Veterans and their supporters have waited years for the opportunity to build a Veterans Memorial Park in El Dorado Hills. On Aug. 14 the El Dorado Hills Community Services District’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the long-awaited maintenance and ground lease agreement of CSD-owned land for the project.
The location is a 1.2 acre site south of the synthetic field at Promontory Park.
Plans for the park include a 100-year journey of armed combat, a memory garden and reflection pool, walk through exhibits and a gathering area with stage.
“The approval was the culmination of years of work. The veterans memorial group will now begin their fundraising efforts to build the facility,” said CSD Board President Noelle Mattock in a statement. “The veterans memorial group has envisioned an amazing community asset. Once completed it will be a gathering place for children to learn history and a place for the community to gather and pay tribute to those who have served in the military and those who are currently serving our country.”
CSD General Manager Brent Dennis said the agreement took so long because many parties were involved and the CSD Board of Directors wanted to make sure it was done right. For one thing, the project site is under a utility line, so they had to clear it with PG& E and SMUD, he said. Also, the Executive Committee for the park planned to create its own 501(c)3 non-profit organization, but ultimately decided to act under the larger umbrella of the El Dorado Community Foundation, which will manage donations and the distribution of funds.
Dennis explained the land use agreement states that the Veterans Memorial Park Executive Committee may build the park on CSD property, but at the end of construction, and once everything is reviewed and inspected, it will revert back to the CSD and rejoin Promontory Park as an improvement. “The district will maintain park amenities like trees, shrubs and other landscape elements,” he explained. “The ongoing responsibility of the veterans group will be for things like monuments, plaques and memorial bricks.”
Now that the agreements are in place, “The ball is entirely in the veterans’ group court,” said Dennis. “The heavy lift for them now is raising money. Their timeline will be based on the success of their fundraising.”
El Dorado Hills resident and Vietnam veteran John Cordova said the idea for the park first came in 2004 when El Dorado Hills Marine Brad Shuder was killed in Iraq.
“Adrian Garcia and I created the Fallen Warriors Memorial scholarship fund after we tried to get a facility named after Brad Shuder,” he said. “Then Kyle Dayton died. All these facilities in El Dorado Hills were named after people, but not veterans who’d died. That’s when we started pushing for the Veterans Memorial Park.”
Cordova met fellow Marine and El Dorado Hills resident Robert Leon about the same time and calls Leon the true champion of the project.
“Robert and (Rotarian) Kathy Witherow took over the chairmanship of the organization and put together a phenomenal team,” Cordova said. “All the people who stepped in pushed it forward. What I did was push some buttons once in a while.”
As for the design of the park, Cordova said he was inspired after visiting the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.
“That museum goes from period to period back before the Revolutionary War; you complete a circle,” Cordova explained. “Ours will go back to World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, current conflicts and there will be an open space for future conflicts. It will be very educational and all five branches of the military will be honored.”
Despite the wait for the land use and maintenance agreements, Cordova said highly decorated Marine Corps veteran Dick Grinnell, who was instrumental during the planning of the Veterans Memorial Park before he died in 2013, was his inspiration. “We looked at Dick Grinnell and said, ‘This is what it’s all about. He was the motivator.’”
“The process for a project like this is always estimated to be a long one,” Leon said of the hiccups that have pushed the plan back while other parks were built in the area. “You need to go through the political, community and then the fundraising processes.”
Leon served in the military from 1967-69. “Both my brothers went to Vietnam before I did,” he said. “We got together and were our own therapy session.
“The idea for the memorial was started because we didn’t want the Afghanistan and Iraqi vets or Desert Storm vets to be forgotten like Vietnam vets were for about 20 years,” Leon continued. “We weren’t allowed to speak.”
Leon told Village Life next steps are to seek corporate funders. “We really couldn’t do anything until we had everything in place,” he said. “We have about $350,000 in in-kind contributions. A lot is from our own pockets. We need at least $150,000 more to break ground.”
Final cost for the park is estimated to be $2.3 million. Leon anticipates it could be completed six months after construction begins.
“The El Dorado Hills Rotary Club has done a phenomenal job enlightening the community and raising money for the Memorial Park so far,” Cordova said in a separate interview. The club will host the fifth annual Blues and Brews fundraising event on Nov. 15.
Leon said they’re also more than grateful to the CSD for allowing them to lease the land. Cordova plans to ask the CSD to go one step further and give the group a loan. “That would allow the memorial to be kicked off,” he said. “That’s my big issue. I know this community is very patriotic and wants to see this happen.”
Leon said the El Dorado Hills Rotary Club was the first sponsor of the project in 2009. “Bill Tobin, Kathy Witherow and Wayne Lowery never flinched,” he said. “We have more than 40,000 residents in El Dorado Hills now. We’re ready for it.”
On a personal note the park would mean more than words can express to Leon and Cordova.
“It would mean that our kids will have a place to go through a 100 year journey to learn about the people that made our freedom possible,” Leon said. “I lost some friends overseas and I don’t want them or any of the men or women fighting now or before I served to be forgotten, and for some reason our country is starting to forget.
“I’m not looking for any glory,” Leon continued. “I’m just hoping to see it come to fruition before I die. To see it done would be great.”
“I think this will be one of the most unique memorials in the state and it will be very educational,” added Cordova. “You can look at words, but if you can get someone hands on, they can go, ‘wow.’”
For more information and see the full list of friends and founders of the El Dorado Hills Veterans Memorial visit edhvetsmemorial.org. Mail check donations to: Veterans Memorial Park, EL Dorado Hills, P.O. Box 4559, El Dorado Hills 95762.