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Veterans Commission Deals with a “Big Swing of the Bat”

Veterans Commission Deals with a “Big Swing of the Bat”

By Michael McAllister

The phrase is Tom Lacina’s.  The words may shift from a military to a sports metaphor, but they accurately symbolize the situation that now confronts Grinnell’s Veterans Memorial Commission after the passing of the Veterans Memorial Building levy last month.

The concept of the big swing was the focus of the commission’s regular monthly meeting held at the Drake Community Library on the evening of Monday, December 11.

All four commission members were present.  Twelve people made up the audience.  Commission Chair Leo Lease (third from left above) called the meeting to order at 5:15. p.m.

Routine business included approval of the previous meeting minutes, the agenda, and two bills:  Alliant Energy, $75.11, and The Bill Menner Group, $500.

Nicole Brua-Behrens of the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation presented the monthly budget report.  As of October 31, the fund balance totals $25,662.

Agenda items included an update on discussions that will involve representatives from the city, the commission, and the Greater Area Arts Council toward the implementation of the Prairie Star Residency, and Lease reported that a meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 18.

It was at this point that Lacina’s “big swing of the bat” comment came into play.

In connection with the meeting and the discussions that will follow, Lacina stressed that the situation requires patience, but what is necessary now is a general understanding of how various groups can work together.  Mayor-elect Dan Agnew, a member of the audience, agreed.  Both Lacina and Agnew stressed the importance of discussion and cooperation.

The project “involves several cross members—organizations—that have to be involved in the conversation,” Agnew concluded.

Now is the time to start fulfilling pledges, emphasized Leo Lease, a comment that segued neatly into the next agenda item, “Update on contacts of potential key donors.”

Lacina addressed this issue by noting that a clearly detailed plan is necessary before key donors can be approached.  He is still confident that a national initiative can be launched once a program proposal is in place.  Local funding, too, will be encouraged by a clear program, he noted.

As for donations, one member of the commission asked where they might be sent, and Nicole Brua-Behrens stated that checks may be made out to the Veterans Memorial Fund and sent to the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation at P. O. Box 344 in Grinnell or dropped off at the office at 1510 Penrose.  Checks can also be made payable to the foundation with “Veterans Memorial” on the memo line.

At this point, Mayor-elect Agnew asked about pledges.  “What is the total [amount of money pledged]—given or not given?  What’s still out there as an amount?”

Nicole Brua-Behrens explained that a pledge must be in writing to be entered into the Greater Poweshiek Community Foundation’s system.  There is no official record at the foundation of verbal pledges.

In a second question, Agnew asked, “How many years will it be that there’s no heat in that building?”

“Six,” stated an audience member promptly.

Agnew went on to express his concern that structural damage could occur to the Veterans Memorial Building through water that freezes close to the foundation, but Lease assured everyone that appropriate drainage has been established.

Contractor John Bushong has stated that the building can withstand another winter with no heat, but Tom Lacina pointed out that the opinion was given informally, not as a result of a contractual assessment.

Agnew’s concern was that, if building renovation does not begin for, say, two years, damage that would drive up construction costs might occur.  The matter was considered worthy of more discussion.

A comment from an audience member reintroduced the topic of verbal pledges.  He expressed the understanding that a small finance committee had once been active and had gathered a list of people willing to donate to a building fund once it was certain that the building could be restored.

Tom Lacina reported that he does have a list of people “with the amounts that they were suggesting they would give,” but he feels that the project needs to be clarified before approaching people who have verbally pledged.  The way a project is presented can strongly affect the amount of money the public contributes.

If the entities involved—the City of Grinnell and the Veterans Memorial Commission and others—can approach people “with a united front,” donations should increase, Lacina added.

Another opinion related to public support came from the audience.  “If we have a relatively solid plan for artifacts, history, family donation of memorabilia for the veterans, we will get a much stronger backing from the general public than…if we play up the art and down the memorial.”

Lease responded that history will be part of the renovated building’s mission, and the ways history is addressed will develop along with the program.

Ron Davis, Commander of Grinnell’s Post 53 of the American Legion, mentioned that 2019 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Legion, and the idea of a commemoration at the building received support from Leo Lease.

As the meeting moved toward adjournment, the question of commission membership arose.  The Veterans Memorial Commission is still one member short, although Leo Lease mentioned that the mayor could serve on the commission if inclined.

Suggestions of potential members will be considered, and one hope is that a younger person might be the fifth member.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:47 p.m.  The commission will meet again in the Drake Library’s Community Room on Monday, January 15, at 5:15 p.m.

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