ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. -- There are few places in the Tri-Cities that look more patriotic than downtown Elizabethton on a national holiday. East Elk Avenue is flanked by rows of 4-foot by 6-foot American flags from one end of the central business district to the other.
While many people appreciate the patriotic atmosphere the rows of red, white and blue flags produce, few know that for many years now the flags have been generating money to help the city's and county's disabled children.
All of this work falls on the shoulders of Dean Blevins, also known as "the flag man."
Blevins is a retired artilleryman, having served 24 years in the Army. Returning to civilian life in his native Elizabethton, Blevins started a second career in the real estate business and joined the Civitan Club in 1982.
One of the Civitan projects that attracted Blevins was the flag program. He said it all began with insurance agent Fred Hoss. He developed the program by contracting with local businesses to erect flags in front of their stores for a fee. The revenue was used to provide an annual picnic for special education students in the city and county school systems.
Blevins joined the flag effort and was assigned the responsibility of placing the flags on the west end of town. His participation in the project grew over the years. Finally, in 1996, Blevins took over the entire project. His responsibilities were reinforced by becoming treasurer for the Civitan Club. He makes sure that every penny earned from the flag program goes to the children.
"The members don't get anything, not a pin, not a plaque, nothing from the money we raise from the flags," Blevins said.
He also decided to expand the program. "When I took over, we mostly put out flags in the downtown area. I started going door to door in other sections," Blevins said.
"We had about 40 to 50 flags we put out back in the '90s, mostly on East Elk Avenue," Blevins said. Today about 120 flags fly.
In addition to holidays, one important date on Blevins' calendar is a day in May each year when the program helps fund the picnic for special education students.
"They have been doing the picnic for as long as I can remember," said Carol Whaley, special education director for the Carter County School System. "It is something the children really look forward to every year."