By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — More than 11,000 flowers will be planted this weekend at North Main and Auburn streets as part of a neighborhood group’s ongoing effort to show appreciation to veterans.
This is the fourth year of the volunteer Veterans Memorial Circle beautification project, which was undertaken by west-side residents when the city couldn’t keep pace with the upkeep of the colorful flowers at the intersection. The Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle was born out of a committee of the Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association, but it has support from residents across the city including Signal Hill, North End Square and Edgewater neighborhoods.
“We make sure every veteran knows this is all done for them,” said Army veteran Ernie Redfern, who co-chairs the group with his wife, Helen Karakoudas Redfern. “It really is 100% focused on appreciation for veterans and their families.”
Karakoudas Redfern said a recent U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs report on preventing veteran suicide said that small things community members do to show care can make a difference for veterans who are struggling. Suicide prevention coordinators from the local VA office were among the earliest volunteers for the project, and they provide resources for veterans and their families at every annual planting.
Related: Veterans Memorial Circle to look its best year-round thanks to donation from Village Green Nursery
This year, 11,570 flowers will be planted, including 432 perennials. There are about 90 volunteers expected so far, but Karakoudas Redfern said they need a little more than 150 to get the job done in one day. The annual planting day starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and it is expected to wrap up around 3:30 p.m.
“It’s an annual effort with a perennial commitment,” Karakoudas Redfern said.
Related: ‘They give back to everybody’: Rockford veteran known for his generosity gifted home makeover
The group doesn’t accept any public money for the project. All flowers and necessities for the volunteers are purchased with money raised from donors in the community. It costs an estimated $9,400 for the beatification project. Flowers are purchased from Village Green Nursery on North Main and Didier Greenhouses, which both offer discounts and each year provide additional flowers beyond what was ordered.
This year will be the most flowers planted for the beatification project. There were 6,200 planted in the first year in 2019 and about 9,000 last year.
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Veterans Memorial Circle planting day | By the numbers
11,570 total flowers
32 arborvitae trees
1,650 flowers to be planted per hour
Source: Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle
How to help
You can donate to the project at rockfordveteranscircle.org/donate or you can volunteer to help plant on Saturday. Questions can be directed to the Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle by contacting them here.