Standing beside the freshly unveiled monuments, Clark Swanson could barely contain his emotions. After decades of planning that culminated in a whirlwind of activity over the summer, his dream to complete a permanent memorial to honor veterans like himself had finally come to fruition. And on a summer-like October 9 evening, he was surrounded by a couple hundred community members who wanted to share in this momentous occasion.
Unable to hold it in any longer - even after a hug from his wife Annette, who has been with him this whole journey - Swanson stepped back to the podium, interrupting the final moments of the proceedings to deliver one last impromptu message to the masses in attendance.
“I can’t thank the people who were involved in this and who came out tonight to enjoy this park, which has a special, special meaning to me,” he said. “And I hope we can continue to fill these walls and make this (park) the greatest we can make it.”
But this night wasn’t about Swanson, nor his story, which has been told countless times, including possibly one final time by former Isanti County Veteran’s Services Director and park committee member Jim Rostberg at the beginning of the ceremony. Rather, this ceremony was to honor all veterans, whether deceased or alive, having served in action or during peacetime. In addition, the ceremony was to honor a community that came together to make Swanson’s dream a reality.
“In less than four months, this site transformed from an empty, grassy lot to what you see today,” Rostberg opened the ceremony saying. “A lot of thanks goes to many people for making this vision come true.”
“Welcome to our beautiful park,” Swanson said during his prepared speech. “I call it ‘our park’ because that is what it is. It is meant for me, you, and everyone here. We worked hard to make it a special place that has meaning to everyone.”
Committee member Curt Haugen reflected on how much area business’ donations enabled the park to be completed.
“The committee had the opportunity to work with some very talented and generous people,” Haugen said. “The contractors that provided the time and talent to actually create the physical parts of the memorial. All of them donated either time, labor, or materials and equipment. Through their generosity, they saved this park tens of thousands of dollars. Enough that maybe this park wouldn’t have happened this year.”
Through a letter read by Rostberg, Isanti County Commissioner and committee member Susan Morris (who was unable to attend due to illness) relayed the story of the day the sod arrived.
“Much of the crew was 55 or older,” the letter read. “Much to our surpise, Officer Jesse Peck saw a posting on Facebook asking for help. Jesse called (Bluejacket head football coach) Shane Weibel and asked if the football team could help. Several football players and cadets from the Polaris Battalion showed up. An eight-hour job got shrunk down to two hours.
“We had many meetings like this,” Morris added. “And whether it was 4-H kids, friends, neighbors, or just some kind-hearted soul that stopped by to help, they showed up. This park is truly built by this community.”
Befitting the simplistic, but honorable park, the half-hour ceremony itself was light on speeches, but heavy on symbolism.
“We’ve been told by many people how beautiful the park is,” Swanson said. “And one of them said, ‘there is dignity in simplicity.’ And we believe we achieved that.”
“Clark felt a need - more of a calling - to build a park dedicated to those who served,” Rostberg said. “A park where visitors could rest in tranquil peace and reflect on the contributions and sacrifices of our country’s military service members.”
Following Rostberg’s introduction and an invocation by Pastor Steve Newton, the United States flag was raised by members of the Braham VFW Post 1731, featuring their oldest living member, 95-year-old Duane “Duke” Peterson.
Shortly later, the remaining six flags, which represent each of the branches of the military, were raised by representatives of the organizations that purchased the flag poles. They included Bradford Township, Rum River VFW Post #2735, Athens Township, Cambridge American Legion Post #290, First Bank & Trust, and Jeff and Kelly Lillemoen.
Finally, the three monuments were uncovered and following a benediction by Deacon Gene Kramer, those in attendance were invited to take a close look at the monuments, which was done in spades with plenty of smiles, a few shed tears, lots of pictures being taken, and a general feeling of honor and pride in what was accomplished.
According to Annette Swanson, the fourth monument is well on its way to being filled with names. Each monument can fit 90 names on it. That wall will most likely be placed in the park next spring and names will start to be added to a fifth wall.
Anyone wishing to purchase a block and add a name to the wall can contact the committee at 612-324-3568, via email at email@example.com, or go to their website at veteransmemorialparkinc.org.