Fundraising campaign underway
One day George Duren and Rodney Herring were discussing veterans and the way communities choose to honor their service and sacrifice.
Each had visited a memorial to veterans in Abbeville, AL and monuments in a couple of other locations.
They talked of how appropriate it would be to build a memorial in Gulf County and pondered costs.
Duren and Herring figured six figures would only be a start and Herring, Duren said, was not overly optimistic about raising that amount of money locally.
“We won’t know until we start and try,” Duren said. “Our hearts came into it as soon as we started.”
The effort took a formal glaze last week as county officials turned shovels and dirt in breaking ground on an “Honor Walk” to be constructed on the bluff overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in Veterans Memorial Park in Beacon Hill.
The turning of dirt was also meant as a turning of the page on a fundraising campaign, seeking $300,000 to construct the “Honor Walk.”
The goal is not only a local memorial to veterans, but a regional tribute to those who have sacrificed in service to their country.
“We want people to drive by on (U.S. 98) and look up and say Gulf County respects it veterans … that Gulf County is a patriotic community,” Duren said.
“Our veterans deserve to be recognized. We gain momentum and gather all the money we need right here.”
The Board of County Commissioners approved the tentative plans for the “Honor Walk” last summer and established a citizens committee to spearhead finalizing the plans and raising funds.
Duren said the plans have undergone a few tweaks, but remain generally true to the original layout.
“The goal is $300,000 and with the money we have and the commitments we are well on our way,” said Joe Paul, county Veterans Services Officer and a member of the committee.
Two of the first major donors were Drs. Rachel Bixler and Joshua James, who donated $10,000, making them the first “Platinum Level Partners” for the project.
“We figured $300,000 would be needed to do it right and that is the only way we are going to do it,” Duren said.
Duren added that commitments, though not yet cash in the bank, would take fundraising into six figures and the campaign is just getting into full swing with the ground-breaking.
A major expense will be the proposal to bury underground the power lines that run above U.S. 98 across the front of the park.
Duke Energy, with the assistance of the county, will be dropping and burying the lines at a cost of $55,000, Paul said.
The “Honor Walk” would fill an 80-foot-by-140-foot area between the park’s new amphitheater and the highway along the bluff.
The walk would be anchored by an American flag on a pole of 70-80 feet within a pentagon, the American flag surrounded by flag poles and flags honoring the branches of the military.
At each point of the pentagon around the American flag would be five 8-foot-by-3-foot monuments for each branch of the military, each inscribed with the Gulf County veterans who “paid the ultimate sacrifice,” in battle.
There will be seating behind the flags and several areas for quiet reflection and brick and concrete walkways thread through the memorial.
The entire area would be surrounded by a 4-foot high fence with pillars spaced along the length of the fence.
The walkways will extend 20 feet from the center of a monument in opposite directions.
Commemorative paver bricks purchased for the walkways, inside the center circle of the memorial and along both outer circles, will be engraved in the honor of or in memory of individual veterans.
“The Honor Walk will complete the recognition of veterans in this park, recognition which is well-deserved,” Duren said. “This will help remind everyone our freedoms have been willingly paid by our veterans.”
The “Honor Walk” committee, a non-profit organization, is comprised of George Duren, Ralph Rish, Rodney Herring, Joe Paul, Rick Lamberson, Jessica Susich and Brian Cahill.
The conceptual schematics were drafted by Dewberry|Preble Rish to allow the committee to pursue available grants to fund the work of creating the memorial.
There are several fundraiser options available and all donations are tax-deductible. To learn more go to: http://www.VeteransParkHonorWalk.org.