AUBURN — Hoopes Park was quiet the morning of May 30. As Cheryl Foster sat on a park bench in the warm sunshine, the quiet was broken only by the rhythmic footfalls of joggers and dog-walkers, the occasional conversations of fellow park visitors and the faint fluttering of 1,200 American flags being teased by a soft breeze.
Foster gazed in awe at the rows upon rows of flags proudly flying between the pond and the large gazebo, which was decked out in red, white and blue bunting in honor of Memorial Day and the flag-filled Field of Hopes and Dreams.
"I love it when there’s a breeze," Foster said. "Talk about God-sent weather. We couldn’t have asked for better weather."
Foster had earned the right to bask in the beauty of the display before her, a display she’d been working to bring to Auburn for nearly two years.
"This is everything I wanted it to be," she said.
The idea for the Field of Hopes and Dreams began forming in Foster’s mind several years ago when she noticed a similar temporary display of flags in Waterloo. She thought a similar project could be a good way to promote patriotism, honor veterans and loved ones, and garner financial support for Auburn’s St. Joseph School.
A onetime St. Joseph graduate herself, Foster is a staunch supporter of the school her niece and nephew currently attend. Foster also is the daughter of a World War II veteran, so she is passionate about showing support for veterans and current servicemen and women. Thus, Foster thought a Healing Field event would be the perfect way to tie those two passions together.
"It’s a way to pay respect and a big thank you for all that they’ve done for us and all that they continue to do for us," she said of veterans and those who currently serve in the military.
Foster did some research on the Colonial Flag Foundation, which facilitates what it calls Healing Field events around the country. Through these events, fields full of hundreds of flags are temporarily erected in host cities to bring awareness to various causes, which have run the gamut from child-abuse prevention to Sept. 11 memorials. Foster started meeting with Auburn city officials in November 2008 to secure the necessary permits and insurance, and then formed a committee and ordered 1,200 3-by-5-foot American flags and 8-foot poles.
Foster and the committee decided to name their display the Field of Hopes and Dreams, and in April began selling the flags for $35 apiece, with the proceeds to benefit St. Joseph School. Individuals purchased flags in memory or honor of veterans and other loved ones, and that information was included on a certificate attached to each flag during the event. They were able to take both the flags and the certificates home with them after the event ended May 31.
Foster said she initially wasn’t sure how popular the event would be. Not only did the committee sell all 1,200 flags, however, but they also sold additional flags during the event. These flags were not displayed, but after the event were given — along with certificates — to those who purchased them, Foster said.
"Everyone wanted to be a part of it. We had so many people that see it now and wish they could have been part of it," she said.
Foster and her fellow community members already are considering holding another Healing Field event, perhaps around Veterans Day in a few years’ time.
"It’s not something you can do every year," Foster said.
Joseph Manning, cochair of the event’s field setup committee, agreed that the display would lose its significance if it were presented too often or left up permanently. He and his fellow volunteers erected all the flags in just over four hours on May 27.
"It took an additional four hours to get the tags on them," Manning said.
Manning arrived at Hoopes Park at 5 a.m. each day the flags were on display to turn off the generators powering the large lights illuminating the field at night. The sight of the hundreds of fluttering flags was amazing during the day, but it was awe-inspiring at night, he said.
"I expected it to be a beautiful display. I did not expect it to be as moving as it is," he added.
The father of five current St. Joseph students and two graduates, Manning said he didn’t mind sacrificing his free time in order to support the school.
"I think what the school does for the kids is beyond compare," he said.
John Young is another volunteer who sacrificed his free time in favor of spending time at the field. A Boy Scout leader, Young camped in Hoopes Park the entire time the flags were on display. He and a handful of other Scouts and volunteers, including assistant leader David Chappell, took turns straightening the flags, cleaning up the grounds and standing guard over the flags at night.
"It’s important that these flags stay up and are erect and clean," Chappell said.
Visitors to the field, especially veterans and their family members, were touched by the Scouts’ commitment and vigilance.
"Every time I walk out there someone says thank you for being here," Chappell said.