EAST HELENA – Community members in East Helena say the veterans’ memorial in Main Street Park has been deteriorating for years.
“After a while, it occurred to me that this is not much of a monument to service members anymore,” said Kit Johnson, a veteran, business owner and East Helena City Council member. “This is really not befitting the service that they’ve given our country.”
The Servicemen’s Monument was first dedicated in 1943, and rebuilt in 1980. It includes names of hundreds of East Helena residents who served in conflicts like World War I, World War II and the Korean War. But after almost 40 years, many of the names are faded or stained.
Now, Johnson is part of a committee looking at options to create an improved monument, which they propose renaming the “East Helena Veterans’ Memorial.” They hope to add additional veterans’ names, covering those who have served since the monument was rebuilt.
Chris Holt, of the Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home, has created conceptual drawings of one possible update. It would include a circle of stone monuments, set back further from the street to accommodate larger audiences for city events. Holt estimated last year that the design would cost at least $60,000.
The committee is now asking for input from the community, both on what the memorial should look like and on the vetting process to determine which names should be added to it.
The city of East Helena is accepting written comments about the proposal at City Hall. You can also find a link to submit comments online on the city website or the Prickly Pear Junction newspaper website.
Johnson said it’s important for people across East Helena to have a voice in the plans.
“There’s never been one entity that’s been taking care of the monument; it’s been a community effort,” he said. “And so it’s time to refurbish it again. I’m sure that every 30, 40 years, citizens like myself come along and say, ‘Hey, let’s rebuild this thing.’”
While the project is still in its earliest stages, some in the community have already donated to the effort. Several years ago, community leader Terrie Casey donated seed money to establish a fund to support future improvements to the monument. Anderson Stevenson Wilke and Memorial Monuments, Inc., have committed to donate benches and pavers. The Cory-Dullum Veterans of Foreign Wars post in East Helena is also interested in helping to fund the work.
Johnson said he’s hopeful that work on the updated memorial could start as soon as this year.
“There’s a lot of history in this spot,” he said. “Main Street Park has changed since then, and it continues to evolve, but there are some things that will always remain the same – and that will be our recognition of veterans that have served our community.”