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PHOENIXVILLE - School children waved hundreds of American flags to set a festive mood for Thursday's Kiwanis Club of Phoenixville's 12th Annual Patriot Day Celebration at Reeves Park.

Four hundred fourth- and fifth-graders from East Pikeland, Barkley and Schuylkill Elementary schools were each presented with a flag and were treated to the patriotic gathering, which was open to the public.

Local representative and dignitaries who visited the rally included U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-6), State Rep. Carole Rubley (R-13), County Commissioner Andrew Dinniman, Mayor Leo Scoda, Russell Schulz, executive vice president of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Police Chief John M. Kalavik, Phoenixville Area School District Superintendent David Noyes Ph.D., and Lou Beccaria, President and CEO of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

The light shone brightest on the winners from among 700 entries who took part in an essay contest with the theme - "If I were President."

According to organizer, and Kiwanian Emmett Gruici, the impetus to hold the inaugural Patriot Day twelve years ago was a stolen flag that was later found in a creek.

"Rather than just raise the flag, let's do something good about it," said Gruici. The holiday was established to fall closest to the original Memorial Day, May 30.

Raising "Old Glory" 80 feet high above the heads o f the crowd to the strains of the National Anthem caused everyone to crane their necks for the Pledge of Allegiance led by Schulz. The Stars and Stripes was raised by George Mansur and George Hinkle.

The Phoenixville Area High School Band and Phoenixville Middle School Chorus performed the service academy themes for a receptive crowd while members of the military stood to be recognized as their particular branch's music was played.

Keynote Speaker Beccaria spoke about "What it Means to Be an American."

Schuylkill Elementary School Students Joe Giampietor, Ciara Durrell, Brianna Quay, Sam Knaub and Kate Babinchak recently met with Beccaria.

"They were proud to be an American, they said, because they have the opportunity to get to go to good schools and get a good education," said Beccaria. "They also like the fact that their parents and older brothers and sisters can vote in a free, democratic and non-violent way and decide who their local, county, state and national leaders will be.

"Finally they wanted to make a difference and correct those things that are wrong in their world."

Beccaria summed up the thoughts of the students by saying that the common theme was opportunity. He then noted some of those opportunities: freedom of expression, religion, equal treatment, to be treated fairly and to vote.

"These opportunities should not be taken for granted," said Beccaria. "Freedom isn't free." Beccaria then talked about the responsibilities that go along with being an American.

"You and I have the responsibility to get involved in our country and make it a better place. This is called making a difference. This is called giving back.

"It's great to see the children out here displaying the flag and their patriotic spirit," said Kavavik.

Rubley attended all twelve Patriotic Days.

"This is my favorite celebration," she said. "I like it because the children impress upon the patriotism and respect of the flag and for the country. Let us recognize those who gave their lives for the common good."

Ken Wickstrum said that the Kiwanis motto is "serving the children of the world" and then added , "like in Phoenixville, this little part of the world."

"Patriotism is nothing more than love of country," said Gerlach. "The country is made up of community, love of community and involvement in community."

Dinniman quoted a former Patriot's Day speaker and told the crowd that they have a responsibility to school, nation and community.

"If it is to be , it is up to me," said Dinniman.

Scoda was, as were the other speakers, thankful for the contribution of Gruici and Wickstrum. Scoda told the school children to read their history about D-Day while considering this year's 60 th anniversay.

Noyes was pleased that so many students could attend.

"It's just another opportunity to instill patriotic spirit in our young people and to emphasis service and spirit in the community," said Noyes.

Kiwanis member Pat Tindell helped with the essays and was thankful that the elementary, middle school and high school students all took part during "this particularly difficult time in our nation's history to underscore our love of country."

"To see the future leaders of our country here today with flags instills confidence," said Schulz. "Its in their hands and I have the confidence they're going to do it."

Barkley Fourth grader Forrest Mills was "proud and amazed" by the day's events.

"It makes you feel proud and wish that other people who live here would feel the same way," said fellow Barkley Fourth Grade student Brittany Robey.

Barkley student Nate Kassel said that he was "proud to be an American."

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