By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Donald Cody’s fingers work in a memorized pattern — twist, wrap, twist.

Soon red poppies pile up in front of him, ready for a label marked “In Memoriam.”

“I’m surprised more people aren’t involved with this,” Cody says, picking up another wire to make the next poppy.

Cody is one of three Baker County veterans who are making red crepe paper poppies for the American Legion Auxiliary to distribute across Oregon, plus several states.

“We are the sole producer of poppies in our state,” said Dani Huck, poppy production manager for the American Legion Auxiliary in Baker City.

Earlier this year, Huck called the state office to buy poppies for distribution in Baker County.

But there were no poppies for sale.

“They stopped producing them two years ago, and didn’t have enough to fill our order,” Huck said.

However, there were kits available for purchase, each of which makes 1,000 poppies.

The local Post purchased kits, and Huck posted flyers around town looking for veterans willing to make the poppies.

“I ended up with five guys immediately,” she said.

Mel Letteer is one of those veterans. He served as a paratrooper for the Army from 1961-1964 and then later as an MP for the National Guard.

He has a method to his poppy production.

“One night I just sat there and did 700 centers,” he said. “I got to where I could do four every minute.”

Huck’s original crew of five is down to three.

“I’m looking for more veterans,” Huck said. “I’d like to have five or six.”

Veterans are paid for making poppies — 10 cents per paper flower. Completing a full kit is worth $100.

“It puts money in the veterans’ pockets,” Huck said.

Each year, Oregon distributes 27,000 poppies. Huck also fulfilled an order for Iowa of 11,500 flowers.

See more in the May 23, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.