Learning about a proposed veterans tribute in Eau Claire, members of the Community Coalition for Non-violence are hoping to see it include a nod to peace.
“I have heard many people in our community ask for a better balance between the tribute to 10 wars … and a tribute (area) to peace,” said Janet Frase, organizer of the coalition, which was formed in early 2018, noting no disrespect is meant for veterans in the request.
“Peace is so important, and we feel pretty strongly about including something there,” said Frase, whose husband is a veteran.
The coalition, which has been working with Mark Beckfield, president of the Eau Claire County Veterans Foundation, has made the peace tribute one of its major projects of 2019.
The coalition has commissioned local artisan Bilhenry Walker to prepare a computer-aided design and materials cost estimate for a sculpture that incorporates peace in four languages — English, Hmong, Ojibwe and Spanish.
“The coalition is very much about educating people how important peace is, how important it is to come together, listen and try to work out peaceful solutions to problems,” said Frase, noting the disagreement over the name for the veterans park planned for green space north of Madison Street between the Chippewa River and Forest Street is an example of “how quickly and easily we can divide into sides when we don’t listen closely to learn and understand the other viewpoint.”
The foundation has formally requested the name for the space be Veterans Tribute Park; however, that resulted in controversy in recent weeks as people involved in community gardens in the area called the Forest Street Special Area for the past decade felt excluded by the proposed name. The city’s Waterways and Parks Commission voted 7-3 Wednesday against the name change.
The foundation has an art committee, and Beckfield has put Frase’s name up for consideration.
“No artwork has been selected, and no artwork is scheduled to go into the park until 2022 or 2023,” he said. “No one wants peace more than a veteran. We’re confident that peace will be represented in the park in multiple locations.”
The proposed park will enable visitors to experience a timeline of American wars starting with the history of Old Abe, the war eagle of the Civil War 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, through to the conflicts of present day.
The park will be a place to educate visitors about the sacrifices made by those who came before them through historical documentation and actual stories from local veterans who experienced wars firsthand, according to the foundation. The park also will offer a place to rest, reflect and pay tribute to the area’s veterans.
The Rev. Kathryn Reid Walker, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Eau Claire, believes it’s important for people to honor servicemen and women who died and veterans.
“I also think it’s important to honor them without glorifying war,” Reid Walker said. “There is never a winner in war; all sides pay heavy prices.”
Reid Walker, a coalition member whose church also has a gun violence prevention group, mentioned the coalition’s plans to Walker, her husband, and he offered to draw something, which Reid Walker shared with Frase, who passed it around to others.
Local artist Joe Maurer and his partner Deirdre Jenkins support including a tribute to peace in the park.
“I think it’s a beautiful idea,” said Maurer, who, along with Jenkins, spends time in the area at the Forest Street Community Gardens. “Nobody wants war.”
“I feel like our gardens are kind of a peace memorial,” said Jenkins, noting that last year alone more than 750 pounds of vegetables grown there were donated to The Community Table.