The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 11, 2012

Tour of Mankato-area monuments offers lessons, chance to honor veterans

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

— he student organizers of this Veterans Day tour of Mankato-area monuments were looking for families just like the Kearneys, of Mankato.

Ginnette Kearney and her teenage son, Rochfort, planned to visit each of the 14 memorials on the tour. She said her son has friends and relatives in the military, and this tour would be a good way to get a conversation going about the service.

Volunteers along the route quizzed him with questions about the five branches of the military (many people miss the Coast Guard) and how Stoltzman Road got its name (after George Stoltzman, Mankato’s first casualty in the Vietnam War).

Most of the 25 or so participants were older, like Gene Wedoe, of Apple Valley, and Judy Bishman, of Chaska. He’s a Vietnam veteran who figured this would be a good way to spend Veterans Day.

The students of Kristi Montandon’s Minnesota State University class raised about $2,000 for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, which helps area homeless veterans. Participants paid $8 or $10 each, though most of the money came from business donations.

It was a frigid day for such a tour, especially after Saturday’s record high of 73. Sunday’s high temperature of 54 was recorded at midnight, and that figure dipped to around 30 degrees by early afternoon, said Jack Gerfen, a meteorologist for KEYC-TV.

But Vietnam veteran Tom McLaughlin, who helped create the map of monuments this effort relied on, said he was a little disappointed that poor weather could keep people home on Veterans Day.

There are soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere, he said, “who don’t have the opportunity to stay home because the weather isn’t very nice.”

Those who stuck it out for Sunday’s events tended to be former soldiers who’d endured rough conditions before, he said.

That was the case at the Vietnam memorial, where four members of MSU’s veterans club waited in the cold for about three hours during the event. Nick Raway was in a T-shirt Saturday, but switched to his ice-fishing outfit Sunday. Raway is a Marine who is not currently serving, but won’t call himself a “former Marine” — he and others eschew the term because many of its veterans feel a lifelong commitment to the Marines.

The men agreed that the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans is a great cause, especially considering it has helped several members of the club.

The club is holding a fundraiser for the veterans council on Tuesday outside of MSU’s Centennial Student Union from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They’re selling “walking tacos” — a sort of taco in a bag you can eat with a fork while walking — for $4 and nachos for $2.

While the class won’t be around to put on the event next year, Montandon, the MSU professor, said the MSU veterans club could help organize it — a prospect at which the club’s members seemed eager.

Montandon said her students would get high marks at lining up food and cash sponsorships from businesses, but said there could have been more marketing to families with children. It means more to teach young people about military service than it does to hold an event attended largely by veterans, she said.

Students in her two other groups organized a Saturday dodgeball tournament, which raised about $400 for Relay for Life, and a girls empowerment class, held Friday.