Soapbox Philosophy: Trio brought memorial into focus
Op-Ed · November 30, 2012

What it needed was a picture. Pat Bickford and Phyllis Sondergard had an idea, an inspiration, for a veterans memorial five years ago. Patís husband, Norm, also got in on it.

At first, they had an idea to put it in the Village Green. Unfortunately, the National Park Service said no. I still think it would have been ideal there. And I canít see how President Herbert Hoover would have disagreed.

Then there was an idea to put it downtown in Heritage Square, across from the Hoover Complex. The space was small, and there was opposition to the original design.

But the Bickfords and Sondergard perservered and found an ally in Main Street West Branch.

After buying a building in the downtown, the trio tore out ó with Normís expertise ó an addition and negotiated with their neighbor, Theresa Simon-Lee (then Seeberger) to donate some land as well.

MSWB hooked them up with a professional designer, who drew up a park based on their input and the space available.

And, finally, they had a picture.

They realized right away the value of putting their vision on paper. No one who saw it needed to use their imagination any more. It was simple, easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive to build. The biggest cost would be the memorial stones and the engraving. To help, they decided to ask families and friends to pay $175 for engraving each name. It was a reasonable request, which was reflected in the fact that the memorial was unveiled with 320 names dating as far back as the Civil War. Some paid to include two, three and four names.

The picture even helped prompt a $7,500 grant from the Community Foundation of Cedar County.

From start to finish, they met with groups like the American Legion Chauncey Butler Post 514, set up a booth at festivals and events, printed up pamphlets and kept the newspaper in the loop. The stories and photos in the West Branch Times were not published as a favor, but because these three folks were making something important and meaningful happen in their community, and it needed to be recorded.

We just had an election and lots of folks were either saying something outlandish or up in arms over what was said. But politicians and public leaders come and go, and so do many of their laws, rules and regulations.

But this project, Appreciation Park, is a long-lasting addition to the community. More names will likely be added and the Bickfords and Sondergard plan to replace the ďAppreciation ParkĒ banner with an arching, metal sign.

Iíve already seen people stopping by to snap pictures of the monument and have heard nothing but good things about the park.

Itís got a classy look to it and a great message and meaning, and I was proud to cover this story over the past few years.

More than 250 people turned out in the pouring rain to see it unveiled and to remember our local veterans and some currently active members of the military. Perhaps Appreciation Park can serve as the site for Veterans Day services for years to come.

Itís picture-perfect.

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