Veterans memorial gets its 1,000th paver

Published 10:31 am Thursday, April 2, 2015

Norm Hecimovich bought the first two black granite pavers for the Austin Veterans Memorial.

On Wednesday, Norman and Donna Schieck and their three children bought the 1,000th paver for Norman’s brother, Donald, a World War II veteran who passed away last month.

For the Schieck=s, it was a great way to honor Donald’s memory and his service in the U.S. Navy.

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“It’s kind of nice that Donnie could be that person,” Donna said of this being the 1,000th paver.

For the Austin community, Hecimovich said the 1,000th paver is a positive, telling milestone.

“It just shows that there are a lot of patriotic people in Austin that support veterans and family,” said Hecimovich, president of the Veterans of Memorial Committee and an active Austin veteran.

The Veterans Memorial started in the early 1990s with a memorial wall that honors all the Mower County veterans who lost their lives in U.S. wars. But Hecimovich wanted something to honor all veterans, including those who served and returned home.

Hecimovich and other veterans got to work on the paver project.

At first, Hecimovich thought 1,056 was a big goal to reach, and it shows Austin’s dedication to veterans. At $300 a paver, 1,000 pavers represents a $300,000 investment from the community.

“It’s really been a great project, and it just shows that Austin is patriotic,” Hecimovich said.

Along with help from the public, the Austin Area Foundation has helped the committee by handling the fiduciary and administrative planning. Foundation Chairman Mike Ruzek is proud of the project and the community support.

“I think people have really embraced the opportunity to honor veterans in this way,” Ruzek said. “Families have done this for Father’s Day or a birthday or maybe a Christmas.”

With 1,000 pavers, the project is closing in its goal of 1,056 pavers for the project’s first phase.

“We’ve got 56 more to go,” Hecimovich said.

The pavers can represent any veteran with a local tie, whether they’re alive or dead, for any branch of the military.

The pavers recognize veterans dating back to the Civil War. The veterans don’t have to be from Mower County, as many people have bought pavers to recognize a relative’s service. Ruzek bought one to honor his father-in-law, who was from Illinois.

“We’ve had quite a few pavers for people who had no connections in this area, but they wanted to make sure that a loved one had their name someplace recognizing his service,” Ruzek said.

In more than 40 years working with community projects, Hecimovich said this is the one he’s never heard anyone utter a bad word about. Ruzek agreed.

“It’s been wonderful,” Ruzek said.

Since its inception, Ruzek estimated more than $190,000 in other improvements have been made to the site, including the additions of a bronze eagle sculpture and a bust of two soldiers has been added to the memorial.

The next batch of pavers is being processed before Anderson Memorials — which designed and built the memorial — engraves and installs them.

To Hecimoch, 1,056 pavers is a goal, not the end of the project. His goal is for there to always be additional room to expand and honor more veterans.

“We can never turn a veteran down,” he said.

Ruzek also said leaders are open to expanding.

At some point, veterans and area leaders will recognize the progress on the pavers. However, Hecimovich said it likely won’t be over Memorial Day, because the morning ceremonies are busy with a tight schedule.

But the pavers are never far from sight on patriotic holidays. The memorial is now the site where Memorial Day, Flag Day, Patriot’s Day and Veterans Day services are held.

“It’s one of Austin’s pride and joys,” Hecimovich said.