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Flags blossom throughout Solivita in patriotic display

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Flags blossom throughout Solivita in patriotic display

Veterans’ club’s Memorial Day project also raises money for scholarships for high school seniors. By Suzie Schottelkotte

SOLIVITA — As the sun rises Monday on another Memorial Day, it will capture the red, white and blue of more than 1,700 flags blanketing the Solivita retirement community in northeast Polk County. “I like to think of Solivita to be the most patriotic community in the state of Florida,” said Dick Latham, who organized the flag display. “So far, it’s proven me right.” But the display’s purpose extends beyond patriotism, he said. Because of these flags, nine college-bound students are finding it easier to pay their school expenses.

The story behind the flags began last November, when members of the Veterans Club of Solivita rallied their neighbors to put flags in their yards to recognize Veterans Day. “We put out 340 flags that day,” Latham said.

The club’s members tied the effort to a scholarship program, he said. They sought a $25 annual donation from residents, and in exchange, the club would put a 3-by-5 foot flag in each of their yards on six federal holidays — Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

Dick Latham, left, and Fred Hill with the Veterans Club of Solivita put American Flags out in their Poinciana subdivision on Friday. They put out about 1,700 flags as part of the Flags Over Solivita program which displays patriotism while providing scholarships for high school students. [SCOTT WHEELER/THE LEDGER]

Dick Latham, left, and Fred Hill with the Veterans Club of Solivita put American Flags out in their Poinciana subdivision on Friday. They put out about 1,700 flags as part of the Flags Over Solivita program which displays patriotism while providing scholarships for high school students. [SCOTT WHEELER/THE LEDGER]

The idea caught on, Latham said, in a big way. “By Presidents Day, we were up to 1,200 flags,” he said, “and now we’re up to 1,700. I was hoping to get to 2,000 by Veterans Day this year, but now I’m thinking we might have 2,500.” With that success came a financial windfall enabling the club to award $4,500 scholarships to nine graduating seniors this spring. Latham said he’s eager for the day when the program generates enough funding to support 20 scholarships. “That’s our goal,” he said.

Betty Eglinton, who coordinated the 80 flags in her Lago Vista neighborhood of about 100 homes, said she’s been surprised by the speed of program’s success. “We only started this last year as a trial run,” she said. “We sent out a flier to residents, asking if they’d like to donate the $25 for the project, and the response was amazing.”

Larry Bennett, a 15-year resident of Solivita, said he, like Eglinton, wasn’t surprised by the success, but the burst of interest did catch the Veterans Club by surprise. “When we talked to our neighbors, we found that they’re all very patriotic and were looking for an avenue to get flags displayed,” he said, “but we weren’t quite prepared for everybody getting on the bandwagon as quickly as they did.” He said there was a big push to get flags out for Presidents Day in February. “It was close to being overwhelming,” he said. “We couldn’t have made it work without a lot volunteers in the neighborhoods.” That interest continues to surge, Bennett said. “I went out and put another 10 in this morning,” he said Friday.

He’s talking about the 18-inch sleeves that volunteers place permanently in the ground, then cap the tops. When a holiday comes around, volunteers remove the caps and slide the flag poles into the sleeves. Each sleeve is placed 3 feet from the street and 3 feet from the driveway, so all the flags are in a uniform location. The flags remain flying for five to seven days, Eglinton said. “We put them in three to four days prior to the holiday, and leave them a couple days after the holiday,” she said. “I’ll be taking them down on Wednesday. That’s the day I don’t play golf.”

When the flags aren’t flying, the club stores them in a nearby warehouse. As a board member of the Veterans Club’s scholarship foundation, Bennett said he’s thrilled to see the funding pour in. “When we began in 2008, most of the fund-raising was done by the veterans with veterans,” he said. “This project has really involved the entire community, to help us with the scholarships. I think that’s great.”

Jerry and Nancy Robbins put out an American flag in Poinciana as part of a Memorial Day program. [SCOTT WHEELER/THE LEDGER]

Jerry and Nancy Robbins put out an American flag in Poinciana as part of a Memorial Day program. [SCOTT WHEELER/THE LEDGER]