Veterans Memorial Park Donations Near $100,000; Groundbreaking Could Start In Spring

Members of the Whitehouse Post 384 American Legion Riders donated $1,355 to Destination Whitehouse, the nonprofit organization raising funds for the Veterans Memorial Park in Whitehouse. With the donation, funding has reached over $97,000, and construction could begin in the spring. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With nearly $100,000 raised and bids expected by January, a groundbreaking at Veterans Memorial Park in Whitehouse should happen this spring.
When complete, the park will honor Anthony Wayne-area military personnel, veterans and those killed in action, as well as first responders, said Louann Artiaga. She is a founding member of Destination Whitehouse, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for the new park.
The fundraising was kicked off in 2016 with a $15,000 donation from the Pythian Sisters, an organization to which Artiaga belongs.
“I’m an Air Force brat,” Artiaga said. “So this means a lot to me.”
Last week, Artiaga and fellow Destination Whitehouse members Rob Casaletta, Jeff Baker, Dave Prueter, Leroy Ryerson and Mayor Don Atkinson met with White-house Post 384 American Legion Riders who donated $1,355 from a poker run held in July.
“We had 50 riders who rode 120 miles on wet roads and through the rain,” said ALR member Tony Gonzalez. “We had a lot of fun and it was for a good cause.”
Throughout the Anthony Wayne community, fundraisers of all sizes have supported the park effort.
In August, Third Street Cigar hosted local band Oliver Hazard, bringing in $11,000. The Veterans Service Commission donated $5,000 as a result of the event. The Sertoma Club held a wild game dinner that raised $5,000. Recently, the village secured a $5,000 Nature-Works grant.
Anthony Wayne Local Schools teachers and students have raised over $6,000. On Tuesday, November 13 at 7:00 p.m., Anthony Wayne High School will recognize area veterans, share information about the Veterans Memorial Park initiative and collect donations for the park.
The second annual Freezin’ for a Reason event – in which participants pay to jump into the icy waters of the small quarry for a chance to win prizes – is slated for Saturday, January 12. In addition to the frigid dip, the Veterans Memorial Park fundraiser will include a 5K, bike race and cardboard sled races.
The funds will go a long way toward reducing the total cost of the park, which will be determined soon.
The Edge Group was hired by the village in 2016 to create the designs, and engineers’ estimates set the cost at $250,000, said administrator Jordan Daugherty. The few bids received this summer, however, were much higher than expected. Daugherty believes that already busy construction firms didn’t have time to bid, and those that did bid high.
The Edge Group made some revisions to the design, including scaling down a fountain and a shelter house in the quarter-acre park. Council approved pairing the park’s alternate plan with the 2018 and 2019 downtown streetscaping projects to make a much larger bid package that will be sent out by the end of the year. Daugherty believes that the larger scale bid package will attract increased interest, resulting in more competitive bids.
As the park progresses, engraved bricks will be available for sale for those who want to honor veterans, military personnel and first responders.
One piece that’s a point of pride for Destination Whitehouse members is the educational aspect. Casaletta referred to plaques that will explain the history of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, as well as information on each of the nation’s major armed conflicts. The schools plan to utilize the park as a way to share the history of those who served.
So far, the group has identified 20 Anthony Wayne-area men and women who died in armed conflicts. Casaletta is in contact with state officials to find out whether other area veterans were killed in action and laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Normandy or elsewhere.
“We want kids to learn and understand the sacrifices that these people made,” Atkinson said.
Recognizing first responders is not typical for a memorial, but is a way to acknowledge their sacrifices, Casaletta said.
“Most of us understand what deployment means for military personnel, but for police and fire, every time they hear that siren, they’re being deployed and laying their lives on the line,” he said.
The park will draw visitors from all over, Atkinson said.
“People who are vets might come here as a destination, but others might just come to sit and eat an ice cream cone,” Atkinson said. “It’s not just an excellent veterans memorial park, but it’s a place where people can sit and hang out. It will be a beautiful venue that will enhance the heart of downtown.”
“I hope that as people drive past it will cause them to think about those who served our country,” Ryerson added.

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