Lee University Flames baseball head coach Mark Brew chose Armed Forces Day weekend to present a $10,000 check to Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland for a veterans’ memorial park in honor of all five military branches of the military.
The baseball team raised the money April 6 at its Military Appreciation Day, the first of an annual event planned as a fundraiser to support projects for veterans.
“This was a good first start,” Brew said. “The community really stepped forward. I thought it was a really great day. We had well over 100 veterans that day and huge support from the 252nd Military Police Company.”
The mayor said between the money raised by the baseball team and prior commitments there would be enough funding to build the park within the next few weeks.
“I’m always appreciative of what Lee University does for the community. The athletic department and coach Brew have just been amazing,” Rowland said. “I think it instills in these college students that we should never forget our veterans.”
The memorial park will be located on the north side of Veterans Memorial Highway (APD 40) and east of the BP convenience store located on the corner of 25th and Parker streets. It will be on the west of Spring Creek adjacent to the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway.
Spring Creek developers Stan and Brenda Lawson donated the low-lying area. The park will be built over an existing detention pond that will be filled in with dirt.
Brew said the event went extremely well “and I think our sponsors stepped forward and did a really great job helping to fund the event.”
Don and Kay (Jenkins) Cowan, Jenkins Deli, and Scott Taylor, Bank of Cleveland, who were among the sponsors of the baseball team’s fundraiser, and Spring Creek developer Stan Lawson, were at the check presentation.
Kay said the delicatessen depends on Lee students for part-time staff “and I couldn’t say no to this young man (Brew) if I tried.” She also supports the military “100 percent. If they come in uniform, I always pick up their ticket.”
Taylor said the park will be a peaceful area to honor and remember veterans and the sacrifices they have made on a continual basis.
“Bank of Cleveland is proud to have played a role in Lee University's Military Appreciation Day to see this project come to life.”
Rowland pointed out that the baseball Flames fly to Lewiston, Idaho, Tuesday, to play in the NAIA College World Series. The first game is June 1 at 6:30 p.m. This will be the team’s seventh consecutive appearance in the series. It will also be its last appearance before the school joins the Gulf South Conference in NCAA Division II.
“The U.S. military is the best in the world and we in Cleveland believe the Lee University Flames are the best college baseball team in the world, so it is appropriate the two should support each other,” the mayor said.
Rowland, Larry McDaris, Bradley County Veterans Affairs director, and the late John Simmons formulated a concept for the park. The mayor put the park on hold in 2009 to not compete for fundraising dollars with the Cleveland Bradley County State Veterans Home.
McDaris said his office has been preoccupied raising funds and shepherding the much larger and long-term veterans home project.
“This is also important for the veterans of Bradley County and we appreciate everything Lee University has done for the community,” he said.
Rowland put the park "on hold" in 2009 to not interfere with fundraising efforts for the state veterans home. Now that the home is closer to reality, the mayor wanted to finish the park. Construction of the park will coincide with a new Hardee's being built in the coming year.
A line of trees planted along the memorial highway was offered to Rowland as a means to obtain "seed" money. Eleven granite stones donated by family members, in honor of area veterans or in memory of deceased veterans, are at the base of the trees. Money raised by selling the stones went to architect Doug Caywood. His design incorporates all the components including landscaping and five benches, each engraved with the insignia of a branch of service. A large American flag will fly in the park. Woodmen of the World has offered to donate a flagpole.
“The park will be highly visible to passers-by on the stretch of roadway that leads to APD 40 and into Polk County,” the mayor said. “It will also be easily accessible through sidewalks along Spring Creek Boulevard or the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway.”
It will be a passive park where people can sit and relax.
“It will be a fitting tribute to all our veterans, both past and present," Rowland said. “Bank of Cleveland was the first to step forward to donate a plaque ‘In Memory and Honor of All U.S. Veterans.’ It is the first in the series of trees on the Greenway, nearest to Parker Street,” the mayor said.
Memory plaques have been placed for: R. Howard Griffith Jr., U.S. Army by his family; W.W. Ensley, U.S. Army World War II, by son Patton Ensley; Thomas L. Marr Sr., U.S. Army, by his children; Dr. Sam Horner Jr., U.S. Air Force, by his children; Eddie Hixson, U.S. Air Force, by Steve and Cathy Hixson; and Jack Carroll, U.S. Army WW II, by his daughters.
Honor plaques have been placed for: Stan Lawson, U.S. Air Force, by his wife, Brenda; George Beard Jr., U.S. Army, by Stan and Brenda Lawson; James Oscar Cash, U.S. Army, by his family and Rex A. Young, U.S. Army 9th Infantry, by his family.
About 50 more trees are available for plaques. Cost is $250. Write checks payable to City of Cleveland Veterans Park Project. For more information, please call the mayor’s office at 423-476-8931.