Volunteers create Alsip veterans plaza
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com October 12, 2012 5:00PM
Lashanda Franklin, from Home Depot, works on a building at the new Veteran's Park, 118th and Pulaski in Alsip, IL on Friday October 12, 2012. Home Depot Foundation is supplying $$ and volunteers to turn this vacant corner into a veteran's park, with a gazebo, memorial plaques, flagpoles, etc. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:37AM
Armed with shovels, rakes and paintbrushes — and fueled with boxes of coffee and doughnuts — an army of volunteers was on hand Friday at the southeast corner of 118th Street and Pulaski Road in Alsip.
Their mission, according to Mayor Patrick Kitching: turn the “worst-looking piece of property on Pulaski into the most attractive.”
On their day off, policemen and firemen joined the mayor and Team Depot in transforming a former gas station site into a veterans plaza — a place where folks can honor those who served in any branch of the military, and those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I cannot believe how many people have stepped up to the plate to make this happen,” Kitching said, specifically mentioning The Home Depot Foundation and Ozinga Concrete.
“They are the big dogs in this,” he said.
The Home Depot Foundation provided a $17,200 grant and a host of volunteers and materials to create a serene spot to honor veterans. The project is part of its second annual Celebration of Service, an effort to complete more than 300 projects from Sept. 11 to Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — all to benefit veterans.
The new plaza began to become a reality with a land donation from the family of Thomas Kenny, owner of a Clark gas station that once occupied the corner, Kitching said. VFW Post 450 — of which Kitching is a longtime member — had talked about creating a memorial. Enter The Home Depot Foundation, and “one thing led to another,” Kitching said.
“I am so grateful to the Kenny family,” he said, recalling that he used to buy gas at the site back in high school. After the gas station closed, it was Tom Kenny’s smoke shop, a drive-through for cigarette buyers.
By the end of the day Friday, the site’s only resemblance to its former self was a small remaining building, which was undergoing a face-lift and was to be adorned with memorial plaques.
Work started a couple of weeks ago, but crews of volunteers were at it in earnest Friday, putting finishing touches on a gazebo and laying brick pavers around it. They moved mountains of dirt, laid sod over the former gravel lot, built berms, and planted trees and shrubs.
Electricians provided wiring so the trees could be lit during the holidays. Ozinga poured concrete for a new sidewalk and parking lot. VFW members grilled sausages and burgers to feed the workers.
“Everyone is doing a little bit of everything,” said Keith Maxwell, an employee and volunteer from The Home Depot store in Alsip.
As a veteran, the son of a veteran, and uncle of a current serviceman, he enjoys donating his time for such projects.
“This is going to look great when it’s done,” he said.
Police Chief Chris Radz said he took the day off from being behind his desk to move dirt.
“I’m not used to sweating,” he said, joking.
But he said the effort would “improve the community. Home Depot is great to work with. We work with them on projects all the time, like our National Night Out or our haunted trail,” Radz said.
Once work on the ground is done, flags from each service branch will fly along with the American flag. Engraved granite pavers — now being sold by the VFW — will be placed at the base as memorials. Benches will be installed on the site, offering a respite along busy Pulaski Road.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too,” said Mark Persun, manager of The Home Depot. in Alsip. “We brainstormed ideas on what could be done with this green space. There’s nothing like this in the village.”
And it all was accomplished with donated materials and labor.
“It’s been a good community project, and a lot of good people,” Kitching said. “We’re trying to turn Pulaski into our identifiable downtown area and make it a place where people want to be.”
Plans are to dedicate the new park on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.