Vets Memorial project seeks support
Luke Stoychoff, left, and Dylan Reitmeyer of Fitzpatrick Construction work on the Iron River Honor Roll Park as the first stage of a planned restoration to the memorial gets underway. The project calls for the just over 1,500 names to be engraved in black granite, with a goal completion date of Memorial Day 2019. The refurbishment will rely on public donations, and a fundraising campaign will be announced shortly, though donations can be made immediately.
IRON RIVER—What first began in 1943 with dollar plaques purchased by local families of those serving or who had served in the military will be restored to glory, as the Iron River Honor Roll Park will be refurbished based on a joint effort between the city of Iron River and the Iron River Veterans Memorial Association.
The project will depend on public donations for its success. The city will act as trustee, collecting donations from individuals and businesses and contracting with and disbursing payments to companies performing the refurbishment services. The association, also known as the West Side Veterans Council, will spearhead fundraising efforts in addition to its past and continued work to maintain and improve the park. A goal completion date of Memorial Day 2019 is planned.
At the height of World War II in 1943, local community members decided that those serving should be honored with some sort of veterans memorial. Families of service members were asked to donate $1 for each name to be included to help cover the memorial cost.
“Of course, there were a lot of donations by local businesses as well,” said Ron Zeller, president of the Iron River Veterans Memorial Association.
Donations were made to The Miners State Bank or Iron River National Bank, and periodically the banks would report the names to the newspaper for publication.
In June 1944, Iron River City, Iron River Township and Bates Township agreed to a park at a cost of around $3,500, which was covered by the dollar donations and support from the community and local businesses. Pastor C.J. Tolf, also an accomplished stonemason who had built his own church in the community, volunteered his talents.
“He asked for nice looking rocks to be dropped off at the site,” Zeller said.
Work began in July 1944, and by October, Tolf had completed the structure minus the names, which were being assembled by Iron River students at his church. In the spring of 1945, names were placed on the memorial, and on June 1, 1945, a public ceremony was held to dedicate what is known as the “Iron River Honor Roll Park.”
The memorial is adorned with just over 1,500 names of those who served in World War I and World War II.
“Here in Iron County, there are so many veterans, due to the lack of jobs and difficulty some families have paying for college,” Zeller said. “The military was a good option for many in the community at that time as well.”
Indeed, Zeller said that in April 1945, around 15 percent of county men and women were serving in the Armed Forces, and by June 1946, 2,800 county residents were at war, and 160 were either killed or MIA.
As the years passed, the park was preserved, but the effects of neglect and time were already rearing their ugly heads, until 1985, when a group of local women stepped in to assist. They presented drawings to the Iron River City Board to landscape and make improvements to the memorial. They then raised $6,500 to cover the cost of installing brick pavers, planting shrubs and covering deteriorated names with aluminum panels. The public was invited to view the finished project on Veterans Day 1985.
Over approximately the next 25 years, the memorial continued to deteriorate badly from neglect. Shrubs and trees had died, and the slope of the street caused water and sediment to affect the brass.
In July 2009, the Iron River Veterans Memorial Association was formed with members from the VFW, American Legion, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans. The board discussed what needed to be done to preserve and upgrade the memorial. With assistance from a Boy Scout volunteer significant work was performed within a year.