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W’bago Memorial dedicated

By Staff | Aug 11, 2013

Hundreds of people gathered in Whiting Park in Winnebago on Aug. 4 to witness the dedication ceremony for the Winnebago Veterans Memorial.

Servicemen and women represented their respective branches of the military by dressing in full uniform or wearing caps and shirts, saluting the American flag as it was raised over the monuments.

Those who could stand, stood at attention during the 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”

The Veterans Memorial committee members Jerry Johannsen, Jerome Behnke, Ed Kellen, Karen Hernandez and LeAnn Eastman were all present to receive congratulations for their hard work and dedication to the project.

Johannsen, the idea-man for the memorial project, said a few words about how the memorial came to be.

“I go by this park a lot,” stated Johannsen. “And, one day I saw that earth was being moved. I didn’t know what was going on, so I asked at the city offices and they said there’s volleyball courts going in. I knew I had to do something fast.”

He’d always imagined Whiting Park to be the location of a Veterans Memorial, but hadn’t acted on it. Johannsen said that the volleyball courts going in got him to start taking some action. He attended the next Winnebago City Council meeting to propose his idea.

“I didn’t expect any decisions to be made that night,” said Johannsen. “I answered their questions as best I could and they made a decision. Next morning, I had a phone call from someone saying they wanted to be on my committee.”

And that’s how the whole thing started. He had to formulate a better idea of what the memorial would look like and find out a closer estimate for the cost, but his project had the green light from the city.

The total cost is still unknown, said Johannsen, because the bills are still coming in. There was, however, a total of $97,000 raised for the project through fundraising events and donations from businesses and individuals.

Once the unveiling of the monuments was completed by the Winnebago American Legion Post #82, Kathy Blair, of Winnebago, read aloud the names of the gold star soldiers, meaning the ones who died in battle. Their names are etched in the frontmost stone.

Throughout the program, a community choir, directed by Judy Ness, sang patriotic songs, ending with “God Bless America.”

After the ceremony, Johannsen said that for the first six months or so, there were only eight names that had been requested to be put on the stones. Now, there are 320 names on the monument and room for more in the coming years.

Streams of people flooded the memorial after the ceremony concluded to hunt down the names of their loved ones and to admire the overall splendor of the memorial.

A lunch was served at the Municipal Center following the dedication. Several attended that as well. All proceeds from the free will donations were to be put toward the memorial.