By Amy Kalina
A new design was announced for a Veterans Memorial project planned for the Saint Mary’s University Winona campus, in response to student, faculty and community concern over the memorial’s intent and overall message.
The memorial, a project conceived and proposed by the Alumni Association Board of Directors, was a recent topic of concern and discussion among Saint Mary’s community members. A forum was held on Jan. 29 as an opportunity for any students, faculty or staff to make comments or ask questions about the project.
The concerns voiced at the forum, along with comments posted on a “Saint Mary’s University Voices on the Veterans Memorial” blog dedicated to discussing the memorial, were considered at the meeting of the Saint Mary’s University Board of Trustees as well as the Alumni Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 9.
In an email addressed to Saint Mary’s faculty, staff and students on Feb. 12, Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Meagher and Chancellor Brother Louis DeThomasis announced the board’s recommendation for a redesign of the memorial “that is appropriate and complementary to the campus of a Catholic, Lasallian university.”
The new design was made available for viewing on the university website on Feb. 18. The design by Preston Lawing, chairman of the SMU art department, will feature a large glass monument at the memorial’s center, etched with an olive branch and bearing the words “Peace Through Service.” At night, the glass will glow with soft interior lighting, which will project up from the base.
This monument, which addresses a major concern from community members over whether the former design glorified war and the military, will be joined by five pedestals within the semi-circular construction, the first of which will hold a plaque outlining the memorial’s dedication and a statement of intention. Another pedestal will bear the names of the alumni veterans of the five branches of the military who died in service. A pedestal recognizing the 1940s V-12 program, a Navy officer training program on campus during World War II, will also be incorporated, along with a pedestal commemorating the Ditter and Rooney barracks, on-campus residences named after Saint Mary’s alums, which housed veterans upon their return from the war.
A final pedestal is proposed to address the memorial’s intent, specifically at a Catholic, Lasallian institution. This pedestal could cite Catholic doctrine regarding military service, bearing words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Those who are sworn to serve their country in the armed forces are servants of the security and freedom of nations. If they carry out their duty honorably, they truly contribute to the common good of the nation and the maintenance of peace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2310).
According to the university website, the Veterans Memorial will “stress the relationship of peace through service to our country.”
Both the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Board of Directors also indicated support for scholarship aid for veterans and their families, and both boards will discuss the topic at future meetings, according to the Feb. 12 email.
Meg Richtman, director of alumni relations and university liaison to the Alumni Association, said the Alumni Association was receptive to the concerns from the Saint Mary’s community as well as to the redesign.
“Their comments have been very positive, both to the overall design as well as to the fact that the goal of the memorial did not change,” said Richtman. “This project is something they are excited to see coming to fruition after dedicating so much time and effort to it in the past three years.”
Richtman said the Alumni Association hopes the new design will help unify community feelings over the project.
“I hope that the changes help faculty, staff, students and alumni to support—or at least feel good about—the project as it moves forward,” said Richtman, noting her appreciation for Lawing’s redesign. “It is very open and inviting, a very appropriate and respectful area for us to pay tribute and reflect.”
Some students, however, were disappointed in the new design’s quick turnaround. According to senior Glenna Krzyzanowski, who had been active in raising awareness about the memorial on campus, the overall mission of the student group was to request a moratorium in order for the entire Saint Mary’s to address concerns together.
“I am disappointed that the process of a closed conversation regarding design development was duplicated,” said Krzyzanowski. “I had hoped that our community could gather together to collaborate and exchange ideas about how to best represent lives of service.”
Though the Board of Trustees tried to address the community’s concerns in reviewing and redesigning the memorial, it also acknowledged the fact that complete satisfaction among community members would be an impractical goal.
“We are realistic and fully realize that no decision will be totally agreeable to all of the community,” Meagher and Brother Louis wrote in the Feb. 12 email. “However, we are confident that most will be understanding of a memorial to Saint Mary’s veterans, with an appreciation of our history, and with service and peace as key messages.”
Regardless of her disappointment in the outcome of her efforts, Krzyzanowski said she appreciated the forum as an occasion for open discussion.
“The forum allowed a limited number of people to express their concerns or ideas, though it did serve to provide an opportunity for many different people of the community to come together and practice respectful dialogue,” said Krzyzanowski. “I was very thankful for the chance to speak before the Board of Trustees, and especially grateful that they accepted the idea of a redesign.”
As the project moves forward, Richtman said she is also appreciative of the discussions that have taken place regarding the memorial and the student interest invested in the project.
“Students need to and should feel connected to this university,” said Richtman. “I’m glad they’ve had opportunities to voice their questions or concerns.”
Richtman said the inspiration for a memorial to alumni veterans comes from important historical events at Saint Mary’s. According to the university website, 1,440 Saint Mary’s alumni and students served in World War II, and 32 Saint Mary’s students and alumni had died in service by the end of 1945. Many more have served and sacrificed in the years since.
Groundbreaking for the memorial, which will be located just east of Fitzgerald Library and north of Gostomski Fieldhouse, will be in spring 2008, with a dedication scheduled for Homecoming 2008, June 13-15.