BLAIRSVILLE: Community rallies behind idea for veterans memorial
BLAIRSVILLE — Back when Bill Orr finished his tour of duty in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s, there was a hometown memorial to military men from Blairsville.
It was an informal wooden monument on East Market Street, Orr said — more or less an honor roll board that folks could add names to as they saw fit. But its informal nature led it to fall to disrepair and in the mid-1970s, it just disappeared, according to Orr.
Today, as commander of VFW Post 5832, Orr is leading a local campaign to put up a permanent, stone and metal wall to honor those killed or missing in action.
Blairsville Borough Council has thrown strong formal backing to the idea, voting Tuesday to apply for $250,000 of state funds to build Blairsville Area Veterans Memorial Park — envisioned as a granite wall with plaques amid landscaping and lighting on grounds west of the bandstand near Bairdstown Bridge.
Leann Chaney, of the Blairsville Community Development Authority, outlined the project Tuesday and gained council’s support for an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and Commonwealth Financing Authority for a grant through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.
Preliminary designs show flagpoles, bike parking racks, an amphitheater stage, a paved area for public gatherings, a picnic pavilion near South Walnut Street, pubic restrooms near West Campbell Street, nighttime illumination for the site and the Bairdstown Bridge, and a walking trail cutting through the grounds.
“As you travel around in small communities, you see different renditions of veterans’ memorials … and that’s something we’re lacking as a community,” Orr told council. “I saw a need for it, and thought it would be a nice project to work on.”
So far, Orr said, he’s collected names of 78 area servicemen and -women known to have died fighting for America from World War I forward, folks who hailed from Blairsville, Black Lick, Josephine, Brenizer, Torrance — even an extinct little place called Cokeville — generally, all areas with a Blairsville mailing address.
And Orr also is collecting funds, something important for two reasons.
“Individuals and businesses need to help contribute to this, because it gives them a sense of ownership to the memorial,” Orr said. “It lets them contribute rather than just rely on indiscriminate money coming in from funding.”
Chaney said that grassroots support is necessary to help meet the estimated budget of $307,545.
The grant source requires a 5 percent local match of $37,500, an amount BCDA would help to cover, Chaney said, leaving more than $20,000 in contributions still needed.
To that end, Orr said, the local VFW, American Legion, and other project backers have placed collection cans at checkout counters in area businesses to raise money. They plan to auction a handmade quilt made by Marna Conrad, and they’ll apply for a small community support grant offered by Walmart, he said.
Council approved the grant application in time for it to meet next Monday’s filing deadline.
At the same time, council approved Chaney’s recommendation for Blairsville to apply for Keystone Community designation through DCED.
Having Keystone Community status is similar to the Main Street and Elm Street programs that enable qualified communities to get preferential treatment in their community improvement grant applications, Chaney said. The designation also makes certain local initiatives eligible for tax credits.
But unlike Main Street and Elm Street, Chaney said, the program doesn’t directly provide cash for local operations.
And rather than the business-district and residential-neighborhood specific designations for the other programs that already are in place, the Keystone Community application would seek designation for the entire borough, she said.