The Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival Auxiliary held their postponed January meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday with 13 members and one guest present.

President Jeanette Alcorn called the meeting to order, and Joyce Inman led in prayer. Secretary Jill Campbell read the minutes from the November meeting. Treasurer Jeannie Moreno read the treasurer’s report.

In the absence of Quilt Show chair Ruthie Davis, Alcorn read a message from her. Davis has made flyers and will hang them at quilt shops. She has signed a contract with Mary Kerr of the Paducah National Quilt Museum for their traveling exhibit, and others will bring quilts as well for the festival.

For the program, Sarah Inman and Libby Morgan spoke about their mission trip to Puerto Rico, following the 6.4 earthquake on Jan. 7. The spur-of-the-moment opportunity was met with lots of support in the form of plane tickets, waived checking fees from United Airlines, a 10% discount from Walmart, and 29 boxes and totes full of donations. They said the plastic totes themselves were valuable to earthquake victims who had their belongings in the mud or in plastic bags. They visited one tent city in the parking lot of a stadium.

The homes on the island, they learned, were built on stilts in preparation for hurricanes, but that proved dangerous during earthquakes. Residents were afraid to go back to their homes, even after they were cleared by authorities, because they are still experiencing aftershocks, some nearly as big as the original quake. Sarah and Libby actually felt a 5.4 earthquake firsthand while there. It wasn’t like in the movies, they said, as their rented Jeep jerked and the trees swayed.

Their Jeep came in handy when they visited people who lived in the mountains. Their GPS, however, was less useful since it was sometimes wrong. There was even a sign on one road that said as much and warned of a dead end. They were joined on the trip by Ray Castro (whose family is from Puerto Rico) and who has helped with many festival projects in the past. He is a resident of New Jersey.

Libby and Sarah also learned that the majority of Puerto Ricans are Christian and were impressed with their faith. They witnessed one group being prayed over. Since Hurricane Maria in 2017 and recent earthquakes, several churches have been structurally destroyed. Still, their devoted congregants live in tents around the churches.

“Here, their church is destroyed, they put up a tent and I never heard them complain,” said Libby.

One family had lived in a school for the past two years and is now joined by other families. Their son has a tracheotomy and was in need of baby wipes to keep it clean. Some other items that are needed are solar lights and tarps. Toothbrushes which featured Elsa or Spiderman were a big hit with the children. They delivered some Ensure to an older lady and were offered lunch in return. Since it was rude to refuse a prepared meal, they accepted and learned the many ways plantains are used in the island’s dishes.

After four days, they were mostly depleted of supplies and had only water bottles to distribute. They found a church mission tent that was giving out two boxes of diapers per day and going through a room full of donations every two days. The mission group also included a physician to care for residents. They plan to keep in touch with them.

There were many stray dogs on the island after pets ran away during the natural disasters, and the two ladies found homes for a few of them. They said there are no leash laws there, but they saw no road kill or aggressive dogs. Also, in San Juan, they said it was well-populated with cats to keep the rats down.

On their last day, they enjoyed the flavor of freshly-grown pineapples, some over 10 pounds. One — which they dubbed Gary and dressed in sunglasses — became the subject of several Facebook posts.

Overall, Sarah said, the mission trip “was a really rewarding experience.”

Following the program, Sarah also gave the report on Zuzu’s House. The former location on Washington Street has been sold, and a new larger 6400-square-foot facility on Short Highway Y has been purchased. The former Elkland Full Gospel Church has room for three areas and includes a storage building and 1.7 acres. Plus, the congregation of the church said they would help with the ministry. The new location will allow the resource center an opportunity to help more vulnerable teens in our community.

Next, Nicholas Inman, festival organizer, gave the festival report. To raise money for Zuzu’s House, he said, his daughter, Reagan, and others on her team at church sold more than 600 paper silver bells. Another church team sold over 400 at $1 each.

Nicholas said he has been working with Missouri Representative Hannah Kelly on a bill to require high school curriculum to include in-depth teaching about World War II and the Holocaust.

Concerning the festival, he said it has been a challenge to find hosts in local houses or other places for the VIPs to stay. There are so many VIPs who want to attend, he has gone to neighboring communities to accommodate them.

“Everyone’s coming to the festival this year for the 15th anniversary,” he said.

As in past years, all tickets will go on sale on Presidents Day beginning at 8 a.m. Tickets for the State Dinner are $60 each, and those for the Hubble Medal of Initiative Dinner are $30. Visit eventbrite.com to order, or call Carol Cooksey at 860-4996.

The speaker for the State Dinner may be singer Tony Orlando, who has worked with veterans, if he can work out his schedule.

The benefit concert has been moved from Wednesday to Thursday, but the featured act is still being decided. The pre-show will be Loretta Lynn’s granddaughter, Tayla Lynn,  and Conway Twitty’s grandson, Tre Twitty. It will still benefit the Randy Travis Foundation, and Lulu Roman will host it. Although not singing, Randy Travis will return this year and will be signing his new book, “Forever and Ever, Amen,” during the autograph show, which will be held at the Marshfield Church of the Nazarene this year. Nicholas said this news was broadcast on the Bull radio station and has generated lots of interest, adding that there will be over 35 celebrities at the autograph show.

Some of the other celebrities include Keith Thibodeaux (Richard Keith, Little Ricky, “I Love Lucy”), Dreama Denver (wife of Bob Denver, Gilligan, “Gilligan’s Island”), Ron Masak (Sheriff Mort Metzger, “Murder She Wrote”), Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s sister and Bond girl), Carole Cook (“I Love Lucy,” “Sixteen Candles”), Kami Cotler (“The Waltons”). Richard Thomas (John Boy, “The Waltons”) hopes to return this year. We are hopeful that he will be able to return. He is still working around his shooting schedule. Nicholas is still working to include celebrities from the shows “Dallas” and “Leave it to Beaver.”

Receiving the Hubble Medal of Initiative will be Louis Graziano, author of “A Patriot’s Memoirs of World War II.” He is the last living witness to the German officers’ surrender. One of the recipients of the Ella Dickey Literacy Award will be singer Jeanne Pruett. Her book is “Jeanne Pruett: Miss Satin Sheets I Remember.”

This year, all celebrities with autograph booths will participate in panels on Thursday, so they don’t have to leave their booths unattended. Ulysses Dietz, a descendant of President Grant, will also speak on Thursday, April 23, in order to get to an event at Grant’s Tomb. One of the panels will celebrate the “Gone With the Wind” 80th anniversary and will include actors from the classic movie.

Honoring the late great-grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, the Jonathan Sandys History Series will begin this year. The first guest will be Duncan Sandys, Churchill’s great grandson and brother of Jonathan Sandys.

Nicholas also hopes to invite all of the living children of Civil War veterans, of which there are now fewer than 10. They include Bill Poole, who was also a World War II veteran and appeared at the festival in past years from Bolivar.

Since this meeting was held due to the postponed January meeting, the next meeting will be held on Sat., Feb. 22.

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