VFW's Loyalty Day no contest for teens

March 10, 1994|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Sun Staff Writer

It is not fashionable in Maryland these days for teen-age girls to display their patriotism.

Many girls consider it unseemly to stand in front of judges, steady their right hand over their heart and pledge allegiance to the United States of America.

Yet it's that time of year again, when winter gasps toward spring, for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and its Ladies Auxiliary to forge ahead and select their Loyalty Day queen. Loyalty Day is May 1.

"It certainly isn't easy," said Sandi Kriebel, Loyalty Day chairman for Ellicott City's Yingling-Ridgely VFW Post 7472 Ladies Auxiliary, which held the District 9 Loyalty Day queen contest Monday night.

It's nearly impossible, as veterans and their loyal auxiliaries across the state conduct sparsely attended contests in dimly lighted halls after recruiting, often cajoling girls, to enter and dwell for a moment upon God and country.

"TV, video, that kind of thing commands attention before anything else," said the sprightly Mrs. Kriebel, who is also secretary and Americanism chairman of her local post and chaplain of the state Ladies Auxiliary. "We're just so at ease we can't possibly imagine anything threatening this happy, free world of ours."

Mrs. Kriebel, 43, whose father fought in World War II and Korea, had lined up five girls from area high schools to compete for 1994 Loyalty Day queen of Post 7472.

"But when it came time for them to do it," Mrs. Kriebel said, "well, they all had this to do or had that to do."

So she canceled her post's contest and asked the girl who was last year's queen -- the lone entry then -- whether she would be this year's queen and compete again in the district contest. The girl, Mary Bolard, a 10th-grader at South Carroll High, consented.

Before Monday's contest, Mary's father seemed more enamored of the idea than she did. She sat nervously at his side in the first of five rows of folding chairs -- 50 in all -- inside the stark hall on VFW Lane.

"My daddy asked me to do it," Mary said when asked why she had entered, "and I said yes."

"It's really a shame," said her father, "that more girls aren't interested."

Robert Bolard, a 39-year-old mailman, isn't a veteran, although his father served in the Army. He said he, his wife and three children attend concerts by military bands and celebrate patriotic holidays.

"I just think it's something special, living in this country," he said. "I guess people are so involved with work, with their everyday life, that they take it for granted, like you take electricity or water for granted if you have it.

"But come the time when you don't have it. . . ."

His daughter's competition sat in the second row on the other side of the hall.

"I think she's the same girl as last year," Mr. Bolard said.

He was right. Emily Gollery, now a senior at Catonsville High School, was Spirit of America Post 6458's Loyalty Day queen last year. Being the only contestant, she advanced to the district, where she met Mary Bolard. Two years older, Emily won and moved on to the state contest, where she did not place.

"Quite frankly, Susan [her mother] pushed her last year to do it," said Emily's father, Robert Gollery, 45, a Marine Corps veteran and facilities manager for Signet Bank.

Sitting between her daughter and husband, Mrs. Gollery said patriotism isn't popular these days. She's worked as a secretary at Catonsville High for seven years.

"Every morning we start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance," she said. "And more often it's four people standing and 20 people seated."

Her daughter said she entered the Loyalty Day queen contest this year on her own "because I want to get involved." A smile broke out on her face. "Also for the money," she said.

Mrs. Kriebel said the district queen wins $50 and other prizes, plus a chance to win up to $1,000 at the state contest in Cambridge March 20.

Money's often the lure, because few girls want to be Loyalty Queen merely out of love for country. The VFW and Ladies Auxiliary offer prizes and scholarships as incentives for their myriad contests and activities for young people.

The most successful is the Voice of Democracy contest, in which 10th- through 12th-graders write a patriotic essay and record it on tape. Nearly 140,000 students competed for $2.5 million in awards and scholarships last year, said Gordon Thorson, national director.

Emily entered the Voice of Democracy contest the past two years, as well as the Loyalty Day queen contest. She said most girls probably wouldn't compete for queen because "it might not be cool or something."

Mrs. Kriebel said it's been difficult recruiting girls for the contest throughout her 18 years in the Ladies Auxiliary. The one exception, she said, was during the Persian Gulf War.

"We have some successes, and that's what keeps us going," she said. "We can't give up. We must instill in our young people how important it is to continue the fight to keep the freedoms our forefathers did fight for."

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