Poppy Power

Herald/STEVE TRAYNOR - A truck rolls past a group of poppies along the side of Second Street in downtown Killeen. Peter DiLillo, the manager of the Killeen Recycling Center, planted the flowers. The red corn poppy is the official city flower.

By Kevin M. Smith

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen has been an official “Buddy” Poppy city for 15 years.

And Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9192 commander Guadalupe Lopez didn’t know it.

Lopez, like others in the community, was not aware Killeen’s official city flower was the red corn poppy until recently. In February, the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce suggested replacing it with a yellow rose as part of a marketing campaign, but “Buddy” Poppy proponents spoke up.

The “Buddy” Poppy is traditionally used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a fundraiser. However, in 1993, Killeen was granted permission to use the patented trademark as a promotional icon.

“Every time we see a ‘Buddy’ Poppy, it brings us together, it brings memories,” Lopez said about veterans. The red poppy was first associated with war in John McCrae’s 1915 poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem describes an abundance of poppies in Europe during World War I.

The VFW first distributed poppies in 1922 and eventually patented the “Buddy” Poppy name for the artificial flower in 1924, according to www.vfw.org. The paper “Buddy” Poppies are used for fundraising efforts and as reminders of wounded and fallen soldiers, Lopez said.

Each August, VFW Post 9192 gives away “Buddy” Poppies on Fort Hood and asks for donations. The money raised is used to support local veterans’ needs and fund veterans hospitals. Lopez said the money is often used to help with medical bills, house payments or anything else a veteran might need.

It is for that reason, and ties to Fort Hood, that members of the Beautify Killeen Committee in 1993 asked the City Council for the poppy to be the city’s official flower. They also asked the VFW for promotional use of the “Buddy” Poppy nearly 15 years ago.

“Doesn’t anybody remember this happened?” Sonya Farek asked in an interview last week. Farek was chair of the Beautify Killeen Committee in 1993.

Poppy history

The Killeen City Council named the Texas tulip poppy the official city flower on Dec. 14, 1993. A letter from VFW adjutant general Howard Vander Clute Jr., addressed to Farek and dated Nov. 23, 1993, gives permission to use the “Buddy” Poppy as “a symbol to represent the official city of Killeen flower.” The letter states that the paper “Buddy” Poppies must be provided to the city by either local VFW posts or the state headquarters in Austin, and the “Buddy” Poppy will not be used for any purpose other than to be handed out at functions at no charge.

On Aug. 15, 1995, the council changed the flower to a red corn poppy because the Beautify Killeen Committee was unable to locate a supplier for the Texas tulip poppy seeds. Find links to the VFW letter, resolutions and other related documents in this story online at www.kdhnews.com.It was Farek’s idea for the city, which did not have an official flower, to adopt the poppy.

“Just one night, late, I thought, ‘Poppies!’” Farek said. “‘Buddy’ Poppies — and how great that would be.”

Farek said she has been disappointed with the implementation of the poppy across the city.

Farek stepped down as chair of the Beautify Killeen Committee in 1994 because her husband ran for the City Council. At the time, they were told if a person served on the council their spouse could not serve on a board or committee simultaneously, based on interpretation of the city charter at the time. “It broke my heart, because after that, there was no action,” Farek said.

Farek said she ran into a series of health problems after her husband’s stint on the council and has not been able to get involved again — yet.

Since then, the implementation of the poppy across the city has been subtle at best, she said, noting the logo can only be found on trash cans and flower pots.

“For years, we have gone with one logo, then another logo, then another logo; it’s unbelievable how many they’ve gone through,” Farek said.

She said it was her intent that the logo with the poppy on it be used on stationery, vehicles, flags, etc. She said the poppy logo could be used better.

“Use it on pens you give out to visitors,” Farek suggested.

Farek wants to know how the focus groups for the GKCC’s branding campaign did not find that Killeen is a “Buddy” Poppy city.

“Where did it go?” Farek asked. “I think the poppy has got to be revitalized.”

Poppies elsewhere

Other cities, including Georgetown, have adopted the poppy as its official flower and celebrate it.

The city, about 40 miles south of Killeen, adopted the red poppy as its official flower and was certified by the Texas Legislature as the Red Poppy Capital of Texas in 1990. Georgetown’s poppy roots date back to World War I when Henry Purl Compton gave the Flanders Poppy seeds to his mother to plant and they spread across the city over time, according to Keith Hutchinson, public information officer for Georgetown.

“It’s really our signature emblem,” Hutchinson said.

Georgetown’s ninth annual Red Poppy Festival is April 26-27.

“It’s our major festival of the year,” Hutchinson said.

Poppy pride

Farek does not want Killeen to interfere with Georgetown’s annual poppy festival. She said Killeen’s poppy festival should be on Veterans Day.

“The point is the ‘Buddy’ Poppies are for the veterans,” Farek said.

Some have tried to preserve poppy pride in the city. Keep Killeen Beautiful, formerly the Beautify Killeen Committee, used to pass out packets of poppy seeds every fall, but it hasn’t done that the past couple of years.

“We didn’t see results of that,” said Peter DiLillo, committee member.

DiLillo said he doesn’t think people used the seeds.

“They probably ended up in a drawer somewhere or got thrown away,” DiLillo said.

He said the flowers, while easy to plant, are not very popular, “because they don’t last very long,” DiLillo said.

For several weeks, the poppy resembles a weed until it blooms; then, it lasts only a few weeks.

“It’s a pretty flower, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it looks like a weed,” said Glen Milton, current chair of Keep Killeen Beautiful.

That’s why poppies are not planted in the flowerpots in the downtown area or planted on city property.

“It takes too much coordination to not cut it during mowing,” Milton said.

Keep Killeen Beautiful replants the flowerpots only a couple of times a year and chooses flowers that keep their color a long time. The group spent Saturday morning filling the planters with flowers that will be able to endure the Texas heat this summer.

DiLillo, also manager of the Killeen Recycle Center, said he has tried to perpetuate the red poppies along the railroad tracks and the ditch between the road and the Recycle Center at Second Street and Avenue F downtown. Those are red corn poppies, but there is a variety of red poppy types available.

Poppy growth

There’s also a misconception that growing poppies is illegal.

Damon Waitt, senior botanist for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, said some types of poppies have a concentration of opium, but red corn poppies and other wildflower poppies do not have enough concentration of opium to be a threat.

“To me, it doesn’t matter which poppy,” Farek said.

She gets her red corn poppies at Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg. Seeds can be ordered from there online — www.wildseedfarms.com — starting at $1.25 for a packet and up to $20 for a pound, about 3.2 million seeds. GKCC CEO John Crutchfield said the chamber withdrew its request to replace the city flower after learning the “Buddy” Poppy had special meaning and people wanted to keep it.Farek said she believes the attention the poppy has received since the chamber tried to replace it with the yellow rose is “God-sent.”

“I really think it is a time that is so right for this to be looked on,” Farek said. “Why not?”

Click the following links for past Council items related to this story:

Contact Kevin M. Smith at ksmith@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7550

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