WORTHINGTON — In between the pancake feed, King Turkey Day 10K and the Great Gobbler Gallop Saturday, Worthington was officially proclaimed a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon community during a ceremony that included special guests Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Col. Ryan Kelly, commander of the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division.

A committee of veterans advocates led by Barb Staples, veterans certifying official at Minnesota West Community & Technical College, worked for more than two years to meet the requirements for the community designation.

“It has not been an easy process since it took a little longer because of COVID,” Staples shared from the King Turkey Day stage just before noon on Saturday. A Worthington native, her father was wounded in the Vietnam War and earned the Purple Heart. He returned home and served at one time as commander of the Worthington VFW.

Military support is something Staples feels strongly about, and she and fellow committee members sought the designation for Worthington as a way to let active duty military and their families know that help and community support is available to them during a deployment.

“(Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has) become a national motto on how communities can come together,” Staples shared.

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With National Guard units from Luverne, Pipestone and Jackson among those in the 1-125th, Kelly spoke of the importance of having supporting communities to help when their members are deployed.

“It has been quite a year, to say the least, for the Minnesota National Guard — from COVID-19 support to domestic support for civil unrest, national disasters like flooding and wildfires, as well as our overseas continued deployments,” Kelly said. “Our National Guard continues to protect those that live on America’s shores.

“These state and national issues affect every community and this region can be especially proud of the contributions of its local units,” he said, noting that local Guard members responded to civil unrest in Minneapolis and stepped up to help the Minnesota Department of Health in regard to COVID-19 in the past year.

“In doing that, we pulled soldiers from this community away from their families and their employers on short notice, for sometimes extended periods of time,” Kelly said. “Your communities have come together and made it clear to all our service men and women and their families that you have their back.

“We don’t know when the next call will come and for what — pandemics, civil disturbance, national disasters, foreign enemies,” he said. “For that reason, we need your help more than ever in ensuring our families receive the support while they are serving and our service members can feel supported in their communities when they come home.”

It was after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil that the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign was developed in Minnesota by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Since then, it has been replicated in all 50 states and territories — because it works, said Gov. Walz during his address to the gathering.

“Minnesota has the fifth largest National Guard in the country. It’s probably one of the most decorated and it is the most used because of the skill set that is there. They do it with dignity, they do it with honor….” Walz said. “Over the last 20 years since that fateful day of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, tens of thousands of young Americans have said, ‘I’m willing to serve,’ so that the rest of us can live in peace, the rest of us can celebrate those birthdays with our families, the rest of us can gather on a beautiful day on a Main Street and celebrate a tradition.

“That comes at an incredible cost to those families,” Walz added. “But the communities that rally around them, the communities that are there for those families make all of the difference.”

Walz said in the days and weeks following the Sept. 11 attack, Americans united around a common cause. That same spirit exists with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon.

So, at a time when “things are pretty divided in this country,” Walz said there is no division in the state legislature when it comes to the care of veterans. He offered his congratulations to the city on its inclusion in the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon network, and said it was a privilege to return to the community for his 12th King Turkey Day visit.

Also speaking during the ceremony was Nobles County Veterans Services Officer Jim Dunn, who joined the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee after starting his new job six months ago. He said he’s proud to be in a community that supports its veterans.

“The programs and services are vast to make sure our veterans are cared for in this community,” he said, adding that the van transportation system wouldn’t be possible without volunteers who make sure veterans get to their scheduled appointments.

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon committee received its first major donation during Saturday’s ceremony, when the Buffalo Ridge Leathernecks presented a $1,500 check to the group.