The upcoming Farmington Patriotic Day's theme of patriotism may be particularly poignant due to the divisive nature of politics in the United States, according to program leader Dr. Steven Geis.

Approaching 20 years, Patriotic Day set for Thursday, Nov. 9, celebrates veterans' service and sacrifice with music, speeches and a Voice of Democracy student essay. Last year community attendance peaked at 1,300 residents who packed into the recital hall, Tiger commons and another viewing room at Farmington High School.

Patriotism theme

"This year's theme is patriotism and so the focus is you don't have to be a veteran to be patriotic because there are ways of showing patriotism whether you are voting or doing community service, whether you are in the police service or the fire department, an educator, you are doing patriotic service to our country," said Dr. Steven Geis, longtime leader and principal at North Trail Elementary in Farmington.

Longtime volunteer Andy Derner, a Korean War veteran, said he has been proud to have been involved in the program for most years. Derner, 86, served in the heavy weapons infantry during the war at the same time the cease fire was enacted.

"I spent 14 months in an artillery outfit and was placed behind the 38th parallel where the cease-fire zone was with the North Koreans on the other side," Derner said. "I think this program is so very important, especially as I get this old and everyone in the world is getting greedy and all the farms and small businesses are vanishing and turning into big corporations."

Looking forward to hearing patriotic songs like "This Land is Your Land," Derner hopes the present polarizing and divisive nature in the country will diminish. He believes citizens need to come together to behave more humanely and in a more peaceful, intelligent way to make the country better.

"I want everyone to be more patriotic toward each other and not just toward the veterans, but toward each other and our country," Derner said.

Keynote speakers

Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Dennis Schulstad will serve as the keynote speaker. Schulstad spent 22 years as a member of Minneapolis City Council and has worked as a political campaign consultant for candidates running for state and national offices. As a founder and board member of the Minnesota Military Family Foundation, he helped to raise more than $17 million in support of service members and their families.

"Denny is a very eloquent speaker and he has done even more in his service to our country post his military career," Geis said. Schulstad spoke 18 years ago when the patriotic celebration was hosted at the middle school.

U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis will also speak. A former nationally-syndicated radio host for more than 20 years, Lewis serves on the budget, education and workforce and transportation and infrastructure committees in Congress. He's in his first term representing the 2nd District, which includes Farmington.

The program grew out of a middle school veterans program nearly 20 years ago.

"This has grown beyond our wildest expectations mentioning former veterans who were heavily involved in founding the patriotic celebration," Geis said.

A few founders were veterans, Howard Miller and Col. Ed Nelson, a former Farmington veteran who lives in Arizona.

Language arts teacher Carol Boye taught students about how to best honor veterans and she started an annual classroom tradition where students would call a veteran and talk with them and thank them for their service.

"Then when I became a principal, it grew into a Veterans Day program where we focused on different aspects and different military deployments and engagements," Geis said.

After the middle school ended the school program that is when the engaging community event began to truly flourish.

Community partners and volunteers from many businesses and Farmington Lions Club, Farmington Knights of Columbus, local churches and the ministerial association pool human and financial resources together to put together the program and free dinner that costs around $10,000 with food and transportation busing many veterans to the event.

Fourth-grade choirs from all five elementary schools will share patriotic songs, along with the Farmington High School choirs and band. Farmington High senior Josh Wilson will serve as master of ceremonies and the winner of the Voice of Democracy winner will read his or her winning essay.

Patriotism can be a hard thing for youngsters to grasp, Geis said.

"We educate our fifth graders about giving respect and honoring those who have given with their service and they learn about the G.I. Bill, and how it can better themselves and help your nation," he said. "This is why Farmington was the first Yellow Ribbon community in the nation, and it would be nice to emulate this program throughout our nation and every community should do this."

If you go

What: Farmington Patriotic Day Celebration

Who: The community is invited to attend a patriotic program and enjoy a free pork chop dinner

When: Thursday, Nov. 9 - 5 p.m. free community dinner and 7 p.m. program

Where: Farmington High School, 20655 Flagstaff Ave., Farmington

Volunteer: The Farmington Patriotic Day Celebration is funded by community donations and local volunteers. To volunteer or donate, contact Dr. Steven Geis at 651-460-1800.

The annual community program is co-sponsored by Farmington Area Public Schools District 192, Farmington American Legion, Farmington Lions Club, Farmington Veterans for Foreign Wars and Farmington Yellow Ribbon Network.