Guest column: A veterans memorial at Memorial Field?

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Dave Polashek, special to the Times Herald


I appreciated reading Warren Bluhm’s recent effort to connect the community with one of the issues covered at the September meeting of the Oconto Falls School Board. The district does not operate in isolation, and connections with the community take many forms — one of the most recent was the potential location of a fitting memorial to local veterans on what is now a vacant portion of the Farm Road school property.

Just a bit of background on the 40-acre site: It was purchased (not without some controversy) just over 50 years ago, when it became obvious the existing high school was no longer adequate to serve the needs of the growing school population. Many felt the site was beyond legitimate size needs, but the school board made the hard decision to move forward with faith that unforeseen future needs might someday reinforce the idea that they made the right choice.

Winter break this past school year also served as the 50-year anniversary of the community working to move furnishings and students to the new high school. Life was good and the community was proud. There were a few hiccups with the new building, but a half-century later the structure still serves as the core of the current high school, although significantly renovated with major additions.

A good portion of the original site lay dormant for 30 years, with part serving periodically as a brush fire training area for the local fire department. Over time, there were one or two ideas for use of portions of the property for non-school purposes. A new community library and a health care provider come to mind. Those were rejected, and eventually the district office, a new elementary school and athletic fields were positioned on the vacant portions of the site.

The proposed veterans memorial would be shoehorned into one of the remaining vacant portions of the campus, although a couple of the previously floated conceptional designs did identify potential school-related activities for that spot.

One of the goals identified by the advocates of the veterans monument project would be to locate it in a prominent spot for community members and visitors. Granted, Farm Road has lots of traffic, much of that related to school events, but typically visitors from outside the community do not use that route unless going to a school event.

So what might be the ideal location? Based on Bluhm’s story, the Central Avenue site and Woodlawn Cemetery are no longer in the running. If Oconto Falls had a town square, that would top the list. Oconto Falls does have a Memorial Field, but ironically, no memorial at Memorial Field. That site also has a long use history that has evolved over time. It is a prominent location in the city with a high traffic flow running past.

Over the years, that evolving use included a number of cooperative agreements between the city and the school district. About a decade ago, as people began to get more serious about upgrading outdoor facilities, the city council authorized the district to proceed with having Memorial Field surveyed and to commission a number of conceptional designs for reconfigured athletic fields at that location. A number of quite creative concepts were put together, including a few that bridged the area to the Oconto Falls Senior and Community Center with a pedestrian walkway.

One rendition that I really liked included a visitor-friendly memorial area centered on the east entrance to Memorial Field adjacent to Highway 22. It had great visibility for travelers coming through the community, incorporated a few of the trees bordering the existing baseball field, and could serve as a focal point for community events such as the traditional car show at the Memorial Day weekend community celebration. Best of all, placement in that location would add a deeper significance to the Memorial Field name.

Part of the long-range plan for outdoor facilities for the community included the reconfiguration of Memorial Field into additional playing fields for baseball and possibly other uses. That process is once again underway. It seem reasonable to give some consideration to locating the proposed veterans memorial at Memorial Field while plans are still in the “lines on paper” stages.

Dave Polashek is a former superintendent of the Oconto Falls School District.