Stepping up but stymied:
One veteran seeks to serve again
By Michael McAllister
Service to country and community can take many forms. Most of the time, we are more than willing to let those who wish to serve do so. In Grinnell, however, in at least one instance, a request to serve seems to have been consigned to limbo.
For Randy Hotchkin of Grinnell, service came early. He joined the Air Force on a delayed-entry program while still in high school and shipped out shortly after graduating in 1987.
Four years later, he left the Air Force and completed college, but he returned to the service and logged a total of 26 years of active and reserve duty, filling various roles as a medic, an instructor, and a recruiter.
He is proud of attaining the rank of Master Sergeant.
Now he resides in Grinnell and owns RJ’s Barber Shop at 929 Main Street. But he feels he has more to give, and to that end he has volunteered to fill a vacancy on the Veterans Commission. However, no action has been taken by Mayor Gordon Canfield on that request.
Hotchkin detailed the situation in a Letter to the Editor published in the October 24 edition of The Grinnell Herald-Register. In the letter, he summarized his Grinnell background and years of military service. He explained that his bid to become a commission member has been acknowledged by and has resulted in email communications and an hour-long session with Mayor Canfield, but “the mayor has recently informed me” that he will delay a decision until March. Hotchkin pointed out that in March two other commission members’ terms will expire.
The Veterans Commission exists to manage, within parameters, the Veteran Memorial Building at 834 Broad Street. Having grown up in Grinnell, Hotchkin has specific memories of the building’s use in the 1970s and 80s. He recalls a DMV office, homecoming rallies, people voting at the building and “a lot of family reunions.”
The building, he continues, “never really did have a big veterans memorial presence,” but it did serve the community, and he envisions “something much more…impressive” in the future.
To establish a museum quality to a section of the building, Hotchkin imagines rotating exhibits featuring the stories of individual veterans and displays of memorabilia. The building could also be an asset as a meeting place for area American Legions and VFW clubs. Having been a recruiter, Hotchkin sees the building as a site at which military recruiters from all branches could meet with area youth interested in military service. In addition, the VMB could support Central Park activities and local fundraising events.
Not that there isn’t work to be done. Approximately two years ago, Hotchkin toured the Veteran Memorial Building and concluded that it was “too far gone.” But since then he has revised his vision and considered the potential that the building could hold for the future.
Then, too, there is the past. Grinnell’s Veteran Memorial Building presents different meanings to different people. Emotional bonds to symbols can be potent. No veteran, Hotchkin state, seeks the building restoration for him- or herself. In his own case, when he thinks about the continued existence of the building in Grinnell, he thinks about his father.
Hotchkin’s father served in Vietnam in the mid-1960s; when he returned and for the rest of his life, he suffered from PTSD. He endured nightmares constantly and was a disabled veteran. Such stories are the stuff of which memorials are made.
According to Hotchkin, Mayor Canfield feels no urgency to appoint a member to fill the vacancy on the commission because the commission, until the election of November 2017, has little to do. Hotchkin differs. He feels that now, in the interim before the November 2017 levy issue goes to ballot, is the time for the commission to marshal its plans for the decision. If the levy is approved, it will be time to “rock ‘n’ roll” with the building. If the levy is not approved—an outcome Hotchkin is perfectly willing to accept–, it will time to plan a different memorial, assuming that the northwest corner of Central Park “will always be for veterans.“ “I will respect and honor whatever happens with that tax levy,” he states.
Hotchkin is supportive of recent city initiatives—the park, the hotel, the downtown facades. The city, he comments, “has done a lot of great things,” but he wonders why the Veteran Memorial Building seems to be the stopping point.
The last appointment to the commission came quickly, Hotchkin notes, whereas the present vacancy has existed since June. He adds, “The commission’s job, if you read the bylaws, is not to decide on a memorial. We already have a memorial. The job is to maintain and manage that building.”
Inattention and lack of action on the part of those who wield power can cause disinterest, hopelessness, and apathy on the part of the public. Hotchkin feels that principle may be in play by design. “I’ve decided I’m not going to give up.” He will be speaking on the radio on November 16, and he seeks to keep the conversation going.
Hotchkin believes in moving forward. Whatever conflicts have occurred over the building and whatever opinions may have been held concerning its management and purpose should be set aside as a view toward the future is adopted.
On the other hand, those who assess the building purely in terms of purpose and dollars and cents are apt to take a different view of the future—not a disrespectful view of veterans but a realistic view of what it costs to staff and maintain a building and what functions that building fulfills.
But it is hard to put an equation of dollars and cents against building that embodies for some the sacrifices made by the few for the good of the many.
If respect for the past can be properly blended with a visionary view of the future, perhaps some of the conflicts surrounding the VMB can be resolved. In any case, the public will express its desire in November of 2017.
Meanwhile, Hotchkin and anyone else who has volunteered to serve on the Veterans Commission must await Mayor Canfield’s decision. “I just want a chance to serve,” Hotchkin concludes.