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Preston’s “DMC” is the SMSVC


Fri, Mar 28th, 2014
Posted in Preston Features

Above is a rendition of the Committal Shelter that will be located at the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, presented at the March 24 Preston Area Community Foundation annual dinner and celebration. Photo submitted

As the greater Rochester area celebrates the establishment of the state-supported Destination Medical Center, aptly coined the DMC, the greater Preston area recognizes the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery (SMSVC) as an economic engine driving future opportunities for the region. Interestingly, Rochester leaders wanted the SMSVC to be located in their community, as well, but the Preston area won that title match.

On the eve of Monday, March 24, 2014, a crowd of Preston-supporters gathered at the Branding Iron for the eighth annual dinner and celebration.

The keynote speaker of the night was David Swantek, Director of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, painting a picture for what the people of the Preston area can expect as the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery takes shape.

Leading up to the presentation by Mr. Swantek, an audience of 155 attendees followed a steady program coordinated by Preston Area Community Foundation board leadership Dwight Luhmann (President), Sheila Craig (Vice President), Scott Rustad (Treasurer), and MariLyn Bakke (Secretary), along with Directors Kiel Anderson, Rick Grooters, Dr. Dustin Arndt, Will Mensink, Tim Bremseth, Ron Scheevel, Sally Gibson, and Mary Zimmerman.

To begin, attendees bowed their heads to embrace the invocation of Father Arens.

And, preceding a plentiful and delicious meal with a choice of filet mignon, walleye pike, grilled shrimp or ribeye served by a coordinated wait staff at the Branding Iron, Chuck Aug launched the evening with a few jokes.

Following dinner and conversation, Anne Detlefsen, Director of Fillmore Family Advocates, took to the podium and shared her appreciation for the Preston Area Community Foundation for their support of her organization. Fillmore Family Advocates is a charitable victim services organization that operates with a volunteer staff. The PACF provided funds to support the costs of office space with enough room for supervised visits and an exchange center.

Next up, President of the Preston Historical Society, Richard Petsch shared his appreciation for the Preston Area Community Foundation. “The Preston Area Community Foundation has been a strong supporter of the Preston Historical Society,” said Petsch, mentioning a $1,500 donation.

Chuck Aug stepped up to the podium to express his gratitude for the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, a non-profit organization serving 23 southern Minnesota communities.

“They give the Preston Area Community Foundation a non-profit status. They act as the fiscal agent for our organization, investing in funds to generate a return on our behalf. And, they manage the administrative overhead involved in our organization. We could not do what we do without the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation,” shared Aug.

Following Aug’s commentary, which started with a “top 10 list of how you know we’re getting sick of the cold weather,” Dwight Luhmann (President of the PACF) shared some numbers as food for thought.

1. 155 is the number of attendees for the 2014 PACF dinner and celebration, the second largest crowd to attend the annual event.

2. 36 people like the PACF Facebook page, so please visit their Facebook page and add to that number.

3. $30,402 is that amount of funds raised in 2013, and the original goal was $25,000 over a two-year period.

4. $256,322 is the endowment fund balance, which grows every year in spite of donated funds every year.

5. $456,719 is the total fund balance at the end of 2013.

6. Six is the number of grants approved in 2013.

7. $10,135 is the number of dollars generated for the PACF in the month of November on “Give To The Max Day.”

8. Fourteen is the number of board members, including current student advisory directors Taylor Case and Collin Bennett.

Following Luhmann’s presentation, PACF Vice President Sheila Craig expressed her thanks and gratitude as she shared that her term was ending as a board member. President Dwight Luhmann publicly thanked Sheila Craig for her service to the Preston Area Community Foundation.

And, providing an introduction to the keynote speaker, Fillmore County Commissioner Duane Bakke paved the way for a memorable presentation by David Swantek.

And, so began David Swantek’s presentation titled “A Sacred Trust: Minnesota’s Veteran Cemeteries...Past, Present and Future.”

Swantek explained how the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery came to find its resting place in Preston, competing with many other proposed locations.

“This all started with 12 people eight years ago in the basement of F&M Community Bank in Preston,” said Swantek. “You all provide the fabric that weaves the thread that brings it all together.”

In 2007, Governor Palwenty proposed to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to begin searching for suitable cemetery properties throughout the state.

When cemetery sites were being explored, the 169 acre location in Preston was a concern because the cost for construction would be quite a bit more than other locations, but when Swantek visited the proposed site in Preston he started to see a vision for what could become a beautiful veterans cemetery.

“There are currently 90 National Veterans Cemeteries in 45 states in America, and this will be the finest veterans cemetery in the nation,” shared Swantek.

“It’s like a subdivision in a neighborhood,” he said, as he pointed to several renditions of Preston’s Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. “We maintain our grounds like a golf course. As a matter of fact, we will go toe-to-toe with any golf course in the area!”

Swantek emphasized, “Don’t look at this as a cemetery. Look at this as a monument.”

And, there will certainly be significant financial impact. While this not the focus of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Swantek acknowledged that communities like Little Falls have greatly benefited from the presence of the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery. With almost 20 years of operations, the Little Falls State Veterans Cemetery takes great pride in providing perfect service to veterans and their families.

The Preston SMSVC will operate with five full-time state jobs, included two office positions and three groundskeeper jobs.

With construction beginning soon, the SMSVC is slated to open in spring of 2015 with substantial completion by December 2014.

“There will be hundreds of burials per year,” shared Swantek, expecting the SMSVC to serve 99,000 veterans. “This 169 acres in Preston will now be hallowed ground.”

Closing out his presentation, David Swantek recited the 10 lines of the Gettysburg Address, historically born from the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, in 1863:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Following Swantek’s insightful explanation of what everyone can expect with the completion of the Southeastern Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Preston, Minn., Matt Gehling of Gehling Auction roused the crowd to bid on auction items such as two hours of dirt work by Scheevel & Sons with any piece of equipment. Dave Sikkink was the highest bidder at $750.

A whole hog donated and processed by Hellickson Farms went for $375, with the highest bidder being Mike Schwarz. Craig and Pam Mensink donated a wine rack that included several bottles of wine, which went for $250 to the highest bidder Will Mensink. A package of Apollo Liquor wine tasting for 12 people went for $200, with Matt Hellickson as the highest bidder.

And, after silent auction item winners were announced, Chuck Aug thanked everyone for their support of the Preston Area Community Foundation with closing remarks.

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