Ninety years after Victory Memorial Drive was first dedicated, the World War I memorial along the Robbinsdale and Minneapolis border is now set for a rededication ceremony June 11 to celebrate a $6 million overhaul of the area.
"Anytime we honor our veterans, it's extremely important because it's so easy to take for granted things that a lot of people worked very hard to achieve," said Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito.
First dedicated in 1921, Victory Memorial Drive honors the sacrifices made by 568 men and women from Hennepin County who died in World War I.
Over the years the memorial, which includes a flagpole plaza with all the names of the fallen soldiers, had started to show signs of weather and wear and was due for restoration.
Beginning in 2007, with state and county funding, a $6 million renovation of Victory Memorial Drive was started. The work includes not only construction of a new granite grand flagpole plaza, but also improvements to the two-and-a-half mile stretch of parkway where 178 new street and pedestrian lights have been added.
Two brand new granite gateway monuments were also added at both entrances to Victory Memorial Drive, and some refinements were made to the Lincoln-Grand Army of the Republic Circle, a separate, but nearby part of the memorial.
"I'm thrilled with it," said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat. "The 568 service personnel who died in WWI, their sacrifice is still every bit as worth remembering today as it was 90 years ago."
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat of Robbinsdale helped lead the charge for the restoration and renovation. Opat said the newly restored memorial will officially be rededicated in a ceremony June 11, which will be the 90th anniversary to the day when Victory Memorial Drive was first dedicated.
"I think when you make a commitment to do a war memorial and set aside a piece of land and sculptures, then I think you owe it to future generations to maintain it," said Opat.
The reconstructed memorial also includes some creative and artistic touches. For example, if you look closely between the granite pillars surrounding the flag plaza, you will see the silhouettes of a WWI doughboy soldier.
While some landscaping and street resurfacing work remains before the June 11 ceremony, the majority of the work on the memorial is finished.
Victory Memorial Drive, with all its improvements, looks different today from how it looked back in 1921, but its intent to honor is the same.
"People need to see this," said Shellito. "The community is stepping forward, individuals are stepping forward and saying, in partnership, we're going to make it better than we found it, and that's absolutely essential."
Alexandra Renslo reporting
Friday, April 08, 2011