HOLSTEIN, Iowa | One of the most impressive sights in Siouxland rises near U.S. Highway 20 on the south side of Holstein each summer.
On Friday, that sight consists of 369 U.S. flags waving with the winds, each edition of Old Glory showing its red, white and blue, dedicated for one current or past member of the U.S. military.
When it began two years ago, Eagle Scout candidate Michael Perrett, of Holstein, envisioned raising 163 flags, planting one every 20 feet along South Kiel Street.
"We're now putting them much closer, about 10 feet apart," says Perrett's father, John Perrett. "The project really took off."
I was there when Michael Perrett joined his father in executing the design, with generous assistance provided by members of Dessel-Schmidt American Legion Post 225 of Holstein.
Michael Perrett, who earned his Eagle Scout award, graduated from Hawkeye Tech Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, and now works in Independence, Iowa.
One aspect of the project I didn't consider two years ago involved the wind and the toll it takes on nylon fabric and thread. There's more than howling gales along this stretch of Ida County -- there's rain, there's hail.
Even though these flags don't fly all the time, they're at the mercy of Mother Nature when presented around days of national reverence like Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Flag Day and Independence Day.
Enter Jan Grell, Jean Conover, Beth Ortner, Linda Friedrichsen, Connie Leushen, Judy Yockey and, I'm sure, a volunteer or two, or three, I fail to mention. Equipped with talented hands, sewing machines and a patriotic can-do attitude, these Holstein women have become a local "Betsy Ross Brigade."
Betsy Ross created the U.S. flag in June 1776.
"The American Legion is so grateful for what these ladies do," says Burdette Conover, finance officer for Dessel-Schmidt American Post 225 of Holstein.
Two hail storms battered the Avenue of Flags around Flag Day last month. That meant this "Brigade" had just over two weeks to turn around a behemoth work order.
"They'll sew up to 200 flags in 16 days," Conover says. "I don't know what we'd do without them."
"I think I've repaired over 300," Friedrichsen says. "The trouble is that if one stitch goes, many of them go. The wind breaks a stitch and it can go until the stripes are torn."
"I haven't been able to serve my country, but this is a little something I can do," Judy Yockey says. "I'd hope they could be perfect when they're flying up there. It's such an awesome sight as you come over the hill from either direction."
Jan Grell, Jean Conover and Beth Ortner meet to compare damaged flags and discuss sewing strategies at Stubbs Memorial Library in Holstein on Wednesday.
"I'll use stitch-witchery at times," Ortner says, showing me a double-sided ribbon she stitched into place on the upper-right corner of a U.S. flag, the area of the flag that's most often damaged.
The trio learn that tighter zig-zag stitches hold better than straight stitches. Ortner has found more success using quilting thread, which is thicker and may allow flags to hold up to those gusts the Avenue of Flags experiences.
Conover examines a flag from end to end before coming across a tag she's never read before. "Made in the U.S.A." she says with a laugh.
"It better be!" she states.
Grell, the "veteran" sewer of this group, began fixing U.S. flags for the local American Legion 20 years ago. She's pleased the effort now involves more community members who have sewing machines, as well as the talent, the time and the patience.
"We are still experimenting," she says. "It's good to get together like this to compare how we're doing it."
Grell says the work is but a small part of an awesome project for her community. She can't help but to think of the men and women who sacrificed to serve this country -- and to think of those who are still serving in the military -- when the Avenue of Flags goes up at Holstein. It takes another band of committed volunteers 40 minutes to put nearly 370 poles and flags in place.
"I do love standing at the Avenue of Flags and hearing the snap of the flags in the wind," Ortner says.
The sound reminds her that she's standing in a free country, one that's been represented by the red, white and blue design Betsy Ross created 238 years ago.
The snap, snap, snap also lets Ortner know something else is coming: A little more work for Holstein's dedicated "Betsy Ross Brigade."