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Preston business community anticipates veterans cemetery

By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Jan 24th, 2014
Posted in Preston Progress Edition

After almost five years of planning, conversations, meetings, and congressional bill development and promotion, the community of Preston, Minn. is full of anticipation for the state veterans cemetery that will be fully developed in 2015. A veterans cemetery is a unique and special place, and not many cities have the rights to say that they’re home to one.

As state veterans cemeteries are meaningful places for laying those who served to rest, their prestige is preserved by how far and few-between they are. As Fillmore County Journal reporter Karen Reisner pointed out in a previous article, “The closest state veteran cemetery is Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spooner, Wis., approximately 193 miles away.” Also, the one veterans cemetery that Minnesota has is located in Little Falls, a distance of nearly 250 miles away from Preston.

While Preston will be home to Minnesota’s second veterans cemetery, it was no easy task arranging the town to be the designated location. The idea, which started with a coversation between former Senator Sharon Erickson-Ropes and Fillmore County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud, blossomed over time, particularly ramping up in 2012 and 2013.

The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a warranty deed promising title more than 150 acres of land to the state in August, 2013 for the veterans cemetery. Since then, the Department of veterans Affairs awarded $10 million in grant money to cover 100 percent of the allowable costs associated with establishing Preston’s Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery—thanks to Representative Walz (D-MN) and Representative Runyan (R-NJ), who held a bipartisan field hearing in Preston to examine the proposal of Preston being the host town for a state veterans cemetery. Also, a large portion of thanks is deserved to the Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Cemetery Grants Program which has been around since 1978.

Now that funding is in place, planning for development is the next step with work to begin as a formal groundbreaking ceremony took place in early November. However, there is even more planning going on as well, only this time it’s within the business community in preparation of the anticipated spike in Preston’s economy.

Preston Area Chamber of Commerce President Sarah Wangen commented, “I think that in addition to the honor that Preston has been given with being named a host town of a state veterans cemetery, we have a community responsibility to welcome the families of the veterans and provide as much hospitality as we can. We, the business community of Preston, should be putting our best foot forward in order to serve our residents, visitors, and tourists.”

In conversations it has been mentioned that visitors will indeed need services such as lodging and food, and no doubt, some visitors will take up on Preston’s retail locations.

Preston Food’s Manager Tim Kiehne stated, “I think that the veterans cemetery coming to Preston will definitely bring dollars here—to gas stations, restaurants, as well as bringing retail. Though we always see an increase in traffic during the summer months, I think that we can expect to see a small increase.” Kiehne mentioned that individuals may forget some necessities if they are staying in the area and would take advantage of Preston Food’s inventory to satisfy their needs.

Elizabeth (Ib) Gatzke, owner of Chic’s Pizza Place and Restaurant, shared her insight on the cemetery coming to Preston, saying, “I really think that it is going to help everyone in the city. In fact, it’s a good thing for the entire area. I’d like to think that we’d be able to serve even more people, but as far as how many, we’ll have to wait and see what 2015 brings.”

Rita Simonson of Preston Floral and Gifts is also unsure what the Preston Veterans Cemetery will mean for her. “I’ve been meaning to call around and see what I should be expecting. I’m not sure what the need for flowers will be. Only time will tell for sure.”

Other area lodging businesses like the Trailhead Inn and Country Trails Inn will most likely take advantage of those traveling from a distance for an interment ceremony, while restaurants like the Branding Iron and B&B Bowling will cater to dining needs.

The City of Preston, business owners and residents alike, will strive to do their best in serving those who come to Preston to pay tribute veterans in their resting places. Beginning now, the town initiates working together to provide as much as possible.

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