• 34°

Paving the way

A memorial first envisioned in the late 1980s is slowly nearing completion, but those promoting the project want the public to know that the memorial — just like honoring veterans — is an ongoing endeavor.

A project to honor Mower County’s veterans at the veteran’s memorial with pavers recognizing those who served is moving forward, after the project kicked off with a ground breaking on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 2009.

About 250 pavers have been sold so far. If the committee is to dedicate the statue on Memorial Day as once planned, they’ll need to double that number. About 600 pavers need to be sold to pay for the main statue that will be in place at the memorial. There’s currently room for more than 1,056 pavers.

Norm Hecimovich, a member of the veteran’s committee, said it’s important to honor all the veterans for their services to their country and our freedoms.

Hecimovich said 16 million Americans served during World War II, but only about 3 million of them are still living. Hecimovich said it’s difficult to pick out a veteran from a non-veteran.

Another reason veterans can often be overlooked is because the U.S. has recently fought its wars overseas, Hecimovich said.

“It’s something that I feel that it’s important for us to have,” Hecimovich said.

Hecimovich also said people often forget there are wars currently being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan because people can overlook it in their daily lives here. As Hecimovich commonly says, veterans don’t have a tattoo on their foreheads to denote their service.

Bill Fuller, who was chairman of the Veterans Committee when the project started in the late 1980s, said he’s excited to see a near-finished memorial. Jeff Anderson, a committee member and owner of Anderson Memorial, said he and Fuller have been in contact about the memorial for nearly two decades.

Hecimovich said they haven’t sold quite as many pavers as they’d hoped by this time, but Anderson said work on the monunment is moving forward at a good pace compared with other projects he’s been involved with.

“We set some pretty optimistic goals,” Anderson said, noting that the project had moved slowly in recent years.

The first portion of the veteran’s memorial, featuring a black granite wall above a fountain, was built in 1992; but, the memorial has been incomplete. Since completion, a nurse etched in the granite has appeared slightly out of place, as she reaches out toward an open space. But she won’t be for long.

Paving the way

After the first 600 pavers are sold, one of the centerpieces of the memorial will be installed. The bronze statue will depict a fallen soldier in the hands of a fellow soldier with the nurse on the black granite reaching out toward the two.

The statue will likely be completed by mid-May, and while committee members were hoping to have sold enough pavers to dedicate the statue on Memorial Day, Hecimovich said a summer dedication is likely.

Anderson said it’s unlikely that 600 pavers will be sold by Memorial Day. However, work on the monument has progressed over the winter.

Anderson Memorial has been engraving the 250 jet black pavers, and the completed stones are piled in the business waiting to be installed this spring. April 1 was the cut off to purchase a paver before Memorial Day, but Anderson said his staff is trying to complete additional pavers sold to have more in place for Memorial Day.

While people have been working on the project over the winter, the efforts will become more visible when the projects shifts outside when volunteers remove old shrubs around the memorial on Community Pride Day April 24. New plants, including blue chip junipers, will be planted around the memorial.

After that, Anderson Memorial can begin installing the pavers. Anderson said the first group of pavers will likely be installed along the center sidewalk of the memorial.

Each of the black granite pavers costs $300 and will honor all veterans — living and dead. The veteran’s name, military branch and the conflict he or she served during will all be etched in the granite.

The pavers are engraved by a laser. A large machine slowly slides a laser back and forth over the black granite pavers — much like a type writer passing across a page — emitting quick bursts of light to gradually spell out a veteran’s name.

By doing this, a paver can be completed about every half hour, instead of one every two to three hours if the granite were etched by hand, Anderson said.

Crews from Anderson Memorial will soon fill in the old fountain with cement to prepare it for the completion of a statue. The original plans called for the statue to be three-fourths life-size so the statue could be installed above the fountain. However, Anderson and the committee changed the plans, and the statue will now be life-size.

In 1992, the committee aimed to install the statue soon after the completion of the granite wall. However, Anderson said the project was put on hold, partially because people were wore out from the fundraising for the project’s first phase.

Anderson said Stewartville’s veteran’s memorial, which is very similar to Austin’s, inspired a change to a full-sized statue and sparked a renewed drive to complete the project.

Paul Rieffer, who commonly works with Anderson Memorial, is sculpting the statue. Start to finish, Anderson said a statue like that takes about 18 months to complete.

“It’s kind of a long, involved process,” he said.

The statue is nearing completion. The limbs and different sections of the statue are cast, but they still need to be pieced together, Anderson said.

A monument for all veterans

Contrary to common belief, the pavers aren’t just in honor of veterans who have died. Many pavers have already been bought to honor living veterans, Fuller said.

“This is going to entail all veterans, and we need to get the public aware of what we’re doing,” Fuller said.

At the Home Show in late March, many people assumed the pavers are intended for deceased veterans, Hecimovich said.

“People looked at the pavers during our lawn and garden show and said, ‘that guy’s not dead.’ They don’t have to be dead,” Hecimovich said. “It’s for all veterans who have served this country, because that’s just so important.”

Some of the completed pavers were on display at the Home Show, and Hecimovich said many people liked seeing the completed black granite bricks. Hecimovich said many people expected the pavers to be made of regular bricks and were surprised to see sparkling black granite.

Interest in the pavers hasn’t been limited to residents of Mower County. Hecimovich said people have called him from across the U.S. asking about the pavers, as there are many people who have moved out of town and heard about the memorial.

“It’s something where you want to honor as many requests as you possibly can,” Hecimovich said.

People will be able to view the pavers on Memorial Day when an 8 a.m. service is held at the monument.

Future

While the final plan calls for 1,056 pavers, Hecimovich said there may one day be room to expand the memorial.

When working on similar projects in the past, Anderson said many people want to purchase pavers after they see some installed. So Anderson said there’s room to expend beyond 1,056, especially since there are ongoing wars.

Along with installing the pavers, Anderson said there is other work to be done at the memorial. A few more names need to be etched into the existing memorial, and they need to fix a sun dial that was vandalized.

Once 600 pavers are sold and installed, Hecimovich said committee members plan to start a fund to maintain the veteran’s memorial and keep it looking good. Anderson said they’re hoping to install new pavers about once a year.

Thermometer signs to track the progress of the paver sales will soon be put up outside the courthouse, Anderson said. He also said there are some community fundraiser projects currently being planned.

For more information about pavers or to purchase one, call (507) 437-3636.