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W'bago plans to honor vets

August 25, 2011
Jodelle Greiner - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

WINNEBAGO - Jerry Johannsen has a vision of people driving up Highway 169 and stopping in Winnebago's Whiting Park on Main Street to see a display that will honor all local veterans.

"Especially since 9/11, I'm so grateful we have what we have and how safe we've been since then," Johannsen said.

People ask him why he is so determined to honor veterans when he himself never served.

"It's because I'm not a veteran. My name ain't gonna be on anything," Johannsen said firmly. "I know there's got to be others like me who feel gratitude to servicemen and women."

Veterans issues have been important to Johannsen for a long time. He donates and works with his employer, Alliant Energy, to support veterans causes, and talks to vets when he meets them, but he never felt like it was enough. He began inquiring at American Legions for ideas of something tangible he could do, but nothing grabbed his imagination.

On a recent trip to their cabin with his wife, Denice, Johannsen stopped at the Spicer Legion and heard about the Wounded Warriors Project, which supports soldiers who come back wounded. He knew it was something he could help with. He donated to Wounded Warriors and although he is not really a golfer, he went to the golf tournament June 13 and played on a four-man team with Scott Adams, who was burned while in the service.

"Quite an honor to be able to golf with him," Johannsen said.

The tournament ceremony was "moving," he said, adding "I'll be in as long as I can swing a club."

Johannsen has developed a habit of visiting veterans' parks erected in other towns and taking notes on what he liked about those displays.

"Winnebago has a rich history and a lot of Gold Stars," he said.

A Gold Star designates a veteran who died in service.

"My idea was we'd like to help get people together and build something for the ones who served," he said. "Some gave their lives."

He went to the Winnebago City Council to ask if the city would consider the idea "and the next thing I knew they were passing it that night," he said. "Now, I've got my work cut out."

But he doesn't plan to do it alone. Johannsen is trying to put together a five-person committee to come up with a design for the park, find out how much it will cost and organize fund-raisers. He also has had people offering to write checks, but he has to get an account set up and the tax aspects worked out before he starts accepting money.

He has looked at similar parks in smaller communities and figures if they can do it, so can Winnebago.

Johannsen pictures a pathway leading up to black granite monuments carved with the names of veterans from every branch of service who have a tie to Winnebago, surrounded by American flags with strategically placed benches for seating. But he says the final design will be decided by the committee. He wants to be able to add names in the future as needed.

He is expecting to need $50,000 to $60,000, and hopes to get donations from local businesses and companies that do business in Winnebago, as well as from private donations and fund-raisers.

A date in September will be chosen for a public meeting at City Hall for anyone who wants to help out.

For those wanting to be on the committee, help with fund-raising, suggest a veteran's name or help in any other way, Johannsen can be contacted by calling (507) 893-3235, (507) 525-0843 or by writing to P.O. Box 674, Winnebago MN 56098.

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