Veterans Memorial Park Development Continues
By JANE GATEWOOD
Special to the Times-Democrat
"Not one dime. Not one cent of City of Rector money has been spent to build Veterans Memorial Park." Maj. Gen. George Barker, co-chairman of RVMP, said the tremendous park has impacted Rector's civic image without any funds coming from the city's treasury. The park's ability to reach beyond itself has been exemplary, he said.
"It is significant that the park has been developed completely through private donations," committee member Ron Kemp said. "The generosity of a lot of people who want to honor our veterans and who love Rector has been impressive."
Once a wooden monument with names of local World War II Veterans stood in Rector Downtown Park, across from what was the old train station which no longer exists. Today, Veterans Memorial Park stands in recognition like none other as a tribute to veterans in the uniformed armed services and as acknowledgement to a vision that can be actualized by local citizens and their network of contacts.
Rector has been blessed with connections to patrons whose philanthropic endeavors extend far beyond their own geographic areas. The Founders Committee, also known as Veterans Memorial Park Association, did not realize the scope of the endeavor or how far its impact would reach. "At the initial meeting of the committee on April 20, 2009," committee member Betty Benson said, "no one realized where the adventure would lead."
Co-chairmen Glenn Leach and Gen. Barker led the group that wanted to erect a monument and park to honor all veterans. The evolving nature of the project surprised both men and everyone else involved with the endeavor.
One desire of the Founders Committee has been to expand opportunities for Rector citizens to become a part of the ongoing effort to grow and maintain the park. "The committee has discussed forming a Friends of VMP organization to provide for annual maintenance of the park," Kemp said. "We feel the costs will not be significant and will be something that can be handled through local annual contributions ." When local citizens become "Friends of Veterans Park," that allows the committee to open the mission and vision to a new realm of possibilities.
Growing from a three-quarter acre donation to the City of Rector from Mr. and Mrs. Sherland Hamilton, the late Pauline Crockett estate, and the George and Robert Jernigan families, the park's planning process began small. Its concept grew rapidly and continues to develop as imagination within the committee expands. Rector Veterans Memorial Park is a part of Rector Downtown Central, Inc., which is chartered in the State of Arkansas and has obtained 501(c) (3) tax-exempt not-for-profit status. The five uniformed services of the U.S. Armed Forces are represented with flags positioned around the park: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.
Each founder has brought personal skills to the project. The rudiments of excavation, drainage, land movement and the creation of systems to support the park's infrastructure evolved from local contractor Steve Champ's expert skill. With donation of skill, equipment and time, Champ's work has been pivotal to the success of the structure and form.
While funds for building the memorial have been donated over these six years, without the groundwork, no park would be possible. By cursory glance at the scope of the park, the passer-by would not recognize in any way the design that exists underground. "It's built to last," comments committee member Barbara Hamilton.
The architectural design was created by Rector native John Mack, who possesses an extraordinary skill in professional design. Though residing in Bentonville, Mack's involvement was essential. His skill and design captured the essence the committee had desired. He also built the mock-up which is on display in the Rector Visitor Center located on the park's grounds. All time and expertise were donated to the VMP project.
A substantial amount of money has been contributed toward this monument to veterans' valor. It has come from various avenues and through connections the Founders Committee maintained over the years. Contacts in multiple states through sundry philanthropic boards from coast to coast fueled the donations when the call went out for contributions. The Founders Committee led the donors by example in giving unselfishly to the cause, as have other members of the Rector community.
Strictly "pay as you go" in financial responsibility, the motto of the committee challenged others to create avenues to fund the project. From Danny Ford's generosity in planning and carrying forth a promotion for financial support to Barbara Hamilton's benevolent landscape work, the local founders continue the initial work through their generous spirit.
Because Rector citizens have long supported veterans and have a reputation for honoring all who serve the country in the military, the park shines for these men and women and their families. Persons currently serving their country are part of the reason the VMP continues to garner support.
Some who view the park's centerpiece might wonder at the selection of a WWII soldier to symbolize all veterans: it is customary in military tradition. The bronze soldier carries an M-1 rifle at a length 25 percent longer than regulation, to balance proportionally with the statue's six-foot-four inch height. Designed specifically for the Rector Veterans Memorial Park and entitled "At Rest," this soldier's hair is disheveled; he wears an authentic soldier's combat uniform with leggings and holds a replica of Maj. Gen. George Barker's helmet, "displaying "V" for "Victory" with two fingers of his right hand," affirms Glenn Leach.
The 500-pound statue cast in bronze was formed first in clay at a Loveland, Colo., studio, the premier location for creation of bronze military statues. Chosen by the committee to design and create the statue, members traveled there several times before reaching a final determination about the work's authenticity and craftsmanship. "On one visit," remembers Leach, "several committee members thought the face resembled that of Tom Cruise, not altogether a bad thing, but something that did not meet the committee's vision." A more generic look was then achieved. Two maquettes (Fr; scale model in smaller proportion) were created. Gen. Barker and Leach own these one-of-a-kind models.
Kemp, former mayor of Rector, initially approached Gen. Barker to join with Leach in a joint effort to raise funds and develop ideas for the committee's innovative efforts. As Gen. Barker is the ranking officer in Rector's military lineage, his selection to come on board was a natural. He comments that he agreed, but had "no idea how big the project would become." Because of that single contact, the project's plans were invigorated. Kemp and Leach continue to work with the ongoing nature of the park and promote the philosophy of the committee: "service above self." "We honor all veterans everywhere who served, especially those who paid the ultimate price for freedom," Leach said. "Everyone pitched in toward the country's military efforts, including those who remained on the home front. Men and women who wore a uniform and those who supported the effort in other ways are honored."
He notes further that "more names of Clay County servicemen and women killed in action are needed for one of the wall's memorials." He explains that these veterans' families may have moved away and their records are listed with another state. "Before history is lost," Leach encourages families to dig into their heritage to share the names of those who gave all.
Kemp and the committee continue to generate ideas that speak to the park's attributes. Plans for the future include more specific quarry designs similar to those hand-selected from the Batesville quarry. During a hot summer season, several committee members painstakingly chose specific stones for specific purposes and transported them to Rector.
To help future plans become a reality, committee members brainstorm and seek suggestions for maintaining and expanding the tradition of engraved stones to honor veterans, honoring those who served within any donor's family from any generation, dating to the founding of our country. To date, shares Benson, "two-hundred-three pavers have been purchased honoring or memorializing family members who served."
An educational component also is planned for the future, Kemp noted, with displays that will be informative for school groups and anyone interested in the military history of the nation.
The park not only pays honor and homage to veterans, it speaks to a united effort of a small community and its network of connections. Much can be accomplished when hearts, hands, muscle and mind are combined. While money is paramount to the ongoing success of such a remarkable endeavor, those funds can be raised and time donated when the cause is noble and the purpose honorable.
The Founders Committee consists of Major General George E. Barker, Betty Benson, Charles Melvin Bridges, Steven Champ, Barbara Hamilton, Danny Ford, Dr. Paul Frets, Ron Kemp, Glenn Leach, John Mack and Richard Simmons. Wheeler J. Williams, now deceased, served in WWII in the Pacific Theatre, USMC, and was a member of the committee.
The public should be aware that the committee will extend opportunity for involvement of local citizens. A community such as Rector leads the way in recognizing and honoring all veterans. To be a part of this tribute is a privilege and the avenue for that commitment is available to all who wish to participate, in whatever manner they choose.
For more information on making a contribution to the future of Veterans Memorial Park, persons may contact Glenn Leach, Betty Benson or Ron Kemp.