Dit artikel verscheen een paar dagen geleden in de krant The City Sentinel.
Under the watchful eye of Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers, Bart Vleugels and his wife Cindy celebrated America in a special way over the July 4 weekend. Bart, a native of Belgium, became a U.S. citizen in late June, then celebrated his new status with family and friends at a state Capitol reception on July 3. Photos by Patrick B. McGuigan.
A brand new American citizen celebrated the flag, freedom, family and friends at a July 3 state Capitol rotunda ceremony that combined good humor with patriotic sentiments and gratefulness for liberties represented in national symbols, especially the U.S. flag.
Under the watchful eye of Oklahoma’s favorite son, in the form of Charles Banks Wilson’s portrait of Will Rogers hanging in the fourth floor rotunda, Bart Vleugels and wife Cynthia were unabashedly patriotic and good-humored at the event. The couple thanked a large crowd for coming to recognize his citizenship.
Vleugels, a native of Belgium who is now an employee of the Oklahoma state Department of Transportation, became a U.S. citizen in late June during a ceremony at which Chief U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange presided.
Brilliantly illuminated by a combination of natural and electrical lighting, the inside of the state Capitol dome provided a gorgeous canopy over for the Vleugels’ family citizenship celebration.
Jim Rozmaryn, Bart’s father-in-law, presented him with a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol. As the crowd turned to face an historic American flag hanging nearby, Stephanie Pena, a friend of the Vleugels, sang her powerful a capella interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner.
Bart listened as Cynthia, a radio journalist now serving as president of the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club, expressed admiration for his efforts to become an American. She revealed he learned to love the U.S. while watching American television programs and motion pictures, including the venerable “Bonanza” series. She joked, “by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies he knew he didn’t have to speak perfect English to become a citizen.”
Vleugels, who has portrayed U.S. President Barack Obama in local performances of the Gridiron Club’s annual parody of national and state politics, began his speech with a broad grin by saying, “My fellow Americans,” eliciting loud cheers and applause. “I’ve been waiting to say that for a long time,” he confessed. The ceremony included playing of a video recorded when Vleugels spoke on behalf of his fellow new citizens last month.
Using what can only be characterized as near-perfect English diction, he expressed appreciation for a country “that has asked nothing of me but to pay my taxes.” Vleugels described wonder “at possessing rights so sacred they cannot be given away, at any price.” With those rights and opportunities, he said, come obligations and responsibilities.
He encouraged Americans to study history, and not take freedoms for granted. As for the flag, Americans should “respect it, serve it, protect it and be proud of it.”
At the Capitol event, Vleugels said, “In this country, I have never felt unwelcome, never felt any hatred, never had the feeling that anyone felt I had taken away their job.” He then added, “If anyone does feel that way, I hope you will keep it to yourself!”
The ceremony concluded with a rousing chorus of “God Bless America” led by the newest American, and the Gridiron Club’s unique rendition of Oklahoma, concluding, “You’d better serve Oklahoma – or you’ll catch hell, next year!”