The dream is not yet a reality, but it is well on its way and much farther along than anyone expected it to be just a year ago. Legislators including Rep. Greg Davids, Senator Jeremy Miller, Minnesota House Veterans Affairs Division Chairman Bob Dettmer, and Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Bruce Anderson were in attendance at the celebratory event held on September 27 at the proposed site in Preston.
Davids again recounted an earlier conversation with Rushford resident Maynard LaFleur who alerted him to the fact that southeast Minnesota was without a veterans home. He thanked the Fillmore County commissioners who were asked to choose between two great veterans home proposals this last spring from Preston and Spring Valley. A 3:2 vote favored Preston as the location for the proposed veterans home. Commissioners then unanimously threw their support behind the Preston site.
Committees were formed in 2013 in Preston and Spring Valley with a specific goal, the construction of a veterans home, preferably in their community. The 15 county catchment area is estimated to have about 30,000 veterans. A facility in southeastern Minnesota will allow veterans in the area to be in a care facility, while remaining close to their families.
Chuck Aug announced that local government units, veterans groups, and residents have raised a total of $1,065,437.42 in about five weeks. The total includes $360,000 from the city of Preston and the Preston Utility and $350,000 from Fillmore County. These local funds will be eligible for a 2:1 match from the Federal Veterans Administration. Funds raised by the community may continue to be eligible for the 2:1 match until about March 2019. For many, the donation triggers strong emotions, which are tied to the veterans within their families.
Some have been creative in their money raising efforts. Carter Keim, a seven year old from Cherry Grove, raised $2,500 with his farm fresh “Butt Nuggets” egg sales. Cristina and Anton Welke, Plainview, organized a baseball tournament as a fundraising event, raising a total of $4,500. This was a celebration of both America’s past time and patriotism.
Aug said there were about 400 individual donations; $2,005 was raised just this day.
There was $32,000 in the Minnesota 2018 bonding bill for three veterans homes to be located in Preston, Montevideo, and Bemidji. Preston’s portion was $10.2 million which qualifies for the 2:1 match for a 72 bed facility. All the funding so far including the federal match will add up to nearly $34 million for a veterans home in Preston.
Cathy Enerson, EDA director for Preston and Spring Valley, explained the process started with the local committees. She thanked legislators for their role, getting the funding included in the 2018 bonding bill.
Miller stated that both projects, the veterans cemetery and the veterans home, couldn’t have moved forward without the help of Davids. He credited Dettmer and Anderson for their efforts to move the project along through legislative committees. Miller went on to thank the county board, local veterans, friends and neighbors for their support.
Davids stated, “We are on a fast track.” There are a lot of veterans to serve in our area, but also there are needs in other areas. When legislators were discussing the needs in the state and the three proposed Veterans Homes, Dettmer had suggested, “let’s do them all.”
Dettmer stated veterans have served us, now it is time to serve them. He related that Rep. Sarah Anderson, State Government Finance Committee, had argued that the Vikings have a great home; now, what about the veterans. Dettmer reminded people that in order to get things done for veterans, we have to speak with one voice.
Dettmer read a poem, “The Veteran,” written by an unknown author. He said a Korean War veteran had asked that he read the poem.
It is the Veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion,
It is the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press, (see poem)
Davids concluded thanking everyone that has helped push this issue this far, including Governor Mark Dayton for being with us on this issue.