When Gary Broadway checks his mail each day, he often receives applications to purchase the bricks or pavers that are raising funds for the Hardin County Veterans Tribute.
Many of the applications contain handwritten letters from loved ones of military service members explaining the reason for their application—an elderly woman who still mourns the loss of her husband in a long-ago war, or someone whose family member’s military service and patriotism inspired them to bestow a special, tangible thank you while they’re still living.
“They put their heart into this thing and sometimes it brings me to tears,” says Broadway, an Army veteran and Radcliff resident.
Stories like these and the proximity of Elizabethtown to Fort Knox have motivated Broadway and a handful of others to create the Hardin County Veterans Tribute, to be located in the Elizabethtown Nature Park and formally dedicated this Veterans Day, November 11.
The effort to build the park began about four years ago when Broadway was traveling through Powell County and visited their Veterans Memorial Park. He envisioned another park honoring the military being ideally located in Elizabethtown as a tribute to all who have served our country.
Broadway enlisted the aid of Vine Grove resident Mary Smith and Elizabethtown resident Rik Hawkins to assist in planning and fund-raising. Elizabethtown artist Rich Griendling was asked to design and create the tribute, a star polygon walkway that is 70 feet in diameter and features five bronze statues representing all five military branches. Also, a female statue represents civil service workers, and POWs (prisoners of war) and MIAs (missing in action) are remembered with a pair of bronzed boots at the center of the tribute.
Etched granite monoliths include the official seal and song of each military branch, and the American flag and military flags are also prominently featured.
A groundbreaking was held in mid-2010, and now, with strong community support, the project is close to meeting its goal of raising $550,000, including the sale of bricks and pavers that will be located on a walkway there. Bronze plaques displayed at the tribute represent $100,000 of contributions; donors of $25,000 or more receive their name on one of the bronze plaques.
Starting about two years ago, Griendling began creating the sculptures in clay at his home studio. They’re just slightly larger than life-sized, and carry modern-day military equipment. He referred to actual military uniforms, boots, guns, and helmets to take accurate measurements and downloaded hundreds of photos of military personnel in combat to see what items they were wearing and using.
The faces of the Veterans Tribute sculptures do not represent any certain individual, though he did use models to get each pose just right. He cast the models in their bathing suits using plaster gauze to create the armature for the final clay sculpture. The sculpting process took about three months for each figure, and then a foundry cast them in bronze, which took another four months each, Griendling says.
The park is meant to set a top-notch standard with its state-of-the-art design, Griendling says.
“We wanted the park to be a place where you can take your children and be inspired by the idea of military service,” he says. “We wanted a place where people could simply come and have picnics with their families.”
Smith, who’s worked to process brick orders and write thank-you letters to donors, says she hopes generations of veterans and active duty personnel, their families, and others will visit and enjoy the tribute and Griendling’s work.
“We’re very fortunate to have Rich,” she says. “He’s such an outstanding artist, designer, and sculptor—that’s been such a blessing.”
The tribute effort began during the tenure of former Elizabethtown Mayor David Willmoth Jr. and continues under current Mayor Tim Walker. Walker says the Elizabethtown Nature Park was purchased from a resident’s estate with the family’s stipulation that it be used for nature appreciation. The park is about 100 acres, about 20 of which have been set aside for the tribute, and will contain walking trails and perhaps a future amphitheater and nature center. A city investment of about $1.5 million funded the site entrance, sign, utilities, parking, pavilion, entry lane for motorists, and connected the walking trail to the shelter.
At the dedication, with an expected 3,000 to 5,000 people, the tribute will be turned over to the city to maintain, Broadway says. After its Veterans Day debut, the park will accommodate special events on other patriotic holidays like Independence Day and Memorial Day.
“I really did think the community would get behind this project,” he says. “It just kind of shows you what the community is all about here.”
Walker adds, “We’re very excited we’re almost there, it’s almost complete and we can honor our veterans November 11.”
ABOUT RICH GRIENDLING
For 35 years, designer and sculptor Rich Griendling of Elizabethtown has created a variety of sculptures for private, public, and corporate art collections. His portfolio also includes a broad spectrum of award-winning graphic design for all types of businesses.
During the past decade, Griendling’s sculptures have included three large projects:
• The Medal of Honor Memorial in tribute to two Greenup County Medal of Honor recipients, John W. Collier and Ernest E. West, located at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North East in Greenup;
• The Veterans Memorial adjacent to Fort Knox in Kentucky Cemetery Central pays tribute to the men and women who serve in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard; and
• At John Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, six white sculptures of students are whimsically suspended in the school’s commons area. Each sculpture represents a segment of school life, including math, science, reading, music, sports, and technology.
When you visit Nolin RECC in Elizabethtown, you’ll be delightfully welcomed by Griendling’s white sculptures that he created for Nolin’s new corporate headquarters in 1997.
The sculptures illustrate the history of rural electricity from the turn of the century to the present. There’s a young boy pulling a string to a bare light bulb to turn on a powerful, high-tech world of the 21st century, with a young boy in front of a lighted computer screen connected to a lineman climbing a pole.
To learn more about Griendling, go to his Web site at www.richgriendling.com.
By Shannon Clinton