The Monroe High School Junior ROTC Band acted as color guard during Brookdale Monroe's Fourth of July celebration.
The Monroe High School Junior ROTC Band acted as color guard during Brookdale Monroe's Fourth of July celebration.

When Roy Dahlgren looks at the American flag, he sees the son who died serving, his own stint in the Marines and the limbs his father lost while fighting to protect their country.

The Brookdale Monroe resident raised the symbol of national identity and pride at the assisted living community during a Fourth of July ceremony acknowledging the newly installed flagpole, as dozens of his neighbors watched with reverence. The towering fixture means something big to Dahlgren. 

“Everything,” he said, fighting a few tears. 

Brookdale paid for half the costs of installment earlier this year while administrators funded the rest. Justin Embry said erecting an American flag on the property was one of the first requests residents made after he started on as executive director in October.

He knew it would mean a lot for morale and had the potential to bring the community together. Being a U.S. Army Reserves captain himself, he was still surprised about the number of veterans who call Brookdale home.

Nearly one in every five people living at the facility has served. That is about double the ratio of the Sky Valley's general population.

Brookdale Resident Council chair Linda Frymire said the project became “a thing of pride” for everyone involved, not just the dozens of veterans like her husband, David Frymire, who lost his leg while in the military. They gathered donations and held a garage sale to raise funds, she said.

“That was just a really, really fun thing to do, and you know, we were all amazed that we could do it,” she said. 

The work went surprisingly fast, Frymire said. They had collected the required funds within a few months, and the flagpole went up in June. She said the previous flagpole didn't allow for natural movement of the flag, and  it would get wrapped around the rod in the wind. It just didn't look or feel good, she said.

The community's quick progress is also indicative of communication improvements throughout Brookdale.

Frymire said she took over as council chair about two years ago, and had little leadership experience before then. Since signing on, she has found much of her job is about helping to find solutions, and her efforts often include recruiting more residents to participate.

“Because, if we don't know what the problems are, we can't solve them,” she said.

The council and Brookdale administrators have worked more closely in recent months, and  now meet regularly. Frymire said it is important residents have a voice in the decisions made at Brookdale, and Embry makes them feel listened to.

“We live here — this is our home,” she said.

Dahlgren's son, Ken Kerr, was there to watch his father raise the new flag, and to perform pieces with Brookdale's four-person kazoo band on the Fourth of July. He said the subject stirs up mixed emotions. 

“I think it was a big deal for him, and probably a very memorable thing, as well as for me,” Kerr said.

Frymire said the community had debated between installing the flagpole in the courtyard or in front of the building. The vote was almost evenly split, but the American flag now heaves and ripples high above the main entrance, welcoming visitors and waving at passersby.

There was also some talk about whether to hold the dedication on Flag Day (June 14) but the consensus was for the Fourth of July, Frymire said.

There is still some work left.

Embry pointed out the patch of earth surrounding the base of the pole. Red, white and dark purple flowers had been planted, and the ground was clean and groomed.

“Now, this area up front, the resident council came to me and they said, 'If we get a flagpole, we need this front area looking better,' ” he said. “So, we had to spend a little bit on it, but it's not done.”

Embry said he plans to have a marked stone put on the tiny plot to honor the memory of the 2018 residents, who made sure their future neighbors would have a flag to feel proud of. Once he was finished, he signaled to the members of Monroe High School's Junior ROTC, who acted as the ceremony's color guard. Afterward, the crowd participated in a few verses of the Star Spangled Banner, with accompaniment from the kazoo band.

Wendy White recited “The Stars and Stripes are Good Enough,” by Frederick W. Emerson. A traditional barbecue followed the closing remarks by longtime community relations director Lisa Caldwell.

Kerr said looking at the American flag reminds him of the ideals the U.S. was founded on, emphasizing “liberty and justice for all.” He said he feels the inclusiveness of that statement has eroded in the minds of the people over time.

Each person is deserving of respect and dignity, Kerr said.

Kerr said he sees Brookdale residents, like his father, treated with such deference in their place of retirement. Staff keeps their families in the loop and involved, and their people active, he said.

“They really do a bang-up job,” Kerr said.