 3 of the following year, he signed the act of Congress that made June 14 the country's annual Flag Day.
That Elder and Sister McKay would be key figures in the celebration almost seems destined in hindsight. For years, the Church's visitors center has been regarded as a key element in the city's tourism structure in this city designated at one time by the Lord as "the center place" of Zion (see Doctrine and Covenants 57:3).
"When we arrived here, we found we were members of the Pillars Council (one of four 'pillars' that attract tourists to Independence)," the McKays wrote in a letter to the Church News. The council includes the Chamber of Commerce, Ministerial Alliance and the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation, as well as tourism groups. In addition, Elder Mckay inherited the job of chairman for the city's Fourth of July celebration.
Learning that the visitors center has replicas of the 27 official flags of the United States through U.S. history, the McKays organized an exhibit last year extending from Flag Day to Independence Day and again from Patriots Day on Sept. 11 to Veterans Day Nov. 11. During the latter exhibit, the center displayed the "Challenger Flag," the U.S. Flag that was the only object to be exhibited from the ill-fated flight of the space shuttle Challenger that exploded after take-off on Jan. 28, 1985.
The McKays' report of the event at a subsequent meeting so moved the city's director of tourism that she proposed a city celebration of Flag Day for this year. Sister McKay became chairman of a committee for that purpose. Aware of the Truman history with regard to the flag, the McKays "felt that this information would help generate community interest in celebrating not only on Flag Day and the Fourth of July, but rather from Flag Day to the Fourth of July as we believe President Truman had intended."
The highly publicized events began with a June 7 city council meeting at which Truman impersonator Niel Johnson read the historic documents pertaining to Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance. The mayor of Independence signed the proclamation for the celebration and presented it to the McKays.
Flag Day was marked by a flag-raising ceremony at the Truman statue in front of the historic Jackson County Courthouse, the inauguration of a "Trail of Flags" attracting tourists to 16 sites in the city to learn flag history and heritage, an "Old Fashioned Flag Day Celebration" at the Englewood Business District, and a "Wave the Flag for America" production at the restored Englewood Theatre.
Through the days of the celebration, activities include a "Flag in Every Home" promotion and special events and exhibits at the Church's visitors center.
Among the visitors center events was an address June 12 from C. Kent Wood, president of the Independence Missouri Stake. President Wood's 22-year career with the U.S. Secret Service included a historic incident. With other agents, President Wood helped subdue the gunman who, in an assassination attempt, wounded President Ronald Reagan. The recent death and funeral of former President Reagan made President Wood's address and display of White House memorabilia especially timely.
The celebration culminates July 3, when, for the first time, the entire City of Independence Fourth of July celebration will be held on the grounds of the Mormon Visitors Center.
"This year, the celebration will include a U.S. Air Force jet flyover, precision skydivers, announcement of the 'Trail of Flags' winners and a special 'Spirit of Service' award made by the Ministerial Alliance," the McKays wrote. In addition the performing Dutton Family of the resort city of Branson, Mo., will present a patriotic show, and the Spirit of Independence Concert Band will perform prior to and during the fireworks display.
"This event will be an exciting conclusion to the city's first Flag Day to the Fourth of July celebration," the McKays wrote. "As in past years, all visitors center missionaries will be there to greet, usher and 'be a presence in the community.' "
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