The nation's debt to men and women who serve in uniform can never be fully repaid. But Jane Kramer believes every little bit helps.
She said that's why the Howard County Garden Club undertook the project to install a Blue Star Memorial marker, honoring present and former armed forces members, in the heart of Ellicott City.
At the Howard County Welcome Center at 8267 Main St. in Ellicott City, a formal dedication was held Friday at 10 a.m., with live music, military ceremonies, presentations and comments from local elected officials.
The Madrigals, a celebrated local acapella group from Marriotts Ridge High School, sang "America the Beautiful. The 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing of the U.S. Air Force performed the presentation and retiring of the Colors. A reception was held after the ceremony.
"This has been a labor of love," said Kramer, a Woodbine resident who is treasurer of the 76-year-old garden club and chairwoman for a ceremony for the marker's formal dedication.
"When this suggestion came up, it was a unanimous vote to support it," she said of club members. "After all, just about all of us have someone in our family who was in the military."
The garden club raised the funds to purchase the Blue Star plaque and mount it on a boulder at the visitor's center. It is the centerpiece of a small garden that club members also created.
The tradition of garden clubs installing Blue Star Memorial markers dates back to 1945, when the National Garden Club created it as a way to honor men and women who were then serving in World War II.
Over the years, the program has been expanded to honor "all who have served, are serving and will serve."
The historical nature of the project fits well with the Howard County club, which was founded in 1932 and is the oldest garden club in the county.
In addition to raising money for charitable causes and community projects, the club also reaches out with "garden therapy" programs that bring gardening projects to local senior centers and youth gardening programs held in conjunction with local schools.
"We do a lot of fundraising, and we donate every penny that we raise to different charities," Kramer said. "We were discussing what project to take on and what to donate to this year, and we decided that this would be a wonderful way to honor our service men and women."
Kramer volunteered to head the initiative. Then, she said, "The fun really began."
She said Ed Lilley, president of the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation, was "my right arm through this project. He really helped me get through so much of the red tape that was required to get this done."
The Blue Star was officially unveiled and and made accessible to the public at Friday's event, but Kramer's sense of accomplishment might have come a day early, as workers put the finishing touches on its installation.
"It became a much larger project than any of us imagined it would be." she said of securing the memorial. "But we're happy we did it, and really excited about it."
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Sara Toth contributed to this article.