Courier Staff Writer
For the past five years, on the second Sunday of every month from September to June, 20 people make enough food for 200 people, who in turn have donated thousands of dollars to renovate the Carl Craft Civic Center and now the Tri-County Veterans Memorial next door.
The gymnasium, now the main arena of the civic center, was given to the city in the 1950s. Soon after a group got together and said the building was too good to tear town, said Lois Proctor.
Since then, they have held soup suppers and ice cream socials at the center, all with the goal of renovation.
Today, the civic center holds a gymnasium, bleachers, a stage, a dining room and kitchens (which used to be the locker rooms) and a back room that isn’t quite completed.
“We renovated the building, and have taken it from something that should be torn down to what it is today,” Hedrick Mayor Tommy Smith said. “We’ve raised around $25,000 every year, and we’ve spent that much every year.”
All renovations have been done through donations and grants, Proctor said. No taxpayer dollars have gone toward the project.
By the time brunch was supposed to start on Sunday, the gymnasium was already buzzing with 250 people, most of whom were there to help raise funds for the Veterans Memorial renovation next door.
Dan Showman, of Martinsburg, and Ken Smith, of Hedrick, don aprons along with several other veterans and their wives every month in an “assembly line” to whip up long-standing, mouth-watering recipes that keep people coming back. Showman served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955-68 and Smith served in the U.S. Army from 1968-72 in Germany.
“It’s in its infancy,” said Jim Ferrell, of Hedrick, who was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam in 1967. “It started out at BBQ Days the last week of June, where we had pictures of everyone from the community who has served over the years, and it’s grown from that.”
Paul and Lynn Reese crafted the plywood plaques to mount the pictures of veterans and their information, along with the floats that wound their way through parades this summer.
Following the parades, many said they wanted the display to be preserved.
“All of the pictures and names on the Wall of Honor — that’s not even all of them,” said Faye Davis, who created the Wall of Honor in the memorial alongside her husband, Steve. “It turned into such a community project.”
They have received photos of veterans from every war and conflict, even dating back to one veteran from the Revolutionary War.
“They’ve taken it to different towns, and people have said they would hate to see it dismantled and forgotten,” said American Legion Post 83 Commander Charlie Cook.
At one time, Pekin Schools had used the building as an alternative school but decided to give it back to the city. After the outpouring of support, the city donated the building to be used as the Veterans Memorial.
“It’s important because of the wars we are having right now and our problems in the Middle East,” Tommy Smith said. “I’m a veteran myself, and we need to recognize veterans a little more than we are. We give them a pat on the back on Veterans or Memorial Day, but it should be year-round.”
Smith served with the U.S. Army from 1969-71 and was stationed in Vietnam from 1970-71.
Just five weeks ago, Cook said you wouldn’t believe how different the building looked. Through fundraising and a supportive community, volunteers from the American Legion have worked to make the Veterans Memorial what it is today, but they’re not done yet.
“We’re seeking artifacts and memories, like the Vietnamese money I’ve had under my bed for years,” Ferrell said.
Another step is looking for large and small glass display cases, mannequins, new siding for the building, windows, landscaping, a new tankless water heater and any monetary donations, Lynn Reese said.
As the project continues, Ferrell said he continues to have people come up to him, saying their relative’s name isn’t on the list — and so Faye Davis adds them on and the list continues to grow.
“When I got out and came home, I had my jungle fatigues, my jungle boots,” Ferrell said. “You never give any thought that some day you might want to hang them up on display. You’re just happy to come home.”
Ferrell also said somehow he lost his P-38 can opener along the way — something you couldn’t eat without.
“I carried it for years,” he said. “We’re looking for little things like that.”