Louis Koerber's efforts to honor the flag result in pause for the pledge


June 14, 1991|By Henry Scarupa

Born on the Fourth of July.

That may explain why Baltimore businessman Louis V. Koerber seems to live and breath patriotism.

Through the National Flag Day Foundation, of which he is president, he has toiled to promote the National Pause for the Pledge of Allegiance, now observed by Americans across the land and around the world simultaneously at 7 p.m. (EDT) every Flag Day (June 14).

This evening, Baltimore, home of the Star-Spangled Banner, leads the nation in the pledge as part of the annual celebration honoring the Stars and Stripes at Fort McHenry. Last year more than 6,000 spectators took in the event, which concludes with a fireworks display.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has called Mr. Koerber "patriotism personified.

"He gives generously of his time, energy and resources to promote the tremendous importance of the flag," the governor said on one occasion. "He asks for nothing in return -- only respect for the flag. . . .I salute him."

Mr. Koerber, who is 63 and runs Budeke Paints, Inc., a family-owned retail business in Fells Point, sees Old Glory as the symbol of our nation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although Americans are a diverse group, he feels they are able to draw closer together through reciting the 31 words of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"It's the concept of the unity of all Americans everywhere that appeals to me," he says. "This transcends age, race, religion, national origin, and geographic and political differences. It would be difficult to find anything more universally appealing to Americans than that."

Steely haired, sitting in a short-sleeve shirt behind a cluttered desk in his office over the paint store, Mr. Koerber personifies the Norman Rockwell image of a small businessman. He is plain-spoken and direct, addressing his visitor as "sir" and all but dropping the pronoun "I" from his conversation for a self-effacing "we."

From the first, key figures backed his endeavor. Among them were corporate leaders, such as George V. McGowan, BG&E board chairman, and Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., Crown Central Petroleum board chairman. In 1985, just five years after the first Pause for the Pledge was held in Baltimore, President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, visited Fort McHenry on Flag Day.

That same year the Maryland Congressional delegation spearheaded a drive, resulting in a joint resolution by Congress, recognizing the Pause for the Pledge as part of National Flag Day activities. Mrs. Reagan became the program's honorary chairman in 1988, serving until earlier this year.

Next year marks the centennial of the Pledge of Allegiance, written by Francis Bellamy, a minister in Rome, N.Y., on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. For Flag Day 1992, Mr. Koerber is hoping President Bush will lead the 13th annual pledge at Fort McHenry, and has invited Mrs. Bush to serve as honorary chairman.

National Flag Week comes once a year, but the NFDF works the year round with schools, government and other organizations on education -- encouraging patriotism, respect for the flag and awareness of the national heritage.

One of the more ambitious programs brings high school juniors from each of the states to Baltimore to take part in the Parade of Flags. The group was feted Tuesday at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency. Students, who participated in previous years' programs, recently formed an alumni association to further the cause in their home communities.

A Baltimore native now living in the Homewood section of town, Mr. Koerber attended McDonogh School and the Johns Hopkins University School of Engineering.

He began his career in sales in the steel industry, first with Bethlehem Steel and then for the Standard Lime and Refractories Co. Twenty-five years ago he joined the business founded by his wife's family.

Noticeably uncomfortable talking about himself, Mr. Koerber deflects the conversation to the foundation,saying, "This organization is more of a we than a me.

"So many people have worked so hard to make it all happen. It's been done with volunteers cooperating on a mutual goal. The teamwork is very rewarding, but gratitude is the only thing we have to offer."

In the early days of the foundation Mr. Koerber enlisted his wife, Mary Lee, daughters, Susan and Cindy, and son, Bryan, to work weekends on NFDF business. Today the task is divided among 10 committees, assisted by a paid staffer and more than 100 volunteers.

With its outreach now national in scope and growing, the NFDF's expenses are approaching a half-million dollars a year. Mr. Koerber says the organization has outgrown its ability to raise the required funds locally, and needs to establish an endowment of at least $5 million to carry on into the future.

His goal is ambitious.

"The ultimate dream," he reflects "is to have the president of the United States ask all of the media -- TV, radio and print -- to join him in inviting 250 million Americans to pause for the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag."

Flag Day at Fort McHenry

6 p.m. Program opens.

6:20 p.m. Parade of state flags.

3' 6:45 p.m. Sky diving demonstration.

7 p.m. Pause for the Pledge of Allegiance.

7:02 p.m. Salute by historic sailing vessels.

9:15 p.m. Fireworks.

Music will be by Tactical Air Command Jazz Ensemble, Kristie & Friends, New Mission Singers and Stringband America.

Frequent bus service is available from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry on MTA's No. 1 line.

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