When Andy Leavitt's mother told him she was finally going to move her flag business out of the house and into a store, he was flabbergasted by what she intended to call it.

When Andy Leavitt's mother told him she was finally going to move her flag business out of the house and into a store, he was flabbergasted by what she intended to call it.

"That's the stupidest name I've ever heard," Andy Leavitt said last week, recalling his reaction.

Nowadays, he finds himself frequently saying, "You going to need a pole with that flag, sir?"

Leavitt is the son of Mary Leavitt, better known as "The Flag Lady," owner of The Flag Lady's Flag Store at 4567 N. High St.

In fact, Andy Leavitt is now "The Flag Man," in charge of the much-publicized operation's latest venture of a van offering home and business services, a sort of flag store on wheels.

The enterprise had its genesis a little over three decades ago, a confluence of the Iran hostage crisis, a dearth of flags in a town named, of all things, Libertyville, a hometown newspaper story and a big-city paper's coverage of one woman's efforts to get Old Glory flying at as many homes and businesses as possible.

"I was raised in a family steeped in patriotism," Mary Leavitt said, noting that some of her ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War.

After Iranian militants entered the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979, a wave of patriotic fervor swept across this country. Disc jockeys urged people to tie yellow ribbons around trees and to fly their flags, and Mary Leavitt, then living in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville, Ill., wanted to heed that call. She even had a mother's extra motivation of concern for her oldest son; Andy Leavitt, then in the U.S. Navy, was on a ship stationed off Iran's coast.

There was one problem.

"Nobody had any flags because it wasn't flag season," Mary Leavitt recalled. "That really ticked me off."

She found a wholesaler 40 miles from Libertyville, but the store owner initially wasn't willing to part with a single flag. He relented when she explained her family's background. Leavitt was about to walk out the door with her purchase when it occurred to her that she could sell additional flags to neighbors and businesses back home.

"Who do you think I am, the Avon Lady of the flag world?" the store owner asked.

More explanations about her family led him to give her a dozen, with the promise to return either the money or the unsold flags the following Saturday. They were all sold within a week, including a replacement flag for a tattered one outside a bank. The transaction with the bank president was witnessed by a writer for the Liberty News. The story that resulted came to the attention of The Chicago Sun-Times, and that subsequent piece conferred on Leavitt, in its headline, the title "Flag Lady."

After Leavitt's late husband, Tom, was transferred back to their hometown of Columbus, she returned to work as a legal secretary, but continued selling flags downtown on her lunch hour. She did so well that the business threatened to take over the family's home.

"You had to crawl over boxes and flagpoles," Andy Leavitt recalled.

Eventually, the owner of the Bob Caldwell auto dealership on Morse Road offered to set up Leavitt in business, providing not only office space but also the money for equipment and inventory, with no payments for six months.

"It wouldn't happen today," said Lori Watson, Mary Leavitt's daughter and part of the team at The Flag Lady's Flag Store. "He believed in it so much."

An aunt of Leavitt's eventually invested $5,000, so Caldwell's kind offer wasn't needed.

A store was opened on Indianola Avenue in 1982, but five years later, with the encouragement of the late John McConnell of Worthington Industries, The Flag Lady's Flag Store moved to its more visible location on North High Street in Clintonville.

The latest addition to the store, which includes space for creating custom-designed flags and banners, is the mobile flag store operated by Andy Leavitt. The van contains all that's necessary for a home or business owner to keep Old Glory flying and in good condition.

In addition, a new Web site, flagladyohio.com, debuted earlier this month.

"We're just trying to keep a good thing going," Watson said.

While Mary Leavitt and her family enjoy telling the tale of how the business got its start, they love hearing stories from customers about why they want a flag, from the parents of service members in harm's way to newly minted citizens wanting to show off their status.

"Every one really has a story," Watson said. "And I believe that's what the flag represents, what it means."

kparks@thisweeknews.com