DIXON – Charles Thomas pointed to photographs that hang on the walls and pile up on shelves at Veterans Memorial Park headquarters.
“There are stories behind all of these,” said the member of the Veterans Memorial Park Commission. “From the Civil War to the World Wars to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, Dixon and this area has a rich military history.
“We want to build a place to share these stories in the community.”
Work to make a museum that will tell those stories has begun.
As the commission made its last payment last month to the city for fronting $50,000 for an expansion project, the City Council gave the green light for a museum to be built at the park.
A museum committee was created, separate from the Veterans Park commission, and corporation paperwork was sent to the state for the group to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit, tax-deductible organization; it could take a few months for an OK.
The next steps include starting a checking account, applying for grant money, and deciding on a design for the museum, which will be built on the north end of the park at 1219 Palmyra St.
Although both Thomas and Veterans Memorial Park Chairman Jim James expect the project to take time – reluctantly sharing their goal of breaking ground in 2014 – they are determined not to stop until a museum is built.
“The talking time is done,” James said. “We’re rolling up our sleeves and making this a reality now.”
Their tentative plan calls for a $1 million facility with a parking lot and possibly an auditorium for presentations, but Thomas said those plans depend on how much money the committee can get from grants.
The museum committee told the City Council it will not ask for local tax money, and Thomas said the project is too large at this time to launch a local fundraising campaign.
“We want to build a facility that will get accreditation with the museum system, so we can work and trade with other systems, including all the national armed services museums,” Thomas said. “Beyond putting up the right kind of building, there are a lot of details that go into making a facility capable of doing that.”
Plans will continue to be made through the museum committee. Thomas said many of the plans are still in the early stages and subject to change. That panel also will be in charge of overseeing the operations of the museum once it opens.
The museum will feature mostly local military items donated by family members of area veterans. The mission is not so much about making the museum a destination point for travelers as much as a place for the community to interact with its past.
Schools have brought students through the site’s headquarters to see the artifacts already on display, James said. A professional curator would be hired to staff the museum and tell the stories.
“We want to educate everyone in the community, including children from the schools,” James said. “When they are studying about the Civil War, or World War II, hopefully some of them will come here and learn about the impact it made in our area and the men and women who served from our area. It gives them that idea of the roles our men and women played in history.”
James is encouraged by the support the idea has received in the community.
“The community has been behind us since Day 1 of the park,” said James, reflecting back to 2001 when the land for Veterans Memorial Park was acquired. “It was from local labor and fundraising that our park has become what it is today.
“Now we’re trying to take that next step. In the end, the community is going to have something they can be really proud of. This is for them.”
There are several ways to help maintain Veterans Memorial Park.
To buy a legacy stone, go to www.honorourvets.org or call Rich Sanders at 815-288-5093 and leave a message.
Call Sanders, too, to make a monetary donation or get an application to volunteer.
Go to www.honorourvets.org to learn more about the park.