Dominique Claseman (Olivia, Minnesota) came to the Olivia City Council when he was 15 years old to discuss his plan for a veterans memorial. He even had his own architect drawings and space already selected.
Although it was a large project, he was confident that the community would be willing to contribute to something similar.
His vision became a reality two years later.
On Memorial Day, hundreds gathered to dedicate the new veterans memorial in Olivia. This was Dominique’s Eagle Scout project, and it was completed a few weeks short of his 17th birthday.
“The memorial before you is the result of the generosity and support that I, and the veterans of community, have received,” the young man said in his speech.
Ron Kopacek, who headed up the dedication’s honor guard, was impressed by how Dominique managed to do it.
“Fifteen years old, sophomore in high school, he’s going to raise $12,000 to $15,000 we’re thinking, ‘What? Really?’”
But the dedicated teen said that he often questions his ability to do it.
Dominique began the project by creating information sheets, conducting interviews with local radio stations and newspapers, as well as setting up a table to present it at events at the Olivia American Legion.
He was amazed at the number of pavers engraved that were purchased and donated. This allowed him to expand his initial idea of what a memorial could look like.
Dominique’s original fundraising goal was $12,000 to $15,000, but he ended up raising a little more than $77,000.
Dominique, who comes from a long line of service members, requested for his dad, scoutmaster Mark Jurgensen, who served in Iraq, to wear his combat boots to mark 21 footprints on the memorial’s wet cement.
Dominique’s proud father said that this was nothing unusual for him.
“He’s one of them kind of kids that likes to make sure that he doesn’t disappoint anybody, and he strives really hard for that,” he said.
During the dedication, people walked along the memorial to read the 280 engraved pavers with the names of those with connections to Olivia, some of whom never made the trip home.
The American flag, the Minnesota Flag, and the POW Flag flew over the revered names. A central headstone, bronze statues and black granite benches were also included.
Kim Wertish, whose son James was killed in Iraq on July 16, 2009 thanked Dominique and hugged him tight during the dedication.
James was also killed by two other members from the Minnesota National Guard: Dan Drevnick (and Carlos Wilcox), whose names are also inscribed on the veterans’ memorial.
“James has been honored in many cities through connections with the military, and that’s dear to us also, but this is our hometown,” Kim said.
Mark Hebig, whose grandfather Alfred Hebig served in Korea, drove two hours just to attend the dedication.
“I never knew him very good because he was killed in a car accident when I was 1 year old,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but you still always remember.”
Aaron Russell, a district executive with the scouts, said this veterans memorial is “something special.”
“We were trying to figure out if there’s been in recent memory a project of this scale, especially with the money raised. We couldn’t think or find anything even close to it,” he said.
Smiling, he added, “I’m an Eagle Scout myself and I raised, maybe $700, $800 for (his project) total, and I thought that was tough at the time. I can’t even imagine.”
The veterans memorial is in Olivia’s Kubesh Park, near the U.S. Highways 71-212 intersect.
Dominique dug a trench of dirt in a ceremonial groundbreaking in May before turning the job over the hired contractors.
Dominique, who has two younger brothers hopes they will oneday expand the memorial for their Eagle Scout projects.
Dominique, thank-you for this beautiful monument to honor our veterans.
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