Controversial monument to replace Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building

The Veterans Memorial Commission voted to demolish the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Central Park this past September. Shortly after, the Commission began exploring monument designs to replace the building.
The Veterans Memorial Commission voted to demolish the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Central Park this past September. Shortly after, the Commission began exploring monument designs to replace the building.
Taylor Nunley

Grinnell’s Veterans Memorial leadership committee recently held public input meetings as part of efforts to design a new veterans monument that will replace the current memorial building in Central Park. The leadership committee showed optimism about the project’s direction, but many attendees, mostly veterans and their family members, had mixed reactions.

At the March 11 meeting, principal architect Mark Kuiper from Ritland + Kuiper Landscape Architects and public art consultant Joe Tuggle Lacina walked through the three different options for the memorial — a flag, a flame or a star. Kuiper told The S&B it will be one of the first veterans memorials that will have an aspect of interactivity.  

When Kuiper flipped to the star design, an attendee from the community said, “It just looks like modern art.” 

Near the end of the meeting, the Veterans Steering Committee almost unanimously decided to only move forth with the flag design as a possibility. Loosely coiled and spiraling up to the sky, the flag will be lit from the inside, where there is also a flat, circular path visitors can enter.  It will be made from metal panels, with the stripes indicated by darker, perforated metal. Lacina said he and the architect are shooting for 35 to 45 feet for the monument’s height.

However, an attendee, Pam Blagden, 70, criticized the designs.“As a daughter of a veteran, I’m sure none of them would have agreed with any of them.” She said she preferred a simpler, traditional style, like the Veterans Memorial Park in Montezuma.

“They have a granite wall with all five emblems on it, so they know exactly it is the Veterans Memorial Park.”

Randy Hotchkin, 55, vice-chair of the Veterans Commission, disagreed with Blagden.

“We’d like to have something that’s unique,” he said. “I don’t want people to walk up to this and say Grinnell College took this over.” 

However, he personally preferred a different design. Addressing some of the public’s concerns at the March 11 meeting, Hotchkin pulled out a small eagle statue that belonged to his father, a Vietnam veteran, as a model for his ideal monument. Although Hotchkin said he preferred an eagle, he also is content with the flag design the committee ultimately moved on with.

At the March 25 meeting, mock-ups of the flag design were shown to the public. Signs explained that the primary goals of the monument were to create a unique structure that could honor all veterans, past, present and future, and create a space for reflection.

Byron Hueftle-Worley, at-large member of the city council, said he thought the flag design could draw people in. “The flag doesn’t tell you what to think, it just lets you think about it.”

Police Chief Michael McClelland suggested that the monument could be incorporated into national events like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day.

Many community members The S&B spoke with, however, were disappointed.

“When I see the flag, I think of the U.S.A.,” said Susie Sondag. “It does not resemble the veterans who died.” 

In contrast, Val Vetter, 76, said that she was expecting something even more “abstract” and “contemplative.” 

“I was very taken aback when I saw in the paper that it was something that doesn’t seem like it would fit with the design of the park. It didn’t have a prairie aesthetic,” she said.

Lamoyne Gaard, a veteran unaffiliated with the leadership committee, set up a model of his own design next to the official one — a cylindrical monument topped with clay soldiers recreating the flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II. Explaining that each soldier would represent “different times and places in American history,” Gaard said his design had “humanity,” while the current design was “cold and impersonal.” 

Veteran Lamoyne Gaard sets up his “alternate design” beside the official proposed design of the Veterans Memorial Commission. Gaard said his design was inspired by the World War II battle at Iwo Jima. (Taylor Nunley)

Another veteran, who did not want to be named, showed The S&B sketches he had drawn up of possible modifications that could be made to the current veterans’ memorial building instead.

According to Tom Lacina, a volunteer for the project, the committee “went in with eyes wide open,” adding that modifications were still open for discussion. 

Hueftle-Worley added that criticism was to be expected — “I can’t imagine a single person in town will take time off from their evening to come in and say, ‘Yep, I like the way you’ve designed this.’”

The committee remains optimistic the flag design will be well-received by the general community. Lacina said that others “loved” the design and were eager to see it built.

They highlighted, however, that final plans were contingent on funding. Community members who had previously donated to the Grinnell Veterans Memorial Building renovation fund will be given a choice to keep the donation, redirect it or withdraw. They said they expected new donations to cancel out any losses.

Construction is expected to start in 2025 at the earliest.

Community members fill out suggestions on the current proposed monument design. (Taylor Nunley)

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