An Upper Arlington garden club is celebrating a milestone with a community project to honor past, present and future armed forces members.

Fifty years ago, a small group of mostly new settlers to Knolls Arlington, a neighborhood on the northwest side of Upper Arlington, banded together as their community was taking root.

A common interest in friendship and horticulture formed the Serendipity Garden Club, which is affiliated with both the Garden Club of Ohio and the National Garden Clubs.

Now, as the 25-member group of green thumbs celebrates its golden anniversary, it will unveil a special project at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 3: a permanent Blue Star Memorial marker installed at the west end of Mallway Park, near Arlington Avenue. It will be next to both the existing Mallway Veterans Memorial and a historic marker commemorating the location of Camp Chase.

"We said, 'Hey, we've got a 50th anniversary coming up. What can we do to celebrate the fact that this garden club is 50 years?' " said Nancy Heber, a retired teacher from Greensview and Burbank elementary schools and a 48-year member of the Serendipity Garden Club. "We also wanted to reach out to the community which gave us our roots."

Heber said a primary motivator for honoring local U.S. servicemen and women was the impact those people have had on many of the club's members.

As its membership largely ranges in age from 50 to 80-plus, most had family members who've served their country.

That includes Heber, whose father spent nearly four years away from home during World War II.

Additionally, the project is part of a National Garden Clubs program started in 1945 to honor men and women serving in the armed forces during World War II. It got its name for the blue star in service flags that hung in windows of homes and businesses that recognized those fighting for the country.

"As we think about the world situation and think about the armed aervices folks and their families, we want to make sure they're honored, as well as the veterans," Heber said. "We want people to come simply because that shows respect for those who have served and currently serve.

"We want to show they aren't a forgotten group."

Serendipity Garden Club members raised $1,500 for the marker, mostly through donations from members. They also accepted donations from the public and sold garden gloves and plants in the last few months.

That effort was buoyed by the city of Upper Arlington and its Parks and Recreation Department, which not only supported the club's plans in spirit, but also permitted the marker placement on public property.

Further, the city is providing about $550 for landscaping and a granite boulder on which the marker will be installed, and Arlington Avenue is temporarily being renamed Memorial Byway.

"The Serendipity Garden Club brought this idea to us last year as a project to commemorate their 50th anniversary," said Steve Cothrel, Upper Arlington parks and forestry superintendent. "We suggested the Mallway for the bronze marker and Arlington Avenue as the Memorial Byway because this area already features other tributes to military veterans and it is a beautiful street.

"This will be another tribute to our armed forces and veterans in the heart of our historic district," he said. "The Camp Chase marker, the flagpole at Firehouse 71 and the limestone veterans memorial in Mallway Park are all reminders of the sacrifices made by local residents over the years."

In addition to the presentation of the marker and comments from Garden Club of Ohio President Lynn Fronk, who is also a Serendipity member, Upper Arlington City Council President and Mayor Debbie Johnson is expected to speak at the June 3 event.

Each veteran in attendance will receive a red carnation.

"We applaud the Serendipity Garden Club for taking on this project to show our community's gratitude for all the men and women who have selflessly served their country and this community in the armed forces," Johnson said.

Heber and fellow Serendipity member Winnie Garabis, who co-chaired the local Blue Star project, encouraged community members to take part in the June 3 ceremony, noting it will be patriotic and will include refreshments.

"It's really an opportunity to do two things: Commemorate our 50th anniversary and to give back to the community," Garabis said. "We hope it will have a lasting impact."

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