June 13, 2018 — Thursday, June 14, is Flag Day. This day of national recognition commemorates the adoption of the flag as the symbol of the United States of America by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. While celebrated nationally, Flag Day is not a Federal Holiday.
Florence has a long-standing tradition of proudly displaying the American flag on streets and sidewalks through-out town on this day, with local groups, in particular the Florence Kiwanis Club, coordinating the distribution and placement of flags around Florence.
Tomorrow, and on many nationally and locally recognized holidays, Highway 101 and Bay Street will have block after block of striking red, white and blue flags moving smoothly with the ever-changing breezes.
Each of those flags has been sponsored by a local business or individual that contributes $30 to Kiwanis’ Flag Program Fund.
The development of the current flag program is the result of work by many individuals. This year, approximately 450 flags will be displayed and picked up by six to eight teams, working from before dawn to after sunset. One of those teams will be led by one individual that has been most closely associated with the Flag Day program over the years, Kiwanian Steve Olienyk.
Steve took the fledgling flag program under his wing in the late 1980s and helped to transform it into the robust effort we see today.
Steve’s daughter Lori recounts the growth of the program.
“Back then, the local American Legion was in desperate need of volunteers to put out flags. There were around 35 flags scattered along Highway 101. Steve wanted to see the flag program grow, so he began talking to fellow banker Lonnie Iholts about Kiwanis possibly becoming involved,” Lori said. “At that time, Kiwanis was looking to promote a patriotic program to serve Florence. Steve knew that if the flag program was to expand they needed more volunteers and an organization with a large membership to aggressively build the program.”
Steve recalls proudly the time last August when a Coast Guard Regional Commander came to visit Florence during the Coast Guard City designation process. The commander told the crowd he was inspired and impressed to see so many U.S. flags up and flying in Florence.
“I knew I was coming into a special place when I saw those American flags flying,” U.S. Coast Guard 13th District Commander Rear Admiral David Throop said.
This year, Steve’s team will include two of Florence’s young people, Casey Kawahara and Claire Waggoner. The inclusion of a younger generation in the work done to display the flags and receiving the appreciation that results from the effort are also part of the lesson that the Olienyks — and Kiwanis — want to share.
“I want our youth to feel a part of this service project, to encourage a love of country and a sense of pride in their flag and our community,” Steve said.
Proceeds from the sponsorship of the flags fund community projects throughout the year. Scholarships and academic support are strong areas of emphasis for the local chapter of the Kiwanians.
“It’s a win-win situation: the community likes to see the flags go up and the money we raise helps support beneficial projects for local citizens,” Steve said.
Today the flag program is coordinated by Kiwanian Gary Vawter and a dedicated group of volunteers that put out the flags along Highway 101 and in Old Town.
Vawter and members of the Florence Kiwanis Club have a number of other fundraising events they oversee during the year, including a new golf tournament, held this year on Saturday, June 23 at Ocean Dunes Golf Links.
The local group is also known for its Great Duck Race, which “sells” and releases hundreds of yellow ducks onto the Siuslaw River, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities over the past decade.
When asked to sum up his work on the flag project for the last 40 years, Steve said, “As a World War II veteran, I hope when people see those flags waving in the wind on a sunny day, they’ll take a moment to remember the veterans who fought for our freedoms.
“I want us to have a sense of gratitude for the opportunities this great country has afforded us.”