PEKIN — The Pekin Marigold Festival Committee has chosen “Celebrating Marigold Heroes” as this year’s festival theme in honor of the impact made by local and personal heroes.

“The theme itself is actually a collaborative effort,” said Renna Hadsall, events manager for the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. “Once we know who our celebrity is going to be, then it’s a matter of what events go with the Marigold Festival and who we’re bringing in.”

This year’s celebrity guests, who helped determine the theme by agreeing to appear at the 2019 Marigold Festival, will be the USA Patriots Softball Team. The team is a not-for-profit public charity organization that was founded in 2011 and is made up of competitive, athletic veterans who have lost limbs in combat and non-combat related injuries. Through extensive rehabilitation, they have become competitive athletes again.

“We welcome the USA Patriots to Pekin and to our festival,” said 2019 Marigold Festival Chairwoman Amy McCoy in a May 1 press release. “We look forward to celebrating the team and our own personal heroes as well. To me, a hero is an ordinary person doing the extraordinary — a person intent on making their community a better place for all. Our community is full of heroes, and we have planned a new opportunity to spotlight our own, and your personal heroes, at the festival this year.” 

The missions of the Johnson City, Tenn.-based USA Patriots are to support and honor veterans’ sacrifices and to demonstrate that life without a limb need not mean a life with limitations. The team plays against teams of able-bodied players throughout the United States in competitive and exhibition games. The USA Patriots also host an annual Kids Camp for 20 children between 8 and 12 years of age who have amputations or have lost limbs. According to the USA Patriots website, team members serve as coaches and mentors for the week-long camp. This year’s Kids Camp will be July 29-Aug. 4 at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“They’ll have a couple of games on Saturday afternoon,” said Hadsall. “We’re not sure what teams they’ll be playing or if there will be any of our local celebrities involved.”

In addition to an appearance by the USA Patriots, the Marigold Festival will honor local and personal heroes during the traditional parade held Sept. 7. Participants will be asked to incorporate “Celebrating Marigold Heroes,” or marigolds in their float decorations. The Chalk Walk, a gallery of chalk drawings around Mineral Springs Park lagoon, will provide artists with a further opportunity to honor Marigold heroes.

“The coordinator of that gives prizes to the best incorporation of the theme (in their art), whether (the artists) are celebrating Marigold Heroes or using the logo,” said Hadsall. 

The USA Patriots will be featured in the parade. Because planning for the Marigold Festival is still in its early stages, Hadsall added, further theme-related events and displays are still in the works. Every Marigold Festival, in a way, is a tribute to former Pekin resident and U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, whose favorite flower was the marigold.

“Looking at our history, Everett Dirksen was a hero,” said Hadsall. “We try to really dig in on that each year so that people understand what a force Everett Dirksen was for our country and can be proud that he came from this community. That’s a good starting point.”

The 2019 Marigold Festival will be held from Sept. 5 through Sept. 8 at Mineral Springs Park. Watch for events and details at www.pekinmarigoldfestival.com or the Pekin Marigold Festival Facebook page.