Purple Heart recipients to be honored at Ultimate Sport Show

Honor Guard to carry flag made by Rockford woman

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

An annual harbinger of spring returns to DeVos Place this Thursday through Sunday, March 17-20. The Showspan-produced Ultimate

Rockford resident Sherrie Coke proudly displays her creation ”Freedom,” an American flag composed of hundreds of Michigan veterans’ thumbprints. photo submitted by SHERRIE COKE

Sport Show is eagerly awaited every year at this time by winter weary West Michiganders. Michigan sportsmen never miss this show and readers may recall how, last year, we hooked up with “Walleye Wayne” Stevenson for a guided walleye fishing charter out of Monroe, Michigan on Lake Erie. Reporter Nancy became a bona fide walleye “aFISHionado” on the morning of the early June outing as we quickly limited out with keepers all exceeding 18 inches.

At this year’s Ultimate Sport Show, we are looking forward to a special ceremony, scheduled for 6 p.m. during opening night on Thursday, March 17, honoring a group of war veterans, all of whom have been awarded the Purple Heart for combat wounds.

An Honor Guard representing U.S. military branches will officially thank the veterans for their sacrifices. A 3×5-foot American flag containing 1, 021 thumbprints taken primarily from veterans in West Michigan will be presented as part of this very special ceremony.

Rockford resident Sherrie Coke collected the thumbprints and designed the flag entitled “Freedom” using as a model antique 48-star flag predating 1958. “Freedom” was entered in last summer’s Grand Rapids ArtPrize competition.

“There’s a story behind each and every one of those thumbprints,” Coke said. “They belong to servicemen and women whose rank runs from Private through Colonel.”

Coke’s father and brother are both veterans and were a motivating force in the creation of the flag. Additionally, Coke taught art classes in oil painting at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans during 2005-2006.

We were fortunate enough to see “Freedom” proudly displayed in the Waters Building during ArtPrize 2010. Ironically, it was housed in the same venue as “Pandora,” the stained glass lamp creation of Rockford’s Eric Brown.

“Freedom” was a heartfelt creation celebrating the bravery and sacrifice of American heroes in recognition of those who have given of themselves to protect our freedom. “Lest we not forget.”

Every red stripe in the flag was composed of hundreds of veterans’ thumbprints along with blue thumbprints creating the field around the stars. It was beautiful and tugged at our heartstrings.

Of the veterans to be honored at this year’s show, four are to be singled out as successful deer hunters who participated at recent donated hunts at the Legends Ranch in Bitely, Mich. Volunteers of the 250-member Michigan Taxidermist Association (MTA), which holds its annual conference and juried competition in conjunction with the show, will finish-mount the hunters’ trophies during the four-day event.

The hugely popular MTA Taxidermy Exhibit is another really good reason to attend an Ultimate Sport Show. Located in the upstairs mezzanine level of DeVos Place, one will see museum quality displays of taxidermy of every imaginable species of fish and wildlife. So popular is this exhibit that it’s elbow-only room at times—but it’s well worth it.

The Ultimate Sport Show is open Thursday from 3 to 9:30 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For discount coupons toward admission, go to www.UltimateSportShow.com.

 

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