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IDOT helps a memorial shine again

A collaborative effort by IDOT and the Garden Clubs of Illinois will allow a Blue Star Memorial Highway sign at a rest area south of Rockford to continue paying tribute to the many men and women who had served and are serving in the military. The sign, located on the banks of the Rock River on Illinois 2, sports a new paint job, pole and landscaping.

“IDOT has been fantastic,” said Kathy Rewerts, the Garden Clubs of Illinois’ Blue Star Memorial chairman. “They have gone out of their way to help and support this project. It’s just amazing how much time and effort they take.”

Rewerts and IDOT employees rededicated the sign on Flag Day, June 14. Joining them were the Oregon VFW Post 8739 Honor Guard, members of the Rockford Garden Club and Scott Lewandowski, the director of the Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum in Rockford – where another Blue Star Memorial sign is located.

The Blue Star Memorial Program, a project of National Garden Clubs, began in 1945 to honor men and women who served during World War II. The name was chosen for the star on flags displayed in homes and businesses denoting a family member serving.

The designation of Blue Star Highways was achieved through petitions to the state legislatures and cooperation with the state departments of transportation. A uniform marker was designed to identify the highways and the memorial was changed in 1951 to include all men and women who had served, were serving, or would serve in the Armed Forces. .

The sign at the Illinois 2 rest area was erected in 1970 during the Vietnam War, but it became worn over its 52 years. . Rewerts, who has been restoring other signs throughout the state since 1994, thought the sign would be a good candidate and contacted IDOT.

District 2 Maintainer Tom Elmendorf, who worked with Rewerts in restoring the sign and mounting it onto a new pole, was happy to help. The Blue Star Highway signs have a great meaning for him as an Air Force veteran.

About a third of IDOT’s employees are veterans.

“We feel as though we’re obligated to assist because it’s on state property, it’s a privilege since we’re maintainers and veterans,” Elmendorf said. “It all kind of fits together.”

In addition to helping to restore and install the sign, IDOT landscaped the area, which the Rockford Garden Club will assist in maintaining.

The sign is one of eight located in District 2 in northwestern Illinois. In addition to the Illinois 2 rest area, three others are on IDOT property: The Turtle Creek Rest Area on Interstate 39/90 southbound in South Beloit and the Willow Creek Rest Areas on I-39 in Lee County.

There are about 150 Blue Star Highway signs in Illinois, said Marilyn Krueger, president of The Garden Clubs of Illinois. The club has tried to place signs in areas that are restful and where visitors can sit and reflect.

“This is a great place to come and pay your respects,” Krueger said.