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Their memories will live on

If you walk, bike or drive by the cemetery on East Division Street, you can't miss it. Thanks to plenty of donated labor and materials, work on the Veterans Memorial is going full bore.

The aim is to dedicate the site that pays tribute to military service veterans next Memorial Day. A ceremonial groundbreaking is planned for later in the month.

"We know this is an aggressive campaign to get it done, but we're on target and that's because we have a lot of support," said Neil Anderson, local architect and the memorial's designer.

Anderson said there's an urgency to finish.

"We have a lot of old World War II- and Korean-era veterans, and we would like to see them recognized and be able to experience this memorial while they're still here," he said.

Veterans Memorial organizers invite the public to watch the structure take shape this summer and fall. The work, at the front and center of Greenwood Cemetery, is easy to see from the sidewalk and street.

"It's going to be a beautiful place," said Bernie Abrahamson, former River Falls School District superintendent and key organizer. "Anyone should feel welcome to observe the construction."

Added Anderson: "This is the community's memorial, too. People may find it interesting to come and see how its beginning to take form.

The Veterans Memorial will have a semi-circle limestone wall that represents arms enclosing and protecting those who enter; six upright stone markers representing sentinels standing guard; a special large stone that list names of veterans killed in action; six service flags for each service branch -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard; an MIA/POW flag set apart as a reminder of those who never returned from war; and landscaping, including a garden, that symbolizes life and rebirth each spring.

The construction kickoff last month was made possible by "in-kind contributions" from these local individuals and firms: Dick Godden, Godden's Excavating; Neil Anderson, Anderson Architectural Service; Howard Halverson, Halverson Concrete; Dave Chadima (Prescott) for landscape rock; Louis Filkins, Ogden Engineering for surveying and civil engineering; Jon Schmenk, Gill Design, for engineer drawing; and Dave Wagner, AM Structural Engineering.

Even with these heavy-hitting donors, tens of thousands of dollars are still needed to complete the work.

The biggest financial source will come from the sale of granite pavers -- inscribed with names and service dates of living and dead veterans. They will line both sides of the memorial's pathway.

So far nearly 100 such pavers at $350 apiece have been bought. Organizer Ed Miller said that's a decent start but the goal is to sell at least 500 by Nov. 1.

Some paver buyers have been anonymous. Others have bought them as gifts. One family paid for eight pavers while other buyers with River Falls connections have come from as far away as California.

The paver purchases show the historical range of military service: One is for a Union Army veteran from the Civil War; another is for an Army veteran of the Spanish-American War.

Pavers can also be bought for living veterans, including those now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veteran Memorial displays are set up at most local banks. More display tables will appear soon at EconoFoods and Dick's Fresh Market. Visitors at any of these sites can sign up to buy a commemorative paver.

Larger commemorative purchases are also possible: Donating for a Sentinel Stone, $15,000; donating for a bench, $3,000; a service flag pole and flag, $2,000; MIA/KIA flag pole and flag, $2,500; American flag pole and flag, $4,000; landscaping trees, $400 apiece; and $15,000 for the memorial (healing) garden.

These various purchasers will be named or have someone they wish recognized listed by engraving or placement on a plaque.

If you can't afford a paver or the other pricey commemorative purchases, memorial organizers say to simply send a check for whatever amount. All donations and commemorative purchases are tax deductible.

Make checks payable to River Falls Veterans Memorial Fund/552 N. Falls St./River Falls/WI/54022.

"We're still very much in need and would appreciate any kind of smaller contribution," Abrahamson said.

Miller said that while much money remains to be collected, the initial drive to launch the Veterans Memorial project was positive.

"The people of River Falls have stepped right up," he said. "But we can only go as fast as the money that's coming in."

To follow the progress of the Veterans Memorial, go online to this newly created Web site at Paver orders can also be made from a link on this Web site.

Anderson, the memorial's designer, said the fun part is watching the construction stages.

"By the end of October, all key features should be in place," he said. "You can see something rising from the ground now, so it's gone from being a dream to a tangible reality."

Organizers have said that besides being a tribute to service veterans, they want the memorial to have wide community support and for the site to exist as a "solemn place of reflection."

The cost is $350 each and should be ordered by the end of this summer for placement next spring. Contact Ed Miller at 425-6606 for information on purchasing paver stones.