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After long wait, Farmington Area Veterans Memorial nears reality

It's hard to tell who will take the most satisfaction as they lift shovels full of soil from the ground Friday and ceremonially begin construction on a veterans' memorial for Farmington. It's been more than eight years since a small committee started work on the memorial.

Come Friday, just about 2 p.m., those committee members, along with city of Farmington staff and officials, will officially break ground.

To be constructed on the west side of Rambling River Park, near the tennis courts, the memorial has been a long time in the making. Farmington parks and recreation director Randy Distad has emails regarding a proposed memorial dating back as far as April, 2004.

The proposal for a veterans memorial was initially driven by VFW member Howard Miller, now deceased, and VFW commander Ron Ersfeld, and his wife, Bev, who acts as secretary for the Farmington Area Veterans Memorial Committee. The meetings in 2004 were the latest in attempts to develop some kind of memorial to acknowledge the veterans of the community. Other attempts date back to the early 1900s. For whatever reason, though, a memorial never came together. Several were close -- even a few sites were chosen -- but the memorial plans eventually fell through.

For a time, it may have seemed like the most recent attempt wouldn't succeed, either.

"There were several attempts to get it started. There would be meetings, then it would wane. There was general discussion for a long time. People had ideas but nobody was really able to draw up a concept plan," Distad said.

That is, until former city council member Leon Orr stepped forward to get involved. Orr helped spearhead the original Farmington Senior Center project nearly three decades ago. He played an integral part in the design of the current Farmington Lutheran Church. And when he got involved with the memorial plans, Distad said, things just seemed to come together.

"I think with the original committee, a memorial was such a big, broad idea. It took Leon to boil it down and really come up with a plan," Distad said.

The other problem, Distad said, was location. The committee considered several spots for the memorial in earlier years. At one point, it was proposed next to the Vermillion River in Rambling River Park on Elm Street. Another site was near the river by the Spruce Street bridge on Denmark Avenue. Finally, the committee was able to lock in the current site, also at Rambling River Park, but in a location that offers more visibility as drivers head into downtown.

Breaking ground

The public is invited to the groundbreaking ceremony, which will be held at 2 p.m., Friday, July 20, at the site in Rambling River Park. It's an event everyone who is involved is looking forward to.

"After seven years of working on it, I would say I'm tickled that it's going to be completed," Distad said.

"It's the day we've been waiting for a long, long time," Bev Ersfeld added.

The memorial is being funded primarily by donations, both financial and in-kind. The committee has raised enough money to construct the first phase, and they are still accepting donations to pay for subsequent phases.

One the ground is officially broken, the project is ready to start, Orr said. A local contractor has offered to do the excavating of the site. That work is expected to begin within the next two weeks.

To date, Orr said, 140 pavers have been sold for the project. The pavers will line the pathway around the memorial, and each will be etched with the names of veterans.

Construction will continue through the fall. Committee members hope to have the memorial ready for a dedication ceremony for Memorial Day, 2013.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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