1976 was the nation’s Bicentennial (1776-1976), as well as the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) for the county (1826-1976). McDonough County formed a Bicentennial Commission to organize countywide events and celebrations throughout the year.
As a part of the festivities, the Bicentennial Commission sponsored a contest to design a county flag. The contest was open to all county schoolchildren. Selected as the winner from over 200 entries submitted, was the flag design created by Carolyn Kersting, an 8th grade student at Edison School in Macomb. The flag on display at the museum is her winning design that was adopted as the McDonough County flag.
Kersting recalled when she found out she had won, “I was thrilled!” There was a special ceremony when her winning flag was first hoisted onto the courthouse flagpole. “There was a 21 gun salute and I remember I got to ride in a parade!” said Kersting.
Pat Hobbs, Kersting’s art teacher at the time, recalls that all the students got involved with the flag contest. “I had all the students in the school do it; they painted the flag on a 12 x 18 piece of paper.” To start the flag project for her art class, Hobbs first had her students study the designs of flags. Vexillology is the study of flags. The word comes from the Latin word vexillum, meaning, "flag", and the suffix -logy, meaning "study of". Vexillography is the design of flags. Hobbs wanted her students to understand why flags are designed the way they are. According to the North American Vexillological Association, the five basic principles of flag design are:
1. Keep it Simple. (A rule of thumb is that a child ought to be able to draw it from memory and know what it represents.)
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism.
3. Use only 2 or 3 basic colors.
4. No lettering or seals.
5. Be Distinctive or Be Related.
After her students studied flag design, Hobbs then researched the history of McDonough County and shared with her students historical facts that could be utilized in their flag design. The design that Kersting created utilized many of the elements that Hobbs discussed in class.
Even over thirty years later, Carolyn Kersting still remembers with fondness the whole experience, from designing the flag to the winning and presentation. During the design process, she remembers both her art teacher and history teacher were supportive. “I was very excited to get involved with the history. I really got into it!” In summing up the creation of the county flag, Carolyn Kersting remarked, “I was glad that I was able to contribute to the history of McDonough County.”
Measuring five long by three feet wide, the flag is made of nylon material, and has one inch of gold fringe around the perimeter of three sides. The center has a cutout gold star sewn onto the white background. Three leaves are inside the star with a blue banner going across the star, and on the banner are the words “McDonough County.”
Each element of Kersting’s county flag has symbolic meaning. The five-pointed star, like the stars on the United States flag, represents the United States. The gold of the star represents golden grain, such as corn, one of the most common crops of the region. The ribbon represents the Lamoine River flowing through the center of the county and represents the blue skies of the prairies. The leaves are of native trees: the shagbark hickory, cottonwood and burr oak.
In 1976, a number of county flags were made of Kerstings’ design, the exact number produced is not known. Now only a few exist. One is preserved at the museum and another is displayed in the lobby of the McDonough County Courthouse. The flag at the museum and the one at the courthouse are not exact duplicates varying slightly in fabric and coloring. Now preserved for future generations of McDonough County residents, the flag at the museum will be a protected piece of local heritage.
Essay by Heather Munro