Veteran memorial forgotten no more

3 veterans get Montello memorial plaza project rolling; work expected to finish this summer
Veteran memorial forgotten no more

Sitting on a hillside in the center of town is stone meant as a symbol of remembrance that for nearly 100 years has been all but forgotten.

The memorial, cut from red Montello granite, was dedicated on May 30, 1929. It was put there by the Marquette County Chapter of American War Mothers as a way of honoring those who served.

The memorial is positioned on a terrace midway between the courthouse and the street. It makes it difficult for the public to visit the memorial and easy for it to go unnoticed.

“They never knew it was there. They never even knew it existed because they couldn’t get to it. It wasn’t accessible,” said Dave Benson, a resident and U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

The memorial is engraved on both sides of the stone with the names of six wars, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam era. Because there is limited access, only the engravings on the street side can be readily seen.

Four years ago, three veterans, Dave Benson, Rich Hasse and Skip Klemp, started looking for a way to turn it into a memorial that could be better used by the community.

“Basically it just started with us talking about it, of what we could go ahead and do,” Benson said.

Skip Klemp had been involved in fundraising projects and was looking for a way to help veterans in the community. The memorial project came along at the right time.

“Skip was the first donor,” said Rich Hasse, the Columbia County Veterans service officer. Four years ago he held the same position in Marquette County.

The donation and energy Skip Klemp brought the project got it moving.

“Skip was the one who started all of the fund raising and donations for the project,”  Benson said. “(Without) Skip, this thing would have never gotten off the ground.”

The vision for turning it into a veteran’s memorial plaza closer to the street started with pencil sketches by Hasse. The graphic design was completed by Rebecca Cary, assistant Columbia County Veterans service officer.

The plan gained acceptance and support by government and business leaders and was approved.

Five months before ground would be broken on the project, Skip Klemp passed away.

“It was really a heartfelt loss for all of us,” Benson said.

Before passing, Skip Klemp did get to see the artist conception of what the memorial would look like.

“He really liked it. He thought it was going to be so neat,” Lori Wittchow, Skip Klemp’s daughter, said. “He couldn’t wait for them to start to break ground and we knew this spring that they were going to.”

On the morning of May 12 crews began work on the project. It is expected the memorial will be completed sometime this summer. The date for the dedication ceremony will be determined later.

The project has been funded through donations. The fundraising effort is continuing with the sale of engraved bricks that will line the wall of the memorial.

Individuals can purchase bricks and engrave the name of a veteran who served. For more information about fundraising, contact the Marquette County Veterans Service Office at 608-297-3182.