In time for Memorial Day, a long stretch of North Avenue is sporting its annual patriotic dressing of American flags – and this year, something different.
Bright and early Wednesday morning, in an intimate ceremony at the base of the first light pole west of City Hall, the first of 47 personally dedicated flags was raised on a bright gold staff.
Karen Wolfe purchased the flag, which was inscribed to the memory of her late husband, Terry Wolfe, longtime president of the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission.
Greg Glander, a city sign shop technician, rode a cherry picker above the avenue and placed the flag in its socket while Wolfe looked on.
The North Avenue Flag Program was the brainchild of former alderman and parks commissioner Dick Bachman, who concieved it in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America.
Wanting to show patriotic defiance in a dignified way, he persuaded the city to let him run a volunteer, donation-based program to hang flags from light poles on North Avenue.
Since then, up to 126 flags have graced the street, all at no cost to the city except for staff time to put them up in spring and take them down in fall.
This year, Bachman had a new brainstorm and decided to offer special memorial flags for donations of $100.
The flags do not have to memorialize the deceased or only members of the armed services. In the spirit of 9/11, in which Americans in all walks of life were attacked and many became heroes, Bachman felt that honoring anyone special in a donor's life was appropriate.
The dedicated flags carry a written message from the donor naming their honoree and are mounted on gold poles instead of silver standards. When the flags have flown for their season, they are presented to the donor as a keepsake.
Bachman, who last year moved to a Menomonee Falls retirement home, enlisted the aid of Eagle Scout candidate Matt Barrett in promoting and administering the program. Matt spoke to civic organizations and the media, logged donations, ordered flags and poles, and was out Wednesday morning as he and Bachman recorded the location of each flag.
Bachman, sensing that he won't be around forever to drive the now dual-purpose flag program, has persuaded the Kiwanis Club to take it over beginning next year, and Matt will train volunteers in running the memorial aspect.
Also on hand Wednesday morning was Bob Gross of the Lion's Club, a former scoutmaster of Matt's and sponsor of his Eagle candidacy.
Gross was exhorting Matt to make sure that after the 2012 Flag Program is put to bed in September, with all flags returned to their owners and all records of the program put in order, he completes all Eagle requirements by the end of the year.
"December 31 is the deadline," he said. "If it's Jan. 1 or after, he's just going to be an Eagle Scout like any other. But this is the 100th anniversary of the Eagle rank in scouting, so if he completes it this year, he'll get a special 100th anniverary badge that he can wear for the rest of his life."