The Veterans Memorial Wall, located on the grounds of the Dayton Community Center, will soon bear the names of 83 more military veterans thanks to a $5,000 grant from Entergy Texas and $7,450 from the City of Dayton.
The request for city funding was made by former Mayor Steve Stephens at the April 19 Dayton City Council meeting. The City’s portion will come from Hotel Occupancy Taxes as the memorial wall can be considered of interest to tourists.
When the wall was first approved by the City in 2009, the cost was $1.5 million, which came from funds remaining from the $14.5 million bond that financed construction of the community center. Stephens, who was mayor at the time, said the wall ended up costing about half what it should because of generous donations from the community.
“The architect who designed this beautiful community center also designed the Veterans Memorial Wall. He did not charge the city,” Stephens said.
The heavy rains of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 caused damage to the wall. A $7,700 grant from Entergy Texas was used to restore the wall to its original glory. In May 2019, a rededication ceremony was held.
“After the rededication, I had an opportunity to speak with [Dayton City Manager] Theo [Melancon]. We didn’t know at the time how many spots were left on the wall. We now know it is 83. I asked Theo about the possibility of the city picking up the tab for the markers. We discussed it at length and decided we would try to get some grants,” Stephen told Council. “Then, low and behold, the pandemic hit, and that killed everything.”
At the same dedication, Stephens spoke to Entergy representatives who expressed an interest in helping the City finish the wall. However, the first step was to find the veterans who had earned a spot.
The Liberty Gazette helped out by running weekly news items asking for the public’s help. Those efforts paid off and soon Stephens had 200 applications. However, with only 83 spaces available, the next challenge was prioritizing the requests based on each veteran’s connection to Dayton, such as if they had lived there and attended school. That allowed Stephens to narrow down the requests to 83, one of which came from a schoolmate of Stephens who was suffering from pancreatic cancer at the time. Her dying wish was to have the names of her three brothers on the wall.
“An anonymous donor stepped up and donated what it would take to get her brothers’ names on the wall,” Stephens said.
Melancon informed the woman in writing that her brothers would indeed be included, that the funding for the plaques had been donated and their spots on the wall were guaranteed.
“A few days later, this lady called me. She told me when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she hadn’t shed a tear, but receiving the letter from the city manager made her cry like a baby,” Stephens said. “The reason I am telling you this story is a lot of people think veterans go around tooting their own horn. That’s not totally true. Most veterans don’t talk about it. The ones who do are their family members – the ones who are proud of their veterans.”
Melancon pointed out to council that Dayton has a higher percentage of veterans than the State of Texas, where 6.8 percent of the population is a military veteran.
“Sacrifices have been made by this community, as a whole, to stand up to tyranny and allow liberty to shine,” the city manager said.
Stephens challenged the city council members, none of whom were on council at the time, to visit the wall and take a close look at the names.
“There are so many names on the wall from the same families. We have 11 brothers from the same family – the Ripkowskis. Nine of the 11 were in combat zones and all nine came home,” he said. “On the list of the 80 that we have to finish out, there are five more Ripkowskis there.”
The Veterans Memorial Wall was designed to be expanded. Currently there is only one wall section. However, in the future, when it is finally complete, there will be three.