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Two groups and two memorials

By Staff | Feb 23, 2020

The city of Blue Earth took over ownership of this vacant lot at the corner of Fifth and Main a year ago, with the idea that it could become the home to a Veterans Memorial Park. Now there are two groups looking at creating some type of Veterans Memorial, one for the city, one for the county.

Blue Earth may be the site of not one, but two veteran reflection areas both a city veteran’s reflection park and a county Veteran’s Memorial.

Since 2014, a group of local veterans and service people worked together to focus their energy on remembering local soldiers who have paid the ultimate price for their service.

One active soldier, Terry Keithahn, first started the project in the summer of 2015 with a fundraiser called “The Last Ride,” a motorcycle tribute to the area’s fallen heroes, and in 2018, a mock up of the new memorial was presented to the Blue Earth City Council with plans to be located in Giant Park.

However, it became clear Giant Park was not sizeable enough for what this group of veterans wanted to accomplish and started to consider creating a memorial on the empty lot at the corner of Fifth and Main streets in Blue Earth.

The Blue Earth City Council agreed to the location, and even went as far as purchasing the open lot recently, with direction from the city’s Parks and Rec Committee.

However, the group of veterans hoping to establish the memorial has run into a few snafus.

The memorial has been in the planning stages for over six years, and the group that began raising funds for a proposed Veteran’s Memorial has been split into two groups over creative differences.

One group wants to include all Faribault County veterans in a walk-through memorial honoring those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for serving their country, while the other group hopes to create a park area in downtown Blue Earth for veterans, their friends and families to walk around, sit and reflect while still paying homage to local fallen soldiers.

In an impromptu meeting on Sept. 8, 2019, organizational leaders of the Faribault County Veteran’s Memorial Inc. (FCVM) leadership were excluded when Keithahn along with other members and non-voting members of the FCVM coordinated a meeting to vote Pam Krill out of the organization, while she was the sitting president.

Members who voted to remove her as president were Jason Gustafson, Randy Gustafson, and Keithahn. They also utilized Ryan Bromeland as their fourth voting member, but in an official letter, it was noted Bromeland was not a member of the FCVM organization and has not been since a Faribault County Veteran’s Services Organization officer investigation. The letter reads they asked Bromeland to step down at that time.

It was stated in the letter that a quorum was not present at the meeting as 21-year retired veteran Pam Krill, Jim Wetzler, Amanda Jaskulke, and Robin and Randy Olson (members of the FCVM board) were out of town. However, shortly afterwards, the five members not present at the meeting chose to step down from their positions with the FCVM group.

“Through these unfortunate circumstances we wanted to inform members of the community, county and other veteran’s organizations that we are disheartened by the actions of some of our members and this is not what we envisioned the Faribault County Veteran’s Memorial to represent,” reads the letter, though no definitive reasons were presented for the overthrow of leadership.

Since that time, however, it seems both groups now have separate goals they are aiming for and want to see come to fruition.

FCVM’s new president, Jason Gustafson, says the FCVM is working diligently to continue to raise funds for the county-wide memorial.

“Fairmont’s county memorial cost about $500,000 and when they raised about half of that, the governor of Minnesota matched the funds for the rest of the memorial,” said Gustafson. “We still have a ways to go on our funds for Faribault County. This will be the sixth anniversary of our Last Ride event, held during the second Saturday in September, where the majority of our funds come from.”

The Last Ride event, held in the second weekend of September, encourages all motorcycle and classic car enthusiasts to ride for fallen brothers and sisters in all branches of the military.

“Just because you don’t ride a motorcycle or classic car doesn’t mean you can’t come to the event,” says Gustafson. “We would love to see the Faribault County Fairgrounds packed with supporters. We have lots of delicious food, a live and silent auction, and a great day with friends and family as we remember those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. Just come hang out and enjoy the drive.”

Gustafson says the new FCVM board is trying to narrow down the most beneficial location for the memorial which would ideally have enough room for veterans of the past, present, and future who gave their life serving their country.

As for the second group, consisting of Krill, Wetzler, Jaskulke and the Olsons, they have made progress on their plans to create Patriot’s Park. With access to the city’s lot on Fifth and Main streets, this group of citizens hope to create a mural depicting military members on the wall of the Adams Ag building, flower beds, benches, and even possibly other amenities like a gazebo.

“This park is just a thought right now, and we hope it will be a place for reflection and a place of remembrance for all community members,” says Krill. “We met with the Parks and Rec board to look for assistance and support to make it happen, and it seems we have their support. We are also going to be meeting with the Blue Earth Community Foundation. We are not a non-profit, we are just committed community members who would like to see something nice placed in that area for the community to utilize. This area has done so much for their veterans. If someone wants to donate a bench, a tree, a flower pot in remembrance of a loved one who has served, that is really our focus for this project.”

Though there seems to be a ways to go with these projects, both groups are hoping to bring patriotism to their small town.