By Amy Kalina and Becky Newby
Managing Editor and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Forum Jan. 29 for comments and questions
A Veterans Memorial scheduled to be installed this spring on the Saint Mary’s University Winona campus has recently drawn attention from a group of Saint Mary’s community members, who hope to raise awareness and express concerns over various aspects of the project.
A forum will be held on Jan. 29 at 3:30 p.m. in Salvi Lecture Hall for any students, faculty and staff members to make comments or to ask questions.
The Veterans Memorial, a project initiated by the Saint Mary’s Alumni Association, was first approved by the Board of Trustees in 2004 to honor requests from alumni to commemorate Saint Mary’s veterans, said Meg Richtman, director of alumni relations and university liaison to the Alumni Association. Richtman said the idea for a memorial on campus dates back to the 1940s with plans for a veterans memorial chapel that was indefinitely postponed.
The design of the new memorial’s five arches symbolizes the five branches of military. The design also encompasses four pillars within the memorial, including a pillar with a plaque listing the 33 alumni who lost their lives in service during WWII. The memorial is tentatively designed so that a ray of sunlight will shine on the plaque on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when Veterans Day is nationally observed.
A second memorial pillar will recognize the 1940s V-12 program, a Navy officer training program on campus during World War II that kept the all-male school afloat during the war, said Richtman, who said an estimated 1,400 Saint Mary’s College alumni served in WWII. A plaque given years ago to Saint Mary’s by the United States Secretary of Defense will be displayed to honor the V-12 program.
The Ditter and Rooney Barracks, on-campus residences that housed veterans upon their return from WWII and were named after Saint Mary’s alums, will also be remembered on the memorial.
The proposed Veterans Memorial will be located just east of the Fitzgerald Library. Construction will begin in late spring with completion by mid-June. More information on the memorial can be found at www.smumn.edu/veteransmemorial.
A group of students met recently with Chancellor Brother Louis DeThomasis to discuss concerns relating to the memorial. This resulted in an invitation for 1 to 2 persons of the student group to attend the Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9. Several alumni with concerns will also speak to the board at that time. The board will then discuss and review the project.
A main concern among student protesters is that they think the memorial glorifies the military and promotes war. According to Richtman, “We are honoring our family. We’re not honoring the military; we’re not honoring a war. We’re not honoring anything but our people. Our alumni. And they deserve it,” Richtman said.
Fundraising efforts for the memorial have reached $80,000, said Richtman, surpassing the most recently adjusted fundraising goal of $70,000. Some students, alumni, faculty and staff feel the money raised for the memorial would be better spent elsewhere.
A “Saint Mary’s University Voices on the Veterans Memorial” blog (www.smuvoices.blogspot.com), which is dedicated to voicing concerns about the memorial, has elicited postings from students and other members of the Saint Mary’s community. The group questions whether the money is being spent in a suitable manner.
“If Saint Mary’s University intends to honor the men and women who have engaged in the military, then the already accrued monies should more appropriately go to veterans’ services,” wrote four community members and associates of the Winona Catholic Worker, three of whom are Saint Mary’s alumni. They also wrote that “scholarships for immediate family members of disabled or deceased veterans” would be a better option for allocating memorial funds.
According to Richtman, the Alumni Association agreed that a scholarship would be a great idea, but there has to be interest in starting one first. Richtman said that the board is more than willing to talk about further scholarship options.
All money given by alumni for this particular memorial was intended for the construction of a permanent structure on the Saint Mary’s campus, giving members of the Saint Mary’s community the opportunity to honor their own family members on a campus they once called their home, said Richtman. She added that alumni can purchase bricks, etched with the veterans’ names, to be placed along the walkways leading to the memorial itself to honor the larger Saint Mary’s family.
“If an alum of the university buys a brick for his father or grandfather and wants it on our ground on campus, that’s powerful,” said Richtman. “That means this university means a lot to them.”
According to Richtman, all of the funding for the memorial was raised independent of university money, including money needed to send out the initial fundraising appeals. The only university-sponsored vehicle used in fundraising efforts was the alumni magazine, said Richtman. The project was conceptualized and spearheaded by alumni, with all the money involved in the project intended to fulfill its purpose of honoring Saint Mary’s veterans, Richtman added.
In addition to financial concerns, some have questioned the nature of the Veterans Memorial and its message, particularly at a Catholic institution. Senior Jeff Austin, who expressed his concerns on the memorial blog, wrote, “Our Catholic faith holds war to be unjust and unnecessary, and a memorial to the military seems to be contrary to our faith values.”
However, Richtman said that a pillar within the memorial will be dedicated to a statement about peace in order to fully explain the memorial’s intent. “It is going to speak about how we have got to establish peace in our country. It is the Catholic belief, it is the university’s belief, and that’s what the Alumni Board wants to get across,” said Richtman. “That’s why we’re honoring our veterans, our alumni, because I’m sure they wanted peace, too.”
One of the main concerns of an on-campus student-led opposition group is a lack of communication to students about the intent to build the memorial. Students were informed of the Alumni Board’s project in the December 2005 issue of the Cardinal newspaper. However, no updates have been provided to the students since that time.
“To my knowledge, the students are unaware of this project and should be informed,” Austin wrote on the blog. “As Lasallian learners, it is important to be informed and involved in our community because SMU is our…home.”
The current protesters are not the first to question the memorial’s intent. Richtman said that a group of faculty and staff came forward during the 2005-2006 school year with concerns. Representatives met with then-President Brother Craig Franz, the Alumni Association, and the chairman of the Board of Trustees to discuss the project in June 2006, said Richtman. The outcome of this meeting was a decision to go forward with the memorial. Richtman hopes that the current controversy will be resolved after the Board of Trustees meeting in February.
“It’s a balancing act. We have alumni who have given a lot of money, but on the other hand, we have the students, and this is their home, too,” said Richtman. “We’ve been promoting this for four to five years and have had overwhelming support. I hope the trustees listen to the students’ concerns, but I hope they also understand that the intent of the memorial is to honor the individuals who served.”
Regardless of the board meeting’s outcome, students hope that the meeting and the Jan. 29 forum will increase awareness of the memorial on campus and encourage students to be more active in important university issues.
“I’m not against honoring veterans,” said sophomore Mary Gleich, a member of the group of students trying to raise awareness. “I would just like to have our voices heard about the issues that affect us as current students and future alumni, and the way Saint Mary’s will be represented to the rest of the world.”