With war memorials rising all over the area in a sour economy, cities scramble to raise money before the pool dries up.
Spurred by patriotism nurtured in long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the inevitable passing of the World War II generation, veterans memorials are being built all over the metro area, even as cities and residents are strapped for cash.
Eden Prairie and Eagan have finished their memorials. Edina is planning one, and Cottage Grove, Rosemount, Woodbury and Oakdale are working to complete or pay for veterans projects. Richfield just put its memorial on the fast track, worried that other memorials could dry up donations.
Supporters of the memorials say the impetus usually came from residents who wanted to acknowledge military service as they watched family, friends and neighbors go off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's hitting home that there's a lot of sacrifices being made," said Dan Schultz, Rosemount parks and recreation director. "These are people you see at church, in the grocery store. ... We want to support the residents who are military folks."
For four years, Richfield has been plugging away at building a veterans memorial, spending money on the project as donations came in to avoid debt. But last week, the City Council hurried the project along, voting to spend $290,000 to finish it.
"A number of other cities are doing memorials and gaining steam," city manager Steve Devich told the council, urging them to approve the funding.
The monument in Richfield, which is meant to be the centerpiece of the city's Veterans Memorial Park, had been relying on donations and payments of $400 to engrave a veteran's name on the site's granite slabs.
Devich said with so many other memorials in the works, it would be difficult to compete for donations without a more complete monument to show donors.
"I thought ours was at least as nice or nicer than those," he told the council. "But at the rate we were going, it's very hard to envision the entire monument if we wait to get all the engravings done."
In Eagan, it was simply the right time for a memorial, said volunteer Margo Danner, who worked on a $150,000 memorial in that city's Central Park that pays tribute to veterans, city police and firefighters. "It was the one piece of our city that we didn't have."
But paying for memorials isn't easy during a recession. Rosemount volunteers are still raising money for a partly finished Veterans Memorial Walk. A Woodbury group that built a $400,000 memorial still owes the city about $200,000 from a 2008 loan. In Oakdale, a group wanted to raise $99,000 for a memorial at City Hall, but fundraising has lagged and organizers said last month that next year they will ask the state for $50,000 for the project.
Mike Ash, former state historian for the American Legion, said even the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., took years to raise the money it needed. Passion for funding memorials ebbs and flows with events, he said.
"It's not that people don't give," he said. "Money comes in for awhile and then it slows to a crawl. ... They cost so darn much money."
'No fun in fundraising'
Eagan's project was awarded $100,000 in state bonding money a few years ago, but the Eagan American Legion and the Eagan Lioness Club had to raise $50,000 to finish the memorial with three bronze statues, flags and a couple of benches. Donors were recognized with engraved paver stones.
The scramble for money is almost over, Danner said with a sigh.
"There's no fun in fundraising," she said. "With the economy the way it is, it's tough going out there. We sent a lot of letters and mailings out to businesses and individuals and worked with a lot of people.
"We're looking for maybe another $1,000 to finish off, and then we're done."
Rosemount's memorial walk has been built in phases as money came in, Schultz said. The project, which began in 2009 and received no city funding, turned part of a park trail into a memorial, lining it with pavers engraved with veterans' names. There are signs and flags for each branch of the military, and volunteers are raising money to add a seating area.
Schultz said the project has strong support, but people are hurting financially and the competition from different charities for donations makes fundraising difficult. Pulltab operations that once gave six-figure amounts to groups each year give considerably less these days, he said.
In Edina, the city capped its financial support for a memorial in Utley Park at $30,000. The project will not cost more than $400,000. Schematics call for a plaza flanked by flags and, at one end, a bronze eagle with spread wings clutching a wreath of peace. A marker will bear the names of 32 former city residents who were killed in action.
"The only names [on site] will be of those who made the ultimate sacrifice," said John Keprios, city parks and recreation director.
The names of significant donors may be marked on benches on the site, but donors will not be able to pay to have their name or the name of a veteran engraved on a paver or marker. Keprios said he's confident Edina's volunteer committee can raise the funds without that incentive.
"I'm optimistic," he said. "These gentlemen are passionate."
Richfield's memorial features a bronze statue of Chuck Lindberg, a resident who helped raise the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. Five black granite tablets bear the names of 555 veterans, including people who just enrolled in the service and a solider who served in the Revolutionary War. Next spring, six 15-foot columns saluting each branch of the military will be added, the statue's pedestal will be finished with granite veneer and story boards about the memorial and Iwo Jima will be added.
Forty to 50 percent of the engraved names on the site are of veterans from outside the city, said Jim Topitzhofer, city parks and recreation director. With a sidewalk leading through the park to an American Legion post and Fort Snelling National Cemetery a short drive away, city leaders consider the monument a tourist attraction.
Topitzhofer believes the city loan, which came from a fund created when the city was paid for the loss of its golf course to airport expansion, will be paid back within six to eight years.
"The joy of it is that the monument will be completed now," he said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380