A drive to honor area police, fire and military

'It's a calling for people that do this job the best.'

Rochester Police Capt. Jeff Stilwell speaks during a Patriot Day event on Friday, September 11, 2020, at Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /

On the day that Americans honor the lives lost on 9/11, a community group kicked off a 50-day fundraising drive to raise money for three local projects that honor and recognize the area's law enforcement, fire and military personnel.

The launch of the fundraiser and its website, "Southeastern Minnesota Patriot Day," was declared Friday by organizer Brad Trahan in front of the Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial. It was attended by representatives of the Rochester police and fire departments and Olmsted County Sheriff's Department.

"When our law enforcement, fire and military personnel take the oath of office, they don't know politics," Trahan said. "You know what they do know? They know how to protect, how to serve, and they know how to provide us freedoms each and every day. That's why want to support them."

Organizers hope to raise $100,000 in the next 50 days, and Trahan said the group has gotten a good head start.

Money will support three projects or organizations: A law enforcement memorial for fallen officers in the 13-county area; a clock and bell tower to be built at the corner of Broadway and Sixth Street Southwest next to Rochester's Fire Station No. 1; and Ironwood Christian Springs Ranch's "Families of the Fallen" program and its disabled veterans turkey hunt.


In today's politically saturated times, Trahan was emphatic that the effort was driven not by politics but by a shared sense of American identify. "No Politics! Let's be Americans" was the defiantly worded banner at the top of the group's webpage.

Yet, the fundraiser is taking place at a time of political agitation and debate sparked by video recorded incidents of black men being injured or killed by police officers.

In his remarks, Rochester Police Captain Jeff Stillwell said he's heard stories that police officers are no longer recommending that their kids go into law enforcement "based on the toughness of the job and the society that we live in today."

"But I'll be honest with you: For those who are called to service, whether it's the military, the fire service, the police service, it really is a calling for people that do this job the best," Stillwell said.

Stillwell said he had just welcomed a new group of Rochester police officers into the force. And they were unaffected by the angst generated by the news media and the "naysayers," but rather were guided by a sense of optimism that "we can work to make this community, the state and the country a better place."

The 50-day campaign has symbolic significance for the group. Though the money raised will be spent on local projects, the number honors the service groups in all 50 states.

Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson said the law enforcement memorial will have meaning for fallen officer's families. He said the biggest fear of those families is that the officer who died in the line of duty will be forgotten.

"It's our job to make sure that they are not forgotten," Togerson said.


Trahan called the current effort a "foundational" event and that "bigger and better" efforts were planned for next year when there were fewer COVID-19 restrictions.

People can donate by going to the webpage, All donated funds will go to the Rochester Area Foundation, and the donations are tax-deductible.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or
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