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Area landmarks serve as memorials to veterans

As Memorial Day nears, the public’s conscience turns toward honoring the men and women who are serving, or have served, in our nation’s Armed Forces.

But Becker County’s residents honor their local veterans more than just once or twice a year — as seen in the preponderance of veteran’s memorials that dot the landscape.

The Becker County Veteran’s Memorial Highway is perhaps the largest of those landmarks.

Stretching from the Otter Tail County Line, where Becker County Road 33 joined with the Otter Tail County Veterans Memorial Highway, northward on county roads 39 and 37 until joining with Clearwater County Road 39 at the north county line, that route was established in 2007.

Larry Hynding, the Detroit Lakes veteran who chaired the committee for establishing the route, said it was a project that ended up being four years in the making.

That’s because the original route did not incorporate segments of state highways 34 and 87 that joined the parts of county roads 33, 39 and 37 that made up the majority of the Veterans Memorial Highway.

That addition required state legislation, Hynding said — a process that took another three years to accomplish.

That legislation, spearheaded by then-State Rep. Kent Eken (who has since become a state senator), also incorporated the segment of Highway 34 that stretched into Detroit Lakes as part of the designated memorial route.

Also in 2010, the Becker County commissioners and Detroit Lakes city officials joined forces to designate Washington Avenue (which incorporates a part of Becker County Road 22) as part of the route as well.

“That was the last piece of the project,” Hynding said.

That final addition meant the Becker County Veterans Memorial Highway would be linked to Detroit Lakes’ new Veterans Memorial Park when it was completed a year later, he added.

 On April 8, 2008, a resolution was introduced to the Detroit Lakes City Council by veteran Jim Hanlon, calling for the establishment of a new veterans’ memorial park.

Local veterans began campaigning for the measure when the original Becker County Veterans Park, located adjacent to the county courthouse, was eliminated by the expansion of the courthouse onto the land where the old park was located.

The memorial stones that were incorporated into the old park, including a memorial to fallen Becker County war veterans; a firemen’s memorial; a Sept. 11, 2001 memorial; and a flag dedication stone, were relocated to the new park. Through local fundraising efforts, a new, much larger memorial was also built to stand at the entrance of the park, where Highway 10 intersects with Washington Avenue.

The new Veterans Memorial Park, located just south of Highway 10 at the junction with Washington Avenue, was officially dedicated on Veteran’s Day, at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2011 — the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in tribute to the timing of the signing of the original pact that ended World War I and established the national holiday known as Armistice Day, which would later be designated as Veteran’s Day.

Also that year, the roadway that stretched between the park and Detroit Lakes’ new “Crescent” retail district (created by the re-routing of Highway 10 through Detroit Lakes) was designated as Veterans Memorial Parkway.

“It was a one-time window of opportunity, where elected city, county and state officials, veterans and citizens all came together to support a project and move it forward to completion,” Hynding said.

He noted that when he and fellow veterans like George Peters, Dave Coalwell, Doug Koenig and the late Harland Thompson and Don Schattschneider first began working on all the different segments of the project, “It seemed like it was so far off in the future, with so many different intangibles that needed to come together — but everyone pitched in, and it happened.”

While the project is essentially complete, local residents can still be a part of it by purchasing an engraved granite paver stone, as a memento to someone in their family who has served, or as a general dedication to all those who have served in the U.S. military, past and present.

To date, Hynding said, a total of 657 pavers have been placed in the Veterans Memorial Park, with an additional 68 to be added sometime this spring or summer, time and weather permitting. But there is always room for more, he added.

Available in three different sizes — 4x8 inches ($90), 8x8 inches ($150) and 8x16 inches ($275) — the pavers can be purchased by contacting one of the following: Doug Koenig, 218-439-3587; Dave Coalwell, 218-234-7689; George Peters, 218-847-2008; Larry Hynding, 218-847-2212; the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, 218-847-9202; or the City of Detroit Lakes Business Office, 218-847-5658.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454