Flag landmark honors seafarers, celebrates 100-year anniversary of Port Arthur Rotary Club

Flag landmark honors seafarers, celebrates 100-year anniversary of Port Arthur Rotary Club

The Rotary Club of Port Arthur celebrated its 100th anniversary Thursday, April 16, at the old Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Port Arthur. 

To commemorate the occasion and as a gift to all the seafarers who traverse the Sabine Neches Waterway, the nonprofit erected a landmark across from the Port Arthur Police Station at 645 Fourth St. featuring 26 flags of the vessels that most frequently travel the waterway. Twenty-five of the flags are those of foreign countries including France, Greece, India, Norway and Great Britain, among others. The United States flag is also included in the monument, which reads “Rotary Club Welcomes Seafarers to the Sabine Neches Waterway, Port Arthur, Texas,” and is visible to waterborne craft on the seawall side of the landmark. Lamar State College-Port Arthur students held up signs of each flag represented on the monument at the ceremony, which was moved indoors due to weather conditions. The Port Arthur Memorial High School band also entertained, as did Port Arthur native and opera singer Richard Perkins, who sang “Old Man River.”

Commanding Officer at USCG Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur Capt. Randal S. Ogrydziak spoke about the importance of the Rotary International Avenue of Flags at the centennial celebration April 16.

“Seafarers have facilitated maritime trade, civilization contacts and new discoveries since time immemorial, even at the cost of enduring difficult conditions and facing grave dangers,” Ogrydziak told the audience. “Modern seafarers are no different. They form a crucial element of the global economic system, while braving risks, pressures, and hardships that are unique to a life at sea. … There can be no doubt that shipping plays a pivotal role in underpinning international trade. It has always provided the only really cost-effective way to transport raw materials, components, finished goods, fuel and foodstuffs over any great distance. As the human factor at the cutting edge of sea transportation, seafarers are therefore a vital component in today’s global economy. In highlighting the role of the seafarer, without their contributions, half the world would freeze and the other half would starve.”

Around 1.5 million seafarers are employed by the global shipping industry, Ogrydziak said.

“They bring to us more than 90 percent of all the goods we Americans consume,” he said. “They transport more than 80 percent of the world’s commerce. Approximately 2,500 foreign ships visit the Golden Triangle’s ports and waterfront facilities every year. The Sabine-Neches Port Complex is the nation’s No. 1 crude oil destination port, the nation’s third busiest petrochemical port and the nation’s busiest military out-load port.

The Rotary International Avenue of Flags is 15-foot high and 160-foot wide and cost approximately $200,000 to construct, according to Port Arthur Rotary Club president Russel Buss. The design was the vision of Port Arthur photographer Frank Cricchio and was brought to life by Rotarian and Soutex Project Engineer George Newsome, who began working on the project in September 2014 after hashing out all the legalities of the project with the Army Corps of Engineers and Jefferson County, who owns the land where the monument was built.

“Frank had this concept for probably 30-35 years,” Buss said. “Frank has hundreds of stories about flags all over the world from when he used to travel. We wanted to do something important. The concept to display flags of ships that come in and out of our port — to Beaumont, Orange, wherever they go — came about.”

Floyd Marceaux, president of Retail Merchants Association, was the project manager, and Port Arthur developer Jeff Hayes helped promote the project, Buss said. Both Marceaux and Hayes are former Port Arthur Rotary presidents.

Buss and other Rotarians helped raise money for the project at weekly Rotary meetings, where Rotarians would donate money based on “Good News” pledges.

“People would say, ‘I’ve got good news: the Nederland Bulldogs beat the Port Neches-Groves Indians in the Mid-County Madness (or vice versa) and here’s some money,’ Sometimes, it was only $5-10 and sometimes it was $50-75. We started out with about $30,000 and started building that fund,” Buss said. “We contacted other (entities) and they pitched in. In the meantime, we contacted the EDC and came up with a price of what it was going to cost. They said if we built it they would match 50 percent in excess of $100,000.”

Several entities helped make the memorial possible including KT Maintenance, the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation, the United States Coast Guard, the Greek Coast Guard, Jefferson County Commissioners Court, the city of Port Arthur, the Sabine Neches Navigation District, the Sabine Pilots Association, the Port of Port Arthur, and the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, Buss said.

The flags will be maintained by the Port of Port Arthur, Buss said. 

The Port Arthur Rotary Club was established in 1915.