There was excitement in the air as busloads of Veterans and staff waited in anticipation to board the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad train on Thursday. The train ride was one of many alternate activities planned this week.
Country music artist Michael Peterson, who will emcee the Stage Show on Sunday, joined us. Peterson spent time talking with Veterans on the train, and even got a little attention from the train car conductor who asked him "Can you get me in the Grand Ol' Opry?"
While traveling, this writer had the opportunity to sit next to George Farr and learn a little bit about his life. Farr, 87 years young, is from Plymouth, Minn., and has a real zest for life. For example, his sweatshirt read, "So far, this is the oldest I've ever been."
Farr was a B17 pilot in the Air Force in World War II and also served in the Army. He's been coming to the Festival for six years with his poetry and writing entries, which is usually patriotic or humorous. "The Festival is always marvelous, the warmth and spirit among the Veterans is why I come each year. It makes me motivated to write," said Farr.
After his military service, he taught and coached at the high school and college levels and was also involved in the political scene. He served as State Chairman of the Minnesota Democratic Party and recalled being invited to a White House dinner when Lyndon B. Johnson was President. When he told his wife they both were invited to attend, "she asked if she could bring a salad!" Farr said. "I even got to dance with Lady Bird."
Farr is already working on entries for next year’s competition. "It keeps my mind alert and I always look forward to coming, added Farr. "Winning first place is not bad for an old fart!"
Following the train ride, everyone was treated to a western-themed dinner at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale. The Rogers Heritage High School Band performed as guests entered the building, and the innovative musical duo, Still on the Hill, entertained the crowd later with their Ozarks region instruments.
By Todd Greenman, public affairs officer, VA Medical Center, Battle Creek, Michigan