Paving out the future; Veterans Memorial Committee plans for future space care

Published 10:27 am Thursday, August 4, 2016

About a year after reaching its initial goal of selling 1,056 pavers, Mower County Veterans Memorial Committee leaders are looking at ways to secure the memorial’s future.

“The veteran memorial is something that we want as a showplace and a legacy for veterans, that’s the most important [thing],” said Norm Hecimovich, president of the Veterans Memorial Committee and an active Austin veteran.

As committee members have taken steps to plan for space to expand, they’ve also taken steps to ensure future upkeep of the site and are now offering ways for people the bring a little piece of the memorial home.

Room to expand

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Last July, the veterans memorial committee surpassed its initial goal of selling 1,056 pavers and currently sits around 1,115 pavers sold.

Under the memorial’s current design, committee members recently learned they can actually fit 1,156 pavers, not 1,056.

Though the memorial is nearing its initial capacity, committee members are confident they’ll never turn anyone away, and they have plans for additional places to expand the memorial at its site on the lawn of the Mower County Government Center, 201 First St. NE.

“We feel very strong that it’s a legacy and it’s a showplace that we want to show people,” Hecimovich said.

As the memorial has nears its current capacity, Hecimovich, committee member Mike Ruzek and the rest of the committee have looked to the future.

“We’ve had to have other discussions regarding: Well, what are we going to do?” Ruzek said.

Ruzek promised they have plans for expansion and have thought beyond their current space; however, committee members won’t officially go to the county, which owns government center lawn, to seek additional space until they have to and have sold enough pavers.

Ruzek and committee members have identified areas where they could go five or six pavers deep instead of four, which may open space to another 300 to 400 more pavers.

In time, the committee could look to expand south of the memorial.

“That would be the logical place,” Ruzek said.

Ruzek said they could also potentially expand on the other side of the sidewalk to the east of the memorial too.

One thing is for sure: The committee is happy with its location at the Mower County Government Center.

“We’re probably in one of the best locations you could possibly get,” Hecimovich said. “It’s in the center of town.”

People might start seeing more pavers downtown at the Veteran’s Memorial as plans to expand are starting to move forward.

People might start seeing more pavers downtown at the Veteran’s Memorial as plans to expand are starting to move forward.

Long-term care

Along with space for the future, the committee sought the help of the Austin Area Foundation to ensure the memorial is maintained by setting up a perpetual care fund.

“I guess the purpose is to keep it looking very nice,” Ruzek said.

The committee took money from its operating budget about a year ago to create the Mower County Veterans Memorial Perpetual Care Fund. Then it added to the fund to take advantage of a Hormel Foundation grant to add $2,000 to any $4,000 put into a fund.

Now, the perpetual care fund is estimated to generate a little over $1,800 a year for perpetual care. The care will replace flags, deal with weeds, pruning the trees, replacing shrubs, plantings and other basic care.

“It is a showcase for the legacy of veterans,” Hecimovich said. “And it’s so important that we continue to maintain that place, make it look very presentable.”

Hecimovich added the city is expected to welcome more and more visitors with the new Spam Museum, and he noted the memorial is just a few blocks away.

As the veteran committee members get older, Ruzek said the Austin Area Foundation, which will host the endowment fund, will carry forward the vision put into motion since the beginning of the committee.

The committees connection with the Austin Area Foundation has proven beneficial in other ways too, as Ruzek said it’s saved the committee thousands through tax exemptions and other planning.

Taking the memorial home

Though the memorial is a fixture in downtown Austin, Ruzek and Hecimovich are now proud the committee can offer residents a chance to take a piece of the Mower County Veterans Memorial home.

The committee worked with Mike Bibus of Bibus Photography to sell personalized collages of the memorial.

The photos feature a collage with a picture of the memorial surrounded by smaller pictures of parts of the memorial. Each collage can be customized to include a photograph of a friend or loved one’s paver.

“We now have something where the memorial can be brought into the home in a very special way,” Ruzek said.

A 16-by-20-inch collage costs $129 plus tax with a frame available for $50, and a 20-by-24-inch collage costs $179 plus tax with an option for a $70 frame.

A portion of the proceeds from each picture sold will go back to the committee.

Hecimovich was pleased the collage includes one overall picture of the memorial and several closeup photos of different aspects of the memorial.

“Not only is it neat, but it’s personal too,” Hecimovich said.

Bibus started selling the prints last fall and said he’d gotten a good response, though word hasn’t circulated widely about their availability. The memorial committee is looking to change that by sending out fliers and more widely publicizing their availability.

Bibus, a veteran, has enjoyed working on the project and is pleased for the prints to get out to more veterans of family of relatives who’ve served.

“It’s kind of a neat thing to show your friends and relatives,” he said.

Bibus can be reached at 507-433-1212, 507-440-1878 or

A collage of the Veterans Memorial hangs at the Austin VFW Post 1216. People can now buy and take home the Veterans Memorial.

A collage of the Veterans Memorial hangs at the Austin VFW Post 1216. People can now buy and take home the Veterans Memorial.

It ‘will be here forever’

Work on 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 and others wanted something to honor all veterans, including those who served and returned home.

Hecimovich described the veterans memorial as a legacy for the Austin community and a vital way to recognize those who died for their country and those who served their country and those shoe came home.

Hecimovich thought 1,056 was a big — if not impossible — goal to reach.

Hecimovich said many people had a “show me” attitude and didn’t want to get involved until they knew it was going to work. The group started slow — Hecimovich bought the first two pavers to get the project underway, and the first pavers were installed in 2010. But Ruzek praised Hecimovich for his approach best summarized by a line he spoke at most committee meetings: “Failure isn’t an option.”

“This committee stuck with it,” Ruzek said.

At $300 a paver, 1,115 pavers represents a $334,500 investment from the community.

The committee members see the memorial as a source of community pride, as pavers recognize veterans dating back to the Civil War. Hecimovich recalled one woman telling him about her father who visited the memorial every day.

“It’s a history of people who were dedicated and loyal and in many cases gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Ruzek said.

Ruzek reminded that people don’t have to be from Mower County to be a part of the memorial, as he bought a paver for his father-in-law, who lived in Illinois, for his wife. Pavers can be bought for veterans both living and deceased.

Ruzek and Hecimovich talked about one day coming up with a way to help people find pavers in the memorial, whether it’s a website and QR codes to help find pavers. At one point, a kiosk guiding to pavers near was discussed, but that’s unlikely now due to space restorations to make room for additional pavers.

Today, veteran groups hold Memorial Day and Patriot Day programs at the memorials, and Hecimovich said they have adequate space for those programs.

“It’s well worth it,” Hecimovich said of the memorial. “It’s something that will be here for forever.”