Broad Stripes and Bright Stars Wave Again over Veterans Memorial Building
By Michael McAllister
In a short but dignified service at 1:00 p.m. on Independence Day 2018, Grinnell veterans brought the Stars and Stripes back to the Veterans Memorial Building in the northwest corner of Central Park.
Between 60 and 70 people attended as Randy Hotchkin (below), a member of the Veterans Memorial Commission, conducted the ceremonies. He began by thanking all those in the audience for coming to the event.
He also thanked Grinnellians for their turnout at the levy vote this past November—whether for or against the levy. “We doubled the best turnout we’ve had in a city election in 10 years,” he stressed.
Because the levy passed, Hotchkin assured the audience that “Every penny of those tax dollars … from that levy [will be] used wisely.”
He went on to remind attendees of the plans to convert the building into the Prairie Star Artist Residency, a program that will favor veterans in a variety of ways and that has the potential to become an institution unique in the nation. Behind-the-scenes fundraising work is underway now, Hotchkin advised, and plans call for a formal campaign to begin in November.
Next, Hotchkin introduced Mayor Dan Agnew. Because plans called for the ceremony to be brief, Hotchkin joked, he had asked the mayor to refrain from speaking.
Hotchkin also introduced Third Ward City Council Representative Rachel Bly.
Prior to the flag raising, Ron Davis (right below) of American Legion Post 53 recognized Isadore Berman for 75 continuous years of service to the Legion.
Hotchkin noted that Berman landed at Normandy during World War II. While not part of the initial invasion force, his landing two months later placed him on historic ground.
For his part, Berman was modest. He said he owes his 75 years in the American Legion to good recordkeeping—that is, someone always reminded him to pay his dues.
At the close of the Berman presentation, Hotchkin asked those in attendance to stand as the flag ascended. Bugler Randy Carlson played “To the Colors.” All present joined in the Pledge of Allegiance.
There was once a time when no flagpole stood at the site of the Veterans Memorial Building. Grinnell’s 2013 application for an increase in the boundaries of the town’s historical district includes the following observation: “A very Telescoping Flag pole was always a noted feature in the northwest corner of the park until the Veteran’s building replaced it. The flagpole was always associated with Armistice / Veteran’s Day observances and other community events.”
In any case, a flagpole stood in Central Park in 1966, as the picture to the right attests. The image comes from Digital Grinnell under the classification “Historic Iowa Postcards Collection.” It is attributed to the Ivan Sheets collection and is titled “The flag pole in Central Park in Grinnell 7-66.”
Citizens of Grinnell approved the creation of a building as a memorial to veterans in 1944. Construction did not begin, however, until 1958. “Problems with site costs and uses delayed construction,” reads the National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet.
The document lists the Chamber of Commerce as the first occupant of the building, effective August 1, 1959. The building’s open house took place on November 30 that year.
In the spring of 2010, a roof leak necessitated cleanup efforts, leading to the discovery of some asbestos in building materials and the involvement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Concern about the safety of people within the building intensified.
The issue brought on a special meeting of the Veterans Memorial Commission on June 8. The minutes of that meeting read, “Elliott made the motion, second by Adkins to order the evacuation as soon as possible of the Veteran’s Memorial Commission building due to the OSHA asbestos exposure until further assessment of the costs, damages and the long term objective for the building can be determined for the safety of the employees and the public. AYES: 3-0. Motion carried.”
The future of the building lay in doubt then and does so to this day. Despite the positive levy vote last November, the transformation of the building to the Prairie Star Artist Residency depends upon the success of fundraising efforts to come.
What is not in doubt, however, is that the Stars and Stripes once again wave fittingly and proudly above the Veterans Memorial Building.