It took a village: Groundbreaking ceremony for Montevideo Veteran's Home project held

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News
Montevideo City officials Mitch Steuck, Robert Wolfington, Mayor Erich Winter, and Ben Dolan take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.

On Monday morning a crowd gathered at the site of the future Montevideo Veteran’s Home for a long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony. After years of effort by area Veterans and various committees, the day was cause for celebration that the project is now moving forward with construction beginning this fall. Among those present were U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, State Senator Andrew Lang, State Representative Tim Miller, MDVA Commissioner Larry Herke, MDVA Deputy Commissioner Douglas Hughes, Montevideo Veterans Committee Chair Marv Garbe, Montevideo Veteran Mike Diggins, and Jim Williams.

Montevideo City Staff and Council members take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.
A Veteran at the ceremony salutes during the singing of the National Anthem.

Douglas Hughes spoke first, welcoming everyone to the ceremony. “After many years of advocacy and effort by this community, supporters at the state capital and congress, as well as our partners with the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, we are thrilled to start construction here in Montevideo on this important project to serve Veterans of Western Minnesota,” Hughes said. He noted that the first of the Veteran’s Homes to be constructed in Minnesota was in 1887 in Minneapolis in order to provide care for Veterans who served in the Civil War. “The Minnesota tradition of commitment to serve Veterans and their family has never wavered,” said Hughes. “The Minnesota Veteran’s Home effort started many years ago, and there were many advocates of this. Unfortunately, some have passed but I am sure they are here in spirit today for this celebration. Recognition must be given to those who led this effort such as Marv Garbe, Angie Steinbach, Senator Lang, and Representative Miller, as well as others such as Ben Johnson, our Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Legislative Director. All of these, and many more individuals, really helped push this across the finish line. There have been several community meetings, design concepts, land transfer, contractor selection, and many other requirements all of which brings us here today. You should all be congratulated.” 

U.S. Senator Klobuchar speaks on the importance of the community's support to the successful campaign for the Veteran's Home.
Among the crowd of attendees were many area Veterans.

Marv Garbe, spoke next, giving a brief overview of the history of the effort within the community to be chosen as one of the locations in the State for a Veteran’s Home. “The group started in 2007 with a need for a Veteran’s Home and our mission was to have a Veterans Home constructed in Montevideo so that our Veterans had a place for care within a reasonable traveling distance for the families to visit,” Garbe said. “When Commissioner Herke called me to say it was approved it took a day to really sink in. I want to thank all the Veterans in the area that supported this all these years, the Legislators, the Montevideo City Council, Chippewa County Commissioners, Big Stone, Lac Qui Parle, Swift, and Yellow Medicine County Commissioners for their support both personally and financially. All financial institutions, businesses, and private donations that were made so we could build this Veteran’s Home.”

Montevideo Veterans Committee Chair Marv Garbe spent much of his speech thanking all involved, his emotion at seeing the fruition of the community's cumulative efforts coming together during this week's event.

Garbe went on to thank individuals who put forth additional effort over the years with the planning, saying, “There are a few individuals that I want to call out. Dennis Anderson served on our committee and was always a champion of the Veteran’s Home. He was always there when he needed to be. Don Lofthus. He had that World War II coffee group, and then the Korean coffee group and now it’s called the Veteran’s coffee group. He took care of them for years and that group raised over $19,000. I should also include Scott Marquardt. He was on the initial planning committee. He’s our former EDA director and he was the one that was successful in bringing the Montevideo Veteran’s Outbase Clinic here. And then Angie Steinbach came on as the Assistant City Manager and she really re-energized us. Writing and re-writing and updating the booklets for St. Paul and the hours she spent working with Jim Williams on his brother’s bequest. And finally, let’s remember Steve Williams, the late brother of Jim Williams. Steve was a Vietnam Veteran and cared greatly for Veterans. Prior to his sudden passing, he had mentioned to his brother Jim that he wanted to contribute to the Montevideo Veteran’s Home. That commitment was three million dollars. That will add that community room to this Veteran’s Home that none of the other ones have and we’ll be the shining star of Western Minnesota. Let’s be forever grateful for this thoughtful and generous contribution. In closing, thank you to all the Veterans who made the many trips with us to St. Paul, all the meetings attended at either the American Legion or standing out here in the cold rain in October when the Senate Investment Committee came through. This is what it is all about. A home for Veterans. A place close, so their families and friends can visit.”

Montevideo National Guard members were in attendance for the ceremony.

Larry Hjerke also spoke, noting to the audience that he expects that around 18 months from now there will be an announcement for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “I think this is a great example of Federal, State, and local working together. This is really the best the government can be,” he said. 

American Legion members displayed the flag near the speaker's podium throughout the ceremony.

Jim Williams, the brother Steve Williams who bequeathed nearly three million dollars to the project, spoke as well, sharing the story of his brother’s donation with the crowd. “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. That was my brother Steve’s favorite quote,” Williams said. “My brother Steve passed away March 14, 2018. In January of 2018, I was telling Steve about the Veteran’s Home that they were proposing in Montevideo. He said to me, ‘keep me posted, I’m really interested.” Williams shared a personal story about his brother’s service, saying, “When I was walking back from the chapel after Steve’s memorial service at the Southern Nevada Veterans cemetery, there was a Veteran sitting on a chair. He stood up shook my hand and said ‘welcome home, brother’. He proceeded to tell me that my brother and other Vietnam Veterans didn’t receive a welcome home. They came home to protest. Stories like this had me wonder if Steve didn’t tell me these things to protect his little brother. I was going through Steve’s things to prepare for today and I came across two articles that really stood out to me. I was eight years younger than my brother and he didn’t share too many stories about the war with me and so it made me wonder what those days were truly like for him. Here’s one of the things he had that I found in his home. This article, with the headline ‘Returning GI’s on parade may face protests at home’. The other one is a little newspaper clipping that my mother had put in the paper. Home from Vietnam, Steve Williams surprises folks Friday evening by arriving home from Vietnam rather unexpectedly. He was in the 19th infantry division that was pulled out. He was given a three-day notice that he was homeward bound. He arrived in Minneapolis where he was able to get a ride out with a Benson Minnesota motorist… That’s the kind of welcome he got.”

Jim Williams speaks, sharing the story behind his brother's large donation to the project.

Williams went on to ask that any Veteran’s in the audience stand. “I can’t imagine what it was like for these men and women. To be in their position,” he said.  “These men and women who are here are Steve’s brothers and sisters. Thank you for your service. Our family is forever grateful. Steves legacy of protecting his brothers and sisters and serving our country will live on. Welcome home, brother.”

The Legion Riders stood in attendance at the ceremony.

U.S. State Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke, thanking the community for playing such a large role in the project. “This project has, actually, a lot of Federal money included,” she said. “Thirty-four million dollars of these funds are Federal, but I can tell you that wouldn’t have happened without this community. That’s what they look at when they make this decision. They look at if there is community support for a program. They saw it big time here in Montevideo,” she said.

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar stood next to Jim Williams for the ground breaking ceremony.

Senator Klobuchar went on to say, “This facility means that more Veterans will be able to take care of the benefits they earned without having to move halfway across the state away from their loved ones to get those benefits. On top of offering rooms for 72 Veterans, this facility is going to include a Community Center for Montevideo, Watson, Granite Falls and beyond for all who want to come and have coffee and conversation with our Veterans. When our veterans signed up to serve, there wasn’t a waiting line. When you come home to the United States of America and you need either a job or an education or in this case health care, there should never be a waiting line. There should always be a bed available, and there should always be hope for you. Our Veterans deserve respect every single day of their lives and that’s what building this Veteran’s Home in Montevideo is about, so thank you for having the back of those who have served.”

Senators, Legislators and other political figures take part in the groundbreaking ceremony.