A Brief History of the All Veterans Memorial
The All Veterans Memorial had its beginning with the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 38 of Park Rapids, Minnesota. Mike Lester, commander of that organization, dreamed of someday having a beautiful veterans memorial in the vicinity of Park Rapids. He discussed this with another DAV member, and then with the Hubbard County Veterans Service Officer. The service officer agreed it was long overdue, and he hoped the two men would pursue it, but as a county officer he felt he could not become involved in beginning such an undertaking.
Being the DAV commander at this time, Mike took the idea to a DAV meeting. The members agreed, but since this was to be a major project, the DAV knew they were too small an organization to handle it alone. They decided to ask all service organizations to choose four members, two from their chapters and two from their auxiliaries, and join them. The first meeting was held at the Park Rapids American Legion in the fall of 1990, with twelve service organization members present. Since no one had ever worked with building a memorial before, it took several meetings to get started. Mike had no plan for what he wanted, but he knew he did not want “just a garbage can full of cement with a flag stuck in it.”
By spring, plans were falling into place and a contest would be held to find a suitable design of a memorial. The contest was open to anyone in the area, students or adults, who wanted to submit a plan. Members went to area schools and explained the undertaking and asked for entries from students. Deadline for entries was June first. Nine entries were received and contestants were invited to come to the June meeting to explain their idea before the vote. The nine entries were cut to six, the six to three, and the winner chosen from the final three. The winning drawing was submitted by Park Rapids High School Student Matt Kari, Jr., a Junior. Voting was done by the committee members present at the meeting.
A local architect came to a meeting and offered his services at a reduced rate. His offer was accepted. Then the difficult work began: HOW WHEN WHERE.
Local service organizations provided seed money. Besides monthly meetings, meetings were called over coffee, lunch, or at the architect”s office to discuss a new idea. Trips were made to the cities to talk to professional fund raisers, local people who had worked with fund raising were interviewed, meals were served, radio-thons were held, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and caps were sold, a phone line was established, radio and newspaper ads were bought. Many other ideas were tried., some worked and some didn’t.
All members watched for vacant areas that might be a spot for the memorial. Land was priced north, east and west of town, but everything was out of sight. Chamber land plus local utility land seemed the best bet, but no agreement could be made. A model of the future memorial was made and displayed at area banks and service clubs. Members showed the model and explained plans at gatherings wherever they could get on the program.
The committee has had over fifty members throughout the years. Some members became discouraged and quit, at least a dozen members have died, others moved from the area, but new people heard about the memorial and stepped forward to help. With the addition of new faces came new ideas. The memorial has seen only minor changes, but phase II, an educational building, will be added at a later date. This will educate youth on the horrors of war through the use of videos, tapes and a museum of military memorabilia.
In 1997, the committee learned of the Veterans Memorial Park in Wisconsin. “The High Ground” was largely financed by selling memorial flagstones, and after investigating, the committee decided this method would be used to fund our memorial. Beginning in 1998, flagstones were sold to help reach the required goal.
Early in 1997, a group of committee members made five trips to St. Paul making presentations to a local representative, a senator, the Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner, a gambling board member and members of travel and tourism. They were well received and promised a bill would be introduced in both house and senate for a $100,000 grant with matching funds from the Memorial Committee. This bill passed both houses and was signed by the governor and during June of 1997 receipt of the grant was announced.
Prior to September 11, 2001, each year saw a funding increase of about $10,000. Sadly, this tragedy forged a new surge of patriotism and by April 2002, more than $25,000 had reached the treasury and the $100,000 goal had been achieved. On June 5th the $100,000 check was received from the State and on June 27th a groundbreaking was held.
On October 11, 2002, heavy equipment commenced operations on the site and on 24 October a group of veterans arrived onsite with the solemn task of giving the memorial a “heart.” As the first concrete was poured a Purple Heart Medal wrapped in two American Flags and sealed in an airtight PVC container was slid into the footings and covered in the tons of concrete.
On Saturday, August 16, 2003, after a rousing keynote address delivered by Major General Doyle E. Larson, USAF, the ribbon was cut by Amy Runnoe and Glenys Hotzler, the two senior members of the All Veterans Memorial Committee, and the colors were finally paraded onto the field by a joint veterans organization and hoisted, opening the Memorial Grounds to the public.
So much has been accomplished, but the task is far from achieved. While we have reached the initial goal of $200,000, we still require funding for other phases of the project. Here are just a couple of the agenda items requiring funding:
We still require hundreds of paving stones and a few more benches which will be placed throughout the grounds and on the walkways.
The Museum and Interpretive Center are yet to be funded. The building and all interior furnishings are yet to be acquired.
We are also ACTIVELY seeking out memorabilia and “veteran’s voices” for displays in the museum.
Artifacts from all wars and all eras will be appreciated. It is our goal to present to the public an educational look at the “tools of war” used throughout our long history.
Upon opening, there will be a display of “Veteran’s Voices,” where today’s youth will be able to sit down and either listen to or read the memories of those who have served in our armed forces. This is your opportunity as a veteran to bring forward your thoughts of life during your “tour of duty.” You can call Jeff Siebert at (218) 255.0489 or Willy Davis at (218) 564.4591 to arrange for your voice to be heard.
We hope that you will find the All Veteran’s Memorial to be a project worthy of your support.