Last month, The Pitch reported that the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce had pushed local veterans groups out of running the beer garden at the town’s annual Fall Fun Festival. Since then, the issue has folks foaming at the mouth, according to Blue Springs City Councilman Ron Fowler. “This thing has taken on a life of its own,” Fowler says. “It’s gone beyond our city borders. Veterans outside Blue Springs want to know why the city is picking on veterans. This is something our Chamber of Commerce is mainly doing and that’s where we’ve started to address it.”
Blue Springs veteran groups have not tempered their dissatisfaction with the decision. “Without us, they don’t have a chance to do well” with beer garden sales, says Bob Tharp, the Elks festival chairman and a member of the American Legion. “They are getting some bad PR right now.”
The issue was a point of contention at a meeting between the city council and the chamber in late October, Fowler says. The vets asked the chamber to reconsider before the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, an annual Veteran’s Day event in Blue Springs. “I thought it would be a great time if they could bring something new to the table and see if we can’t get this issue better resolved.”
But Chamber Chairman Bill Essman says the chamber didn’t plan to change its position. He argued that the decision to raise entrance fees for the beer garden was in the best interest of the chamber and its mission. “There have been no further conversations about it,” Essman said.
The annual prayer breakfast went on as usual on November 9 at the Adams Pointe Conference Center. Local business leaders and faith groups gathered beginning at 6 a.m. for a buffet breakfast. On the agenda was honoring Vietnam veterans. “Today’s theme is healing,” Blue Springs Mayor Steve Steiner said, in front of nearly 500 guests packed into the Grand Ballroom. “We have an estimated 1,000 Vietnam veterans in Blue Springs, and we honor every one of them.”
Guest speaker Debbi Riess-Roam spoke of her battle with cancer, and guest of honor John P. McLaurin paid homage by showing several Army recruitment films and singing the praises of American military efforts throughout history. The men at the American Legion table listened intently near the back of the room, four tables away from the Chamber of Commerce section.
At around 8, nearly 40 Vietnam vets were presented with the Blue Springs Mayor’s Medallion of Honor. Many in the crowed filtered out of the breakfast during the presentation. Closing remarks and a barbershop quartet rendition of “God Bless America” completed the ceremony. No announcements from the chamber were made. – John Amick