Teenager Dominique Claseman designed and built a city’s veterans’ memorial



High school student Dominique Claseman grew up hearing the stories of his father and other family members who served in the US military.

“I wanted them all to be honoured,” said Claseman, 17. The teenager said it was starting to bother him that his small town of Olivier, Minnesota, had no memorial to recognize veterans. Over the years, some people in town had put up a few rocks and signs to support the veterans, but for Claseman, that wasn’t enough.

When it came time for him to come up with an idea for his Eagle Scout project two years ago, he knew what he wanted to do for the town. Olivia is a farming community of approximately 2,500 people located 90 miles from Minneapolis-St. region of Paul and known as “Corn capital of the world.”

“I thought maybe I could raise $12,000 to $15,000 to get a memorial built in the park,” he said. He soon realized that the project would be much bigger than that.

The project began when Claseman and his parents, Mark and Wendy Jurgensen, took him to war memorials in other cities to give him a feel for what they looked like. Mark Jurgensen is Claseman’s Scoutmaster and served in Iraq with the Army National Guard.

Claseman publicized his idea to the city and surrounding areas by being interviewed on local radio stations and distributing pamphlets. He then went door to door to local businesses. People were receptive.

“When people realized I really wanted to do this, it started to take off,” Claseman said. Soon the donations started pouring in. Residents of Olivia and surrounding towns donated nearly $77,000, about six times its original goal.

Most of the money came from families who donated $250 for each cobblestone they wanted to have inscribed in a veteran’s name. “Everyone started thinking, ‘Holy cow – he’s really going to do this,'” Jurgensen, 43, said.

A worker stopped by to help find a missing girl. He found her waist-deep in a stream.

Claseman drew a sketch of what he envisioned for the memorial – a walkway with 21 steps, cobblestones with veterans’ names, flags, and a memorial stone with the military service branches. He combined some of the favorite designs he had seen at other memorials, then took his sketch to his grandfather Jim Czech, who works as a contractor and architect in the area. Czech weighed in with some ideas.

“As more and more donations came in, the plans also grew,” Claseman said. “After I hit $15,000 and more money kept coming in, I thought, ‘Hey, I can do a lot bigger. ”

In May, the finalized plan was completed for a long walkway leading to a stone monument and four granite benches in a 21-foot circle representing the 21 steps from the guard’s boot to the Tomb of the Unknowns walks. The memorial would also include flagpoles and sculptures of army helmets in honor of two local men who died in Iraq.

A local crew volunteered to pour the concrete if Claseman purchased the supplies. Then her father walked through wet cement in his army boots to complete a walk of honor with 21 footprints, Claseman said. A granite company from Richmond, Minnesota was hired to create the stone benches and monument.

Then, he and his family joined other members of his Scout troop to landscaping and install 280 inscribed granite cobblestones along the driveway. It took them three weekends, he said. “There was about 10,000 pounds of rock, so yeah, it was a lot of work,” Claseman said.

She won the lottery. Then she shared her windfall with strangers.

After two years of fundraising, design and participation, the monument was dedicated this year remembrance day. The community was impressed that a teenager had achieved such a great achievement, said Jon Hawkinson, Mayor of Olivia. “Dom’s project proved to us that when creativity meets ambition, wonderful things can happen,” he said.

On Memorial Day, several hundred people turned out to dedicate the monument and marvel at the names of all the veterans with ties to Olivia.

“A lot of people were very emotional,” Claseman said. “It was a good time for something like this. Because so many veterans have now passed away, it was a time for people to relive memories and celebrate their loved ones.

Wendy Jurgensen said it was rewarding to see her son’s community project come to fruition. “He definitely has his head where he wants it,” said Jurgensen, 34. “He knows what he wants and sticks to it.”

Marjorie Barber, 91, came to remember her uncle – a World War I veteran who died aged 21 – and more than a dozen relatives who served in World War II, including her late husband, Leo Barber.

“We have 17 of my family members on the memorial – almost all of them are gone, a few are still alive,” said Barber, who contributed $250 for her husband’s cobblestone, with other family members contributing for the rest of the family stones. “We’ve never had a place to remember our veterans before, so what Dominique has done is truly wonderful and uplifting for our city.”

“To think that a young child has taken on this responsibility is truly remarkable,” she added. “On the day of the dedication, I gave him a hug and told him that I felt like his grandmother. I’m so proud of him.

She just got accepted to medical school. She is 13 years old.

Kim Wertish said her son, James Wertish, was killed in a mortar attack in Iraq while serving in the Army National Guard in 2009, when he was 20. Wertish, 60, contributed money to buy markers for his son and two comrades who were killed in the attack. “To see their names there – it’s really beautiful,” she said. “My husband and I love to travel and have stopped at many memorials, but this one is extra special.”

“I’m really grateful to [Dominique] for spearheading this project,” Wertish added.

Olivia’s memorial is the largest project undertaken by a local Eagle Scout in recent memory, said Aaron Russell, district manager for the North Star Councila Scouting organization serving youth in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

“I was truly amazed to see Dom continue to achieve his goals,” Russell said. “It seemed like every week her mom was texting me updates, with more and more donations coming in.”

Claseman’s project will be difficult to follow, but his two brothers, Jayden Claseman, 15, and Ahren Jurgensen, 13, are waiting in the wings to give it a try, he said.

“It’s not the end – my brothers can add to the memorial for their own Eagle projects,” he said. “They will hopefully add more cobblestones and more statues. We can do much more.

On July 4, he said, he was delighted to see his friends and neighbors enjoying the memorial and paying their respects. “Everyone came together for the veterans,” Claseman said. “That’s what it’s about.”

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