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Honoring the heartbeat of the heartland

Blue Star Mothers of the SCV are honored by American Mothers, Inc.

Posted: August 19, 2009 8:08 p.m.
Updated: August 20, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Myrna R. Condie, far left, gives Suzon Gerstel, Kymmer Crookston and Renee Thorpe, representatives of local Blue Star Mother chapters tickets to sell as a fundraiser for each of their chapters.

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A love for country met motherly love at a recent dinner to honor the Blue Star Mothers of the Santa Clarita Valley. Held in the Student Center Cafeteria on the campus of College of the Canyons, the event was sponsored by American Mothers, Inc.

Each member of the Blue Star Mothers group, an organization for mothers who have children serving or who have served in the armed forces of the United States, was made to feel like a star during the evening. Guests gathered to support the families of soldiers overseas, offering a special salute to the mothers who continue to watch their loved ones from the sidelines.

“It is really emotional being here,” said guest Michelle Suter Unthank. Unthank’s 18 year-old son, Jake, departed for the U.S Marine Corp on June 8.

“It’s been hard to let him go, but it’s nice to be around other people who know how it feels,” said Unthank, who recently learned that her son was chosen for the infantry.

An air of patriotism filled the room that included more than 50 guests. A flag ceremony was performed by members of the U.S. Coast Guard. After saluting the flag in unison, guests enjoyed dishes of home-cooked fare during the dinner reception, reminiscent of a July Fourth picnic.

Community members and families savored the summertime cuisine as singer, Stacey Sanders set the tone for pride with her rendition of “God Bless America.”

“I feel honored to be here and show support for the mothers of our brave troops,” said Valencia resident Harold Petersen.

Petersen was asked to read his poem, “Patriots Then, Patriots Now,” an original work he created about America and its people.

“I’m glad I was asked to share — it’s an opportunity to thank them and their children for all they are doing for us,” he said.

But honoring mothers of troops didn’t stop there.

Guests watched a video presentation from American Mothers, Inc., the national nonprofit organization honoring the mother’s role in the family unit since Civil War days. Gaining nonprofit status in 1954, the organization continues to support the necessity for strong family structure among Americans.

“Taking care of mothers is perpetually the well-being of the home,” said AMI California State President, Dorothy DeVore.

A special presentation was given by 2009 California Mother of the Year, Myrna Condie, who had a special hand to play in the evening’s festivities. Condie was chosen as California Mother of the Year for exhibiting noteworthy dedication to her family and community.

A Valencia resident for the past 35 years, Condie has given motherly love by the bucket-loads to 15 foster children since 1974.

Despite living with congenital heart defects since childhood and on her seventh pacemaker, Condie stays steadfast in her mission to strengthen family values in the community.

“Mothers strengthen the moral and spiritual foundation of the family,” said Condie.

“She is such an inspiration to watch,” said Myrna’s husband, Gary Condie, who is also an active supporter of many community-based programs, and 2005 Santa Clarita Valley Man of the Year. “Nothing seems to slow her down. She just keeps on giving with the biggest heart in the world.”

Myrna and Gary Condie have been selected by the College of the Canyons Foundation to receive the “Silver Spur” Community Service Award in March of 2010.

But Myrna Condie felt that there were more star mothers to recognize than just her. Upon accepting her title as California Mother of the Year, Condie decided to create the Blue Star dinner as a community event to honor the local Blue Star Mothers Chapter 91 and Canyons Chapter 82.

The mothers provide support for active duty service personnel, promote patriotism, assist veterans organizations and continues to create homeland volunteer efforts for the troops and their loved ones back home.

“It is so important that our troops know that there are people who are here for them,” said Kymmer Crookston, president of the Blue Star Mothers Canyons chapter. “I got involved with the mothers right after my son joined the Marines. I wanted him to know that I was supportive of his decision. This organization has helped me so much.”

Crookston wasn’t the only Blue Star mother to express such sentiments.

“My daughter went to high school with her son and also joined the Marines,” said Bety Negrete. “I’m scared, but it’s her choice and I’ll be behind her for it. It’s just nice to be around others who feel the same thing I do.”

It has been a tradition since the origin of the organization, for families of those serving in the military to hang blue stars outside of their home windows. The service flag, or Blue Star Flag became the unofficial symbol of a child in service.

But there was another kind of star mother honored throughout the evening. Gold Star Mothers of America, Inc. was formed after World War I in response to the lives lost during combat.

As the Blue Star symbol was worn to represent a loved one in service, the Gold Star was created to symbolize a fallen hero. A new tradition was formed, enabling those who lost a loved one in battle to show their respects by covering the blue star with a gold one. But whatever color star they are, both groups hope to continue reaching out to those who need their support and care the most.

“It means a lot to us when we receive care packages in the mail,” said soldier Rodrigo Cesa.

Cesa recently returned from Iraq and joined his family during the dinner reception, which honored his service. “Some people don’t get anything sent to them and that is when the care packages really make a difference. That’s how we know we are supported and loved. It helps more than you know.”

Cesa’s emotional declaration of gratitude for the mothers’ help rang through the room, which exploded in a standing ovation for the soldier’s return home.

One group present for the evening’s honoring ceremony knew how important care packages can be.

Prayer Angels for the Military is a local nonprofit organization founded in 2004 in response to a growing need for support towards troops overseas. Since its inception, the Angels have become the largest military support group in the SCV.

Consisting of Blue Star mothers and fathers, as well as one Gold Star mother and father, the group is supporting more than 2,000 troops to date.

“We are not just an organization, we are a community,” said Suzon Gerstel, president of Prayer Angels for the Military.

The group of community members of all ages meets twice a month to pray, make hand-made letters, share troop concerns and schedule care packaging days and events.

Other keynote speakers during the evening were Dr. Greggory DeVore, fetal-medicine specialist and director of the Fetal Diagnostic Center of Pasadena, and Cherry Field, 2009 California Young Mother of the Year.

Before the evening ended a special recorded message from U.S. Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, was presented to the mothers and their families.

“Our mothers provide a critical and irreplaceable support system for the entire family,” said McKeon. “The future of our country is built on the structure of the home and this is inspired by mothers. We must take good care to honor them.”



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