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'Heroes' memorial in Zumbro Falls goes up fast

The memorial honors firefighters and veterans from the area and beyond.

The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial
Tony Johnson, the commander of the local VFW post stands at the Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Zumbro Falls.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

ZUMBRO FALLS — When a flood rolled through Zumbro Falls in 2010, a lot of property along the river was bought up by the state and federal government with the idea of never building there again.

However, a group of city leaders – two groups, actually – found a way to use the land to make the city better while honoring those who have served their community and the country. The result is the Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial, monument designed to honor both firefighters and military veterans.

"It’s taken a long time, and the guys in the groups have always talked about doing this," said Tony Johnson, commander of VFW Post 180
in Zumbro Falls. "We kind of put our resources together."

The new memorial sits at the southeast corner of the intersection of U.S. Highway 63 and Minnesota Highway 60, right at the busiest point in town.

01-The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial
The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Zumbro Falls.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Bruce Heitman, who is both the mayor and fire chief in Zumbro Falls, said the memorial is about "90% completed" with just some caulking needed on the granite walls, electricity hooked up to power the lights, and the names need to be etched into the granite.

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Heitman said the project cost about $120,000, most of which was raised through pull-tab profits, though there were some donations from businesses, organizations and individuals from around the Zumbro Falls-Mazeppa and Wabasha areas.

More importantly, several businesses donated their time and equipment to pitch in to get the job done, Heitman said.

Those included businesses such as Demand Electric which helped with the electrical work, Meyerhofer Steel & Construction, which donated the use of a crane to set granite walls and statues, Throndson Oil &LP Gas Company, which donated a boom truck for the flagpole installation, and members of the city and fire department staffs plus volunteers from the VFW who all donated time.

The volunteer efforts greatly increased the total value of the project, Heitman said.

Heitman said the idea for the memorial came when a previous fire chief was driving home from Iowa and saw a bunch of red firefighter flags in a cemetery. He decided then to look into a firefighter memorial.

Johnson said when the two groups got together, that's when the momentum for the monument picked up. But the plan had been discussed for years, especially after the 2010 flood and all the properties were bought out.

The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial
The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Zumbro Falls.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Those properties, Johnson said, could not be built upon again as part of the flood buyout agreement, but there were certain exceptions. For example, the monuments had to be short enough that, should another flood rage down the Zumbro River, they would not stick up enough to catch the flotsam in the river.

Heitman said the project has been a real community-wide effort. In addition to donations and pull-tab funding, people have given their efforts in other ways.

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A resident who is an art teacher in Lake City helped design the memorial.

Johnson said benches will be donated so people can sit and enjoy the view.

And then there's the effort from the two organizations to get the names that will be etched on the memorial. Heitman said the fire department will look at how much space they have and try to determine whether they start with the latest firefighters or go back through the history of the service.

Johnson said the VFW will put on the names of members in one part, and allow veterans – whether they served overseas during wartime or not – to have access to a second area.

"We want to recognize those that are gone," Heitman said. "We want to let people around the community know who served the community."

02-The Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial
Zumbro Falls Mayor and Fire Chief Bruce Heitman and Tony Johnson, the commander of the local VFW post, stand at the Zumbro Falls Hometown Heroes Memorial Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Zumbro Falls.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Related Topics: LAKE CITY-ZUMBRO FALLS
Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or btodd@postbulletin.com.
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