For the first time in five years, an annual flag display honoring veterans at Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville will not be held this upcoming Memorial Day.
The Field of Honor, a flag display program, trademarked by the Colonial Flag Foundation and held at venues around the country to raise money for veterans as well as to create awareness of veterans' issues, has been a joint effort locally between Charlestown and Hubbard Funeral Home, located less than a mile away in Arbutus.
Citing costs and "donor fatigue" a managing partner for Hubbard said that last year was the first time the program was not successful.
"For the first time [last year] our venue had a sizable fee," Heather Brown Simons, of Hubbard, said. "Because of that, coupled with donor fatigue, it was the first year that the program was actually in the red."
Browns Simons said last year was the first time Hubbard was asked to pay a $10,000 rental fee for using the field where the flags were placed. She also said sales of flag sponsorships had declined, but did not specify by how much.
The 3- by 5-foot flags cost $35 in years past; proceeds were directed to Maryland-based Operation Second Chance that helps hospitalized veterans and their families, and Charlestown's Benevolent Care Fund, which helps secure residents at Charlestown whose personal finances have run low.
In past years, many of the flags purchased were by veterans, spouses of veterans or friends of veterans.
"I have a feeling we're going to have some residents that aren't too happy about it," Patti Santoni, director of philanthropy at Charlestown Retirement Community, said. She said Charlestown has a significant veteran population.
The partnership had four successful years, with ceremonies including the Maryland National Guard, fireworks and performances from local students. But when organizers lost money in 2017, they were unable to disperse money as they had in the past to charitable organizations such as the Benevolent Care Fund and the Warfighter Sports Program.
Santoni estimated that the cost of the event, is closer to $30,000, considering labor of staff and volunteers from Charlestown. In 2017, the funeral home indicated it wanted to focus less on being a fundraiser and more on honoring the veterans, Santoni said.
Because of that shift in focus, administration of the event was moved from Charlestown's philanthropy department to its community resources department, which is where the rental fee came from, according to Santoni.
"We were totally OK with that," Santoni said. "But that's a community resources endeavor," and not her office of philanthropy.
The field of flags' absence this year may be more of an anomaly than a new norm. Brown Simons said she is hopeful the event will be back in 2019.
"Like with everything, you have to reinvent it a little bit and tweak things, see if there are some things that maybe would work better," Brown Simons said.
Without the Field of Honor event, Charlestown is going to turn its focus to other events, Santoni said.
"It's unfortunate, but timing is on our side," Santoni said. "This is the 35th anniversary of Charlestown," providing the retirement community an opportunity to recognize that milestone.
The community will be hosting events to celebrate its opening, which includes hosting Charlestown's founder, John C. Erickson, who created the Catonsville community in the 1980s, to speak to residents later in the summer.