Virgil Berend graduated from Pilot Point High School over seven decades ago, in the waning spring of 1941.
He was a dedicated Bearcat, fiercely proud of his town and his alma mater. Despite his school spirit and general black and orange pride, Berend had never in his life sported a traditional homecoming mum. Not until last week.
On Monday afternoon, a small group of PPHS students marched into Countryside Nursing and Rehabilitation, arms overflowing with handmade, painstakingly crafted homecoming mums. FFA officers Molly Holloway, Kassidi Tidwell, Kenedee Gist and Annie Braack distributed the spirited accessories to Countryside residents, then hung extra mums on bedroom doors. It was from them that 95-year-old Berend received the homecoming mum.
“They didn’t used to have these when I was in school, some seventy-something years ago,” Berend said.
He smiled as he clipped the ribbon to his shirt and posed for a picture with other residents and their mums, including Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Jerry Wright, and Pilot Point native Rodney Masengale.
The tradition of the homecoming mum began in Texas, but in recent years it has spread to Oklahoma and Louisiana. Not much is known about how, when or why the tradition officially began; oral history seems to point to it beginning in the post-war prosperity of the 1950s. Chrysanthemum blooms typically peak in October and November, right around the time homecoming occurs. It seems that somewhere down the line, high school boys began giving their homecoming dates chrysanthemum corsages to wear to the big football game.
Homecoming mums started small and simple. Throughout time they have evolved into something almost unrecognizable. Their purpose, however, remains the same: to spread school spirit and make their recipients happy.
It was for this reason PPHS floral design teacher Sarabeth Hesteande decided to help her classes make and donate mums to the local nursing homes. For two weeks, Hesteande and the 75 students enrolled in her three sections of floral design have worked to create more than 100 original homecoming mums, 60 of which they donated to Countryside Nursing Home on Monday.
“We have been a little mum factory in here,” Hesteande said. “It’s just a great project that allows the kids to be a bit more hands-on and to really see their projects come to life.”
This is Hesteande’s first semester teaching floral design, although she started working at Pilot Point last year as an agriculture teacher and Future Farmers of America mentor. Community service is a foundational thing that educators want to teach their students, Hesteande said, adding that the idea of doing a community service project actually came from the students. Homecoming gave them their first opportunity to do something really big.
Molly Holloway, a senior and FFA student adviser, was one of the four FFA officers who helped deliver mums to the nursing home.
“I took floral design last year, and it was good,” Holloway said. “But we didn’t do anything as big as this. Last year, we only made mums for ourselves. This is different, and I like it.”
Holloway and her fellow officers were all smiles as they handed out the gifts to beaming residents at Countryside, many of whom had gathered together.
“It’s very important to give back to the community,” Hesteande said. “We want to spread the love. Plus, it kind of boosts the morale in there.”
The floral design class’s goal is to make a bouquet for one of the two nursing homes in Pilot Point every month, and to regularly donate their creations to each. They started with Countryside, but next month their November arrangement will go to the Pilot Point Care Center, and so on.
Back in Hesteande’s classroom, ribbons, frames and glitter cover the floor. It was the carnage of a job well done.
The personal mums students are still creating hang intermittently, drying along the walls and the whiteboard. One of the most interesting things about watching students create mums, Hesteande said, is seeing how their personalities are reflected in the work and shine through their designs.
“This is something I definitely want to continue to do,” Hesteande said.
Hesteande wants to keep the spirit of community service alive and relevant to her students.
“We’re here to be the leaders and the mentors that we had in school,” she said. “We want to help students realize their potential in any and every aspect of life.”