MT. VERNON — This region's annual Marine Corps Ball began modestly in 2006 with about 18 people taking part.
Since then, the event's popularity has continued to grow and last year's celebration drew more than 130 people, said John Kowalski, a member of the ball's planning committee.
Organizers, he said, are expecting an even larger turnout this year. The ball, sponsored by the Southern Illinois Marines, commemorates the United States Marine Corps' founding on Nov. 10, 1775.
“There's a lot of pride,” said Kowalski, a retired master sergeant in the Marine Corps. “They're proud of what they did and they're proud of their service.”
The eighth annual Marine Corps Ball will take place this Saturday at the Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center in Whittington. Social hour begins at 6 p.m. and the ceremony kicks off at 7 p.m.
The event typically attracts retired and former Marines and their families. However, it is open to all branches of service.
Kowalski described the event as a “military birthday ball” complete with dinner, dancing, a silent auction, a guest speaker and other activities. This year's speaker is former Marine and author Harry Spiller.
One of the highlights of the evening will be the cake-cutting ceremony, a long-standing military tradition, Kowalski said.
This involves serving the first piece of birthday cake to the guest of honor. Then, the second piece of cake is given to the oldest Marine there, who in turn passes it to the youngest Marine in attendance.
“It (represents) the transition of knowledge of customs from the older generation to the younger generation,” Kowalski said.
There will also be a series of four toasts at the ball.
The first toast is to the country, flag and commander-in-chief. The second toast honors the Marine Corps. The third toast recognizes friends and family of the Corps. And finally the fourth toast is to highly decorated Marine Corps commander Lewis “Chesty” Puller, Kowalski said.