Carol Stream group breaking ground on veterans memorial with $60,000 left to raise
Jim Benzin won't be speaking only of military service in his remarks at a groundbreaking for Carol Stream's new veterans memorial later this month.
A VFW commander and Vietnam veteran, Benzin and other members of a volunteer task force set out more than two years ago to raise $200,000 to a build a new memorial to those who have served. And while it's taken longer than any of them would like and they're still short of their goal, Benzin is treating the ceremony as a celebration.
"I think the approach I am taking this time around is that of thanking the community because the groundbreaking is more of an honor of their support and hard work to say, 'Here it is. It's going to be built.'"
So Benzin wants to pay special attention to everyone who helped the group reach what feels like an improbable milestone. Every family who hosted a spaghetti dinner. Every politician who got on board. Every company that wrote a big check. Every kid who dropped a quarter in a donation bucket.
"Everybody's ready to get going," said Carol Stream Park District Executive Director Jim Reuter, another task force leader. "It's been a long effort and really a grass-roots effort, talking about a dollar here, dollar there."
Benzin, commander of the Carol Stream VFW Post 10396, initially approached village leaders about sprucing up an existing tribute at Memorial Park. He didn't have a formal proposal, but the retired teacher envisioned a few upgrades. Maybe some new landscaping.
That rough idea led to the task force and plans for major improvements to the memorial. Then about a year ago, the group agreed to build the memorial at the village-owned Ross Ferraro Town Center.
Memorial Park ranks as the first property acquired by the park district. In 1967, officials dedicated the park on the Fourth of July as a tribute to two hometown heroes: Richard Blasen, killed in Vietnam that year, and volunteer firefighter Ed Mangels, who died fighting a blaze four years earlier. It's a relatively small park in a neighborhood off Thunderbird Trail.
Town Center, by contrast, is a more prominent and accessible venue that hosts a village summer concert series at the southwest corner of Gary Avenue and Lies Road. When finished, the memorial will be a solemn, circular plaza near the center's archway.
"There were times I didn't think it was going to happen," Benzin said.
But the group has raised enough money -- more than $142,000 -- to construct roughly 90 percent of the new memorial with the exception of five granite monuments for every branch of the military. The ceremonial groundbreaking is set for 4 p.m. Sept. 21.
"I'd like to see it done. I'm proud of what has happened," Benzin said. "And I'm proud of what the community has done, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."
But Reuter calls him the driving force of the endeavor. He and Benzin are eager to complete the project knowing that the ranks of some veteran communities are shrinking.
"It's really emotional for me. There are people who have served this country, are still serving this country and the ones who get me the most are the people who have served and might not have much longer here on this Earth. To be able to get this done on their behalf and to recognize their contributions and the sacrifice they have made to this country, just means the world."
The group is making the final push to raise the remaining $60,000, most of which will cover the costs of the five engraved monuments. Mayor Frank Saverino and Trustee Matt McCarthy are hosting "A Toast to Our Vets" fundraiser at Fox River Distilling in Geneva on Oct. 6. There are still some tickets available by calling (630) 251-3572.
"When we finish this, we want it to be first-class, and we want it to last forever," Saverino said of the memorial.
A portion of the proceeds from two park district events at Armstrong Park -- the Fall 5K Stars & Stripes Shuffle on Sept. 30 and the Stars & Stripes Softball Adult Tournament on Oct. 6 -- will support the project.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to raise that money," Benzin said. "We want it to be something that everybody will be proud of once it's done."