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Capitol flag flown on Inauguration Day finds place in church entryway

Many of those who saw President Barack Obama's election as historic immediately bought anything bearing his image.

The Rev. Willis Polk of Imani Baptist Church in Lexington, who worked on Obama's campaign locally, was one of those people. He picked up yard signs, buttons, magazines and newspapers as he traveled. He grabbed anything that he thought would have significant sentimental, and maybe even monetary, value one day.

"I said, 'What else can I get that 50 years from now would be worth plenty of money?'" Polk said. To put his collection a step above many others, Polk ordered and recently received one of the flags that was raised and unfurled over the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, the day Obama was sworn in.

"It just came to me about this flag," Polk said. "I don't know where I got the idea from. I called Ben Chandler's office and they gave me the Web site to fill out a request form."

He ordered two flags, one for his church and one for his 2-year-old grandson, Demitrius Polk.

The flag for the church, and accompanying certificate of authentication, will be placed in a framed case near the front entrance of the church on Easter Sunday.

"If I put it on a flagpole, I'd have to hire security," Polk said, laughing.

After the 11:15 a.m. Easter service, a couple of veterans who are members of the church will fold the flag properly, because it did not arrive that way. They then will hand it over to Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo to present it to the church.

According to the office of the Architect of the Capitol, the department charged with building maintenance as well as the capitol flags, about 4,000 requests were fulfilled for flags that were raised on Inauguration Day.

Eva Malecki, AOC communications officer, said the office receives about 100,000 requests a year and the number of daily requests varies. For holidays such as Veterans Day, the Fourth of July, and Memorial Day, the number of people requesting a flag that has been raised over the capitol increases dramatically.

"We just don't keep an exact number," Malecki said.

The flag program, which began in 1937, is open to anyone who requests the flags through their U.S. senators or representatives. The accompanying certificate can be worded to honor a loved one or a specific occasion if desired. There is no limit on the number ordered.

There are three flagpoles on which flags are raised and lowered nearly 300 times a day on average. The flags vary from 3-by-5 feet to 5-by-8 feet, and cost between $17.85 to $26.60.

The flag can be requested for a certain day, as Polk did, but the requests must be made about a month early. Flags are flown daily, if weather permits, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Come Sunday, Polk said Imani's flag will be encased along with an official photograph of Obama, the authentication, and other memorabilia.

Polk received an inauguration invitation after working on the campaign. He didn't attend because of health reasons, but he gave his invitation to a 75-year-old member of his church who went in his place.

"She stood for six hours," Polk said. "No one collected the invitations, so she brought it back." The invitation will also be placed with the flag.

Polk has met Obama twice, once a year after Obama's keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and again a year later.

"I went to Africa, to Kenya, the same year he gave that speech," he said. "When I got there, they were still celebrating. They were saying: 'We saw our brother on television. Tell our brother we said hello.' "

Polk got a chance to do just that when he met Obama at a conference a couple of months later.

"He was obviously bright, I mean brilliant," he said. But "I really didn't think he stood a snowball's chance in hell."

As a means of stretching his good fortune a bit, Polk said he has already put in a request for Obama to come to Lexington — perhaps during the Alltech World Equestrian Games next year — and help dedicate Imani's new church and grounds.

He's hoping to meet Obama a third time, in June at a conference Polk will be attending in Washington. If he does, Polk said he will plead his case personally.

I would not bet against him.