SPENCER, NC (WBTV) - Opening ceremonies for a community-wide series of events, exhibits, and fundraisers in Rowan County will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer.
The series of events, called 49 Days of Gratitude, centers around the 70th anniversary of the Merci Train a train of gifts from the people of France in thanks for post-WWII aid. Forty-nine “40 & 8 box cars” were delivered to America, one for each state and another to be shared between Washington, D.C. and the territory of Hawaii.
Events will be held across Rowan County over 49 days, one for each box car, with the themes of gratitude, WWII, or French culture.
Saturday’s events actually begin with a 10 a.m. parade through Spencer, weather permitting, featuring military vehicles, Rowan County’s oldest veterans, and more.
The parade will be followed by the 49 Days of Gratitude opening ceremony featuring keynote speaker Beth Troutman. The ceremony will be held in the museum’s Back Shop and is free for the public to attend.
Troutman’s keynote address will center around the theme of gratitude. The local celebrity departed a successful career in television for a life of volunteerism. She won two Emmys for a series of documentaries filmed while working at an orphanage in Haiti, and most recently completed shooting a documentary at theGive Kids the World Village in Orlando, Fla.
The ceremony, emceed by WBTV reporter David Whisenant, will also feature singing
from Henderson High School principal Alexis Cowan accompanied by Adrian Smith and a performance of the French National Anthem by Alina MacNichol, mezzo-soprano with Opera Carolina. Special guest Mme. Anne-Lise Gallay, Deputy Cultural Attache, Educational and University Affairs, a native of France, will also speak.
The program will also feature the presentation of Gratitude Donation Boxes that will be placed at locations across Rowan County during 49 Days of Gratitude. Local businesses, churches, and other organizations are sponsoring these boxes for the charity of their choice. Boxes are still available for sponsorship.
The placement of the colors will be performed by veterans from the W.G. Bill Hefner V.A. Medical Center with a wreath laying ceremony to close out the festivities.
Saturday will also feature the first official appearance of the recently renovated Merci Train 40 & 8 box car. The car has been repainted and the faded shields representing each province in France that contributed gifts have been replaced. Funds for that renovation were provided by La Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux Grande Voiture of North Carolina.
A special exhibit dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the Merci car’s arrival in Raleigh will also debut at the museum Saturday, featuring actual gifts that arrived aboard the 40& 8 box car, courtesy of the N.C. Museum of History, two of Rowan County’s very own Merci gifts, provided by the Edith M. Clark History Room at the Rowan County Public Library, and military items from the museum’s collection. The exhibit also tells the story of the Friendship Train that inspired the Merci Train.
The exhibit will also act as a fund-raiser for Rowan Helping Ministries. Through March 30, museum visitors may receive $1 off regular admission tickets by bringing a minimum of two non-perishable food items per ticket purchased.
The learn more about upcoming 49 Days of Gratitude events or to sponsor a donation box, please visit www.49DaysOfGratitude.com.