Pictured above (l to r) Artist Matthew Moutafis, Mayor Satish Hiremath, and Task Force Chair Dick Eggerding.
Photo by Sherri Graves
Honor Guard placed flag on stage during the kick-off celebration for the Veterans and First Responders Living Memorial at the El Conquistado Resort. Photo by Sherrie Graves.

All is in place for fundraising to begin on
Veterans and First Responders Living Memorial

By Theresa Poalucci

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the El Conquistador Resort, where several

hundred people had gathered in one of their massive ballrooms for a very

special kick-off celebration. In attendance was Mayor Hiremath, along with

several Oro Valley Council-members, representatives from county and state

government, the fire chief, police chief, and a whole lot of folks in uniform

— both military and first responders. Sprinkled among them were many

Oro Valley residents. They had all gathered because Oro Valley resident,

Dick Eggerding had an idea.

Eggerding believes in volunteerism, and so he walks the walk. It is not about

staying busy, although he likes being active and involved. It is not just about

civic duty, although he has a strong sense of it. It is about giving back to

the community he loves, and Eggerding loves Oro Valley. Oro Valley loves him back, as witnessed by the large group he was able to bring together.

His idea? “A couple of years ago, I was at Naranja Park and I looked up at a piece of the park that faces the mountains to the east,” said Eggerding. “And I thought, this would make the perfect location for a memorial.”

Eggerding had been contemplating the idea of a memorial for service members and first responders off and on for years. He envisioned a living memorial, so that it would honor both those who gave their lives and veterans, as well as  those who are actively protecting all of us each day.
“With all that is going on in the world and our society, it demands that we do something like this,” he continued. “This would be the first memorial in Arizona that incorporates military, police, fire and other first responders.”

Now that Eggerding had found the spot, he went to work approaching the Town of Oro Valley and convincing the council to donate the 2.7 acres at Naranja that will eventually become the site of the memorial.

“I really liked the idea of the park, because it is visited by so many of our citizens,” said Eggerding. “The memorial  serves as a reminder, but it will also have an educational value for the children who see it while enjoying what Naranja has to offer.

Eggerding was already well known by the Oro Valley council as he has been a volunteer with planning and development in Oro Valley, not only in arts and culture, but also in land use, historic preservation, and education. He was a founding member of the Land Conservation Committee, Chairman of the Naranja Park Site Task Force, a co-founder along with Jim Kreigh and Pat Spoerl of the Oro Valley Historical Society, and an original Economic Development Task Force member. He has worked on the design for Steam Pump Ranch improvements, and was instrumental in the formation  of the 1% Public Art Program, along with Bob Weede.

With the donation of the land, Eggerding looked to local artist Matt Moutafis, who is just as well known for his public art in Oro Valley, as Eggerding is for his volunteerism. The two have worked together over the years on many civic projects. Moutafis designed the town’s logo. If you have ever seen the Dancing Geckos by Home Depot, the bronze fireman and child at the Golder Ranch Firehouse, or the bronzed Big Horn Sheep at city hall, than you have had a taste of the prolific artist’s public pieces.

“The thought of creating a visual dynamic memorial design to honor veterans and first responders of Southern Arizona was both challenging and an opportunity which inspired my imagination and pleased my soul,” said Moutafis. “I have visualized this design as a promise by this generation to create a solemn environment for reflection and education, to thank veterans and first responders for their service, sacrifice, for protecting us, and being there for all of us in times of need.”

At the kick-off event, the artist had provided both a model of the layout of the land where the memorial will stand, and a model of the memorial itself.

“High on a hillside overlooking beautiful mountain vistas this powerful symbol serves as a beacon of service and sacrifice,” explained Moutafis. “The monolithic design is 11-feet wide by 24-feet high, making a powerful image reflecting the enormity of our appreciation. The front of the monument design reflects our acknowledgment represented by a medal of honor hanging from a red, white and blue ribbon which cascades down the reverse side with the honored services represented.”

The folks that saw the model for the first time all approved of the dynamic design. When everyone settled into their seats and the speaking began, it was announced that Bill Assenmacher, CEO of Caid Industries will assist with the engineering and building of the monument, donating services to build a long lasting memorial. The company specializes in design and build responsibility, field erection, custom fabrication, large scale manufacturing and mining technology. They have built monuments and public art all over the would, but Assenmacher said he was very honored to be working on this particular memorial right here, as Tucson is his home.

“Our firm has volunteered,” said Assenmacher. “I am proud that we are going to be the project manager, and I am personally committed to this undertaking.”
Working with Assenmacher, the WLB Group and Bill Walker CEO volunteered engineering, surveying, land planning and landscape articheture services.

The keynote speaker for the evening was Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS. He served as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, and boasts a long distinguished career in the military and in health.

Carmona, spoke eloquently about sacrifice. “We who serve do so because it is an extraordinary privilege,” he said.  “We don’t expect accolades. Every single day, in every country, these folks serve anonymously.”

He went on to praise Oro Valley for building a memorial, noting that this community really exemplifies the best of our nation.
Carmona also talked about how he personally takes time to reflect about those he served with, mentioning the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. “Now you will have your own place to sit and reflect, and say thanks.”

The evenings speakers, honor guards, the Junior ROTC Drill Team, the chorus from Wilson Elementary ­— they all led up to talking about the next phase of the project, raising between $500,000 and $600,000 to get the memorial built.

“My challenge for this community is that we all dig deep and find some funds to build the memorial,” said Carmona.

Several individuals did just that at the event, including the American Legion Post 132 which presented a check for $1,000.

“It is an important thing to understand, the memorial will be 100% privately funded,” said Eggerding. “We can’t do this without donations from our citizens.”
Alan Dankwerth and Kay Williams are the co-chairs of fundraising for The Southern Arizona Veterans and First Responders Living Memorial.

“I became involved because I have family members who have served from World War II to the War in Afghanistan. They have been permanently disabled as they served our country,” said Williams. “We need this memorial for all of us to have a place of honor and respect  those who serve, as well as to provide education for generations to come so that they may understand the sacrifice so many have made.”

Dankworth added, “To often the sacrifice of our dedicated first responders and members of the military are taken for granted. Creation of the memorial will provide the recognition they deserve. It will be for the fallen, those who have served and still do. This memorial shall be a place of honor, reflection and education.”
“This living memorial is a not a medal destined to be pinned on ones chest for ceremonial presentation, nor destined to lie in a box, on a shelf or in a drawer… but to be an enormous exhibit which proclaims service and sacrifice. This memorial monument will be seen from a far, and serves as a reminder of thanks from a grateful community; a memorial that will speak to our love and our gratitude for generations to come,” concluded Motuafis.

I lost one of my best friends on the last day of the Korean war, so a memorial has always been in the back of my mind,” said Eggerding. “Now that the feasibility study is done, we have the land from the Town of Oro Valley, Matthew Moutafis as our artist, Caid has agreed to manage the project, and WLB Group to bring their expertise to the area surrounding the moment, we just need the funds. I believe that I live in a very generous community and together we will make it work.”

For more information about the Veterans and First Responders Living Memorial, visit:
• Facebook: facebook.com/Southern-Arizona-Veterans-First Responders-Memorial-2163384567220656/
• Twitter: twitter.com/soazvfrmemorial
• Website: soazveteransfirstrespondersmemorial.org
You can donate now by visiting woazveteransandfirstrespondersmemorial.org/donate.
Memorial task force members are willing to come to your organization and speak, just email your request to soazvfrmemorial@gmail.com