By TRAVIS MORSE firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — 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.
The ball was created as a way to celebrate the Marine Corps' birthday and to provide a social gathering for retired Marines, Kowalski said.
The idea grew out of conversations between retired local Marines who attended Lance Cpl. Jonathan Kyle Price's funeral in January 2006. Price, a Woodlawn native, was killed while serving overseas in Iraq.
Kowalski and several others decided to organize an annual ball and also formed the Southern Illinois Marines, a nonprofit organization.
Tickets for the ball are $25 for individuals and $40 for couples. They can be purchased in advance at the American Legion Post 141 or at the door the night of the event.
Even so, there are only a small number of tickets still available.
Most of the proceeds go toward the cost of putting on the ball. Any money left over is donated to charity.
Formal and semi-formal dress attire, including uniforms, are recommended but not mandatory.
For more information on the event, contact Kowalski at 214-0692.