Area veterans already inquiring about future burials at Fillmore County cemetery

Published 10:31 am Friday, November 1, 2013

This land along Highway 52 near Preston will be the site of a new, 169-acre state veterans cemetery. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Nov. 8. -- Photo provided

This land along Highway 52 near Preston will be the site of a new, 169-acre state veterans cemetery. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Nov. 8. — Photo provided

Area veterans will soon have another option for their final resting place, and this one is a lot closer.

A new state veterans cemetery is under construction in Preston, in Fillmore County.

Area veterans and officials are happy and excited. They say the cemetery is necessary, and the veterans it will one day honor are deserving.

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Rollie Hanson, American Legion Post 91 commander in Austin, has heard about the new cemetery, along with plenty of other area veterans. He has already heard from veterans who want to be buried there after they die. The cemetery may not be the ultimate honor, but it’s significant.

“It’s just a good deal for us,” Hanson said. “I don’t see how we can go wrong with it.”

Hanson mentioned Fort Snelling National Cemetery is filling up quickly, and friends and area relatives have to travel long distance to visit it. Furthermore, the state veterans cemetery in Little Falls, Minn., was previously the only Minnesota state veterans cemetery. The new cemetery will be the burial site for many veterans from southeastern Minnesota, northern Iowa and western Wisconsin.

The project is the result of cooperation on several government levels: Fillmore County, the state of Minnesota and the federal government. The 169-acre site was donated by Fillmore County and is located just off Highway 52 in Preston.

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery had been eying a site in southeastern Minnesota since 2007, said Director David Swantek. Recently, the final puzzle piece was placed. In early October, MDVA received approval on a $10-million construction grant from the Federal Cemetery Administration for the project.

“Those three entities working together is what really made this project happen in a fairly timely fashion,” Swantek.

Swantek has toured the site — among Preston’s green, rolling hills — and says it has the potential to be one of the most beautiful veterans cemeteries in the nation. Now local veterans are wondering how they go about being buried there.

“We get questions all the time about that,” said Wayne Madson, Mower County Veterans Services director.

According to Swantek, county veterans services are a good contact point for those inquiring. People may also contact the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls. Madson said funeral homes can also help with arrangements.

The project itself has a way to go, though. It will be built in 10-year phases, which could actually go much quicker. Phase 1 will develop about 28 acres and include burials sites for roughly 3,500 veterans, a main entrance, cortege assembly area, administration building, maintenance facility, roads, assembly area, committal shelter, pre-placed crypts, cremation burial areas, columbarium, landscaping and a memorial walk.

Olympic Builders General Contractors, Inc. was awarded the construction grant. The overall project budget is $10.1 million, with construction costs of $8.2 million. Design work has been led by Stantec, an engineering and design firm in St. Paul. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site on Nov. 8. Madson is among the many who are excited to see it. He’s proud of the accomplishment.

“I think it’s just fantastic that during the time we’re going through right now that they did look at this and they did fund it,” he said.