Community Stories Hometown Heroes

Ballgowns, Boats and Go Karts

To hear Kelly Pardew say Huntsville is the most patriotic city she has lived in is a big compliment. She’s lived in a lot of places: the San Francisco bay area, Germany,

North Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, Italy and Virginia. So, for her to say that we’re the best at something — aside from maybe building rockets — is a big deal.

Part of that patriotism stems from the different groups that rally around our local veterans. As a veteran herself — her husband is still serving — Kelly joined those groups as soon as she got to Huntsville.

It all started when her neighbor on Redstone Arsenal was in the process of moving and asked her to help with a project. The neighbor worked with the Semper Fi Community Task Force, a group started by US Marines but has grown to include veterans from all branches of the military, and was looking for people to take over her duties once she moved away. Kelly stepped in to help, and instantly got involved with making the Huntsville veterans feel appreciated.

The group is responsible for a lot of events in Huntsville, everything from veteran outreach to go kart racing for gold-star families — those who have lost a family member in combat.

“We try to take really good care of our gold-star families because they have given the ultimate sacrifices, as they say,” Kelly said.

Their efforts aren’t just for the families of fallen soldiers, though. The task force hosts events year-round to honor the men and women who have served.

Heros Week

One of the main projects of the Semper Fi Community Task Force is to organize Heroes Week in Huntsville. If you’ve been in town long, you know we love our veterans. We lay wreaths and have a whole Veterans Week celebration complete with parades and breakfasts. Heroes Week coincides with that event, but takes the celebrations to the next level.

Once a year, the task force brings in wounded warriors and their caregivers from around the country to treat them to a week of activities.

“Typically these people never got a welcome home,” Kelly said. “They didn’t come home with their units because they were injured; they were medevacked out.”

Even some of the ones who did get to come home with their troops weren’t welcomed with the open arms and little kids holding poster board signs that we see in YouTube videos today. The Vietnam veterans returning home from war couldn’t even wear their uniforms because people would throw rocks at them or spit on them.

It was definitely not America’s proudest moment.

“One of the things that’s important at the start of that week is we have a huge welcome at the airport when they come through,” Kelly said. “Literally hundreds of people show up.”

Throughout the week, the veterans get to go fishing, take tours and even go in a plane for an aerial view of the Tennessee Valley.

All Gussied Up

It’s always fun to go see everyone running around town in gowns and tuxedos during prom and homecoming seasons. No matter who you are or what your life has been like, getting dressed up, getting a new haircut and feeling fancy, even for a night, makes you stand a little taller.

Every year during Heroes Week, Kelly oversees Dress Day, which happens two days before the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

“People donate dresses to us that are in very good condition or new, so we have a whole bunch of dresses for them to shop through,” Kelly said. “I even find seamstresses to do minor alterations.”

On Dress Day, women are fitted with ball gowns that are then altered within 48 hours by Kelly and her team of seamstresses. Kelly manages all the logistics of Dress Day, including transporting over 200 dresses from storage to the guests, recruiting and coordinating volunteers, setting up shopping and fitting areas and then tearing everything down and returning items to storage. It’s not an easy undertaking, but Kelly is happy to be part of it.

The next day is Day of Beauty, for whom Kelly credits fellow volunteer, Beth Hoffman. During the Day of Beauty, guests are pampered by hair and makeup artists before they don the gowns and head off to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

It’s only one night, but that’s all it takes to boost these veterans’ morale.

If you want to help, there are plenty of ways to get involved with the Semper Fi Community Task Force. You can see their website here.

If you want to donate a formal dress or if you’re a seamstress who can help with alterations, you can contact Kelly Pardew at [email protected]

About the author

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Jessie Harbin

Jessie is a newlywed living in Meridianville with her husband and three dogs. She's learning to sail on their 26-foot sailboat in Guntersville. At the time of publication, nobody has fallen ill because of her cooking.

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