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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Jannie Layne, president of the Springdale Veterans Memorial Organization, relays instructions Oct. 1 during setup at the Arts Center of the Ozarks. That evening, the SVMO announced a nationwide design contest for a planned veterans memorial at J.B. Hunt Park in Springdale.

Instead of preparing for hostilities, the Springdale Veterans Memorial Organization on Oct. 1 issued a call to arms for a friendly competition. The winner, expected to be announced in May 2020, will design a new monument which "should serve to provide a symbol of acknowledgement of the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty of those who were among the nation's finest and whose service embodied values and ideals prized by this nation since its inception."

Having said that mouthful, Col. Jeffery Vinger, retired from the U.S. Air Force, explains the plan in simpler terms. It's been nearly two years, he says, since the SVMO was formed with the idea of raising funds for a veterans' memorial -- something the community is sorely lacking, he believes. Now a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the SVMO has elected a board of directors and they, in turn, have devised plans -- and subcommittees -- for design, public relations, fundraising and educational outreach.

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"We've participated in various networking events to get our presence and our cause out to the community and generate interest," Vinger says. "This design competition has been a long time in coming but is the next step in our strategic plan."

The inspiration for the memorial comes from Jannie Layne, who is president of the SVMO.

"My son, SFC Bo Swearingen, an Army veteran, was killed stateside in April of 2010," Layne explains. "As a result of his death, I became very involved in veterans' affairs and have traveled extensively throughout our great country and Europe. During my travel and veteran missions, I discovered that most major cities and communities honor their veterans and families in a very public way -- memorials, monuments, parks, etc.

"When I approached [Springdale] Mayor Doug Sprouse about five years ago with the idea of building something truly special and memorable in Springdale for the veterans of past, present and future, he was supportive," Layne goes on. "However, this would be something that would require great public effort.

"Fast forward a few years and the American Legion, Al Flores, Jim Reed, Al Wille and myself came together and eventually created this great organization. We all want and desire a place for our community and our families to honor, respect, educate the next generations and to keep the stories of our veterans alive."

The vision

Matt Mendenhall, who shares the duties of treasurer with Vinger, is also an Air Force veteran like Vinger, but he promises the memorial "will be reflective of all veterans in our history."

"That might seem like a tall task, but I believe there is someone out there who will design something with the right balance," he says. "All veterans stand on the shoulders of those who went before us. Each generation must meet the challenge of preserving the freedoms we often take for granted in our daily lives.

"Hopefully, the final design will be one that everyone in Springdale -- and Northwest Arkansas, for that matter -- can take pride in."

Mendenhall says encompassing all branches of the service and all time periods won't be "as difficult as one might think. Just as musicians get inspiration from other musicians, I believe there will be a designer who will be able to take inspiration from others and come up with a unique design that is reflective of the sacrifices that the men and women of our Armed Services have made and continue to make on a daily basis."

Surely those who dream of the memorial have visions in their heads of what it should look like. Mendenhall says he is "not allowing myself to have any preconceptions."

"We're starting with a totally blank slate and are hoping that will be attractive to potential designers," he says. "We are just looking for something that will be attractive, inspirational, educational and will be a place of quiet reflection for those who have served as well as their families."

"For those of us that have been in the military, it is sometimes difficult to express our deep sense of pride and what we consider our warfighter ethos or spirit," Vinger adds. "With that pride, however, comes a great deal of humility. ... Our common training teaches us that greatness is not about us as individuals. Rather, it is about us as a unit, as a team, as a group, as a community, as a nation.

"This is why we have come together as a group to foster a cause for our community that not only memorializes the greatness of the past but will symbolize the greatness of our community into the future."

The history

Vinger, who grew up on a dairy farm in south-central Missouri near Mountain Grove, says he and his family "absolutely loved the Air Force."

"It provided all my education -- bachelor's and three master's degrees -- while providing amazing leadership opportunities, lifelong friendships and worldwide travels and memorable experiences," adds Vinger, who now works as director of residential facilities at the University of Arkansas.

Other Northwest Arkansas cities memorialize their veterans, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in June. Bella Vista honors its veterans with the Wall of Honor in a park north of Bella Vista Lake. Rogers continues construction of a memorial at Rogers Cemetery, which will include the names of veterans buried at the cemetery. Lowell erected a monument -- donated by April and Glenn Jones -- in its new Kathleen Johnson Memorial Park. And many veterans lie at rest in Fayetteville National Cemetery.

At a meeting that month, Vinger told the Springdale City Council that 28,748 veterans live in Washington and Benton counties. "But there is no memorial to them in Springdale," he continued. "There's no place set aside where people can gather and learn about and remember the veterans. There's no place to gather and reflect and show pride and support."

Mendenhall, who says he was a "Navy brat" until his dad retired to Northwest Arkansas when he was in grade school, says joining the Air Force allowed him and his family to travel from "Asia to Europe and many places in between" and taught him "how to take on difficult tasks and work to accomplish them through teamwork and perserverence." He says Layne's vision inspired him, and he thinks once the design for the memorial is in place others will be "similarly inspired."

The money

Vinger too uses words like "inspire," "respect" and "gratitude" to describe what he imagines in his head. In more concrete terms, he says, the structure must fit on and be suitable for 4 acres donated for its construction on the south end of J.B. Hunt Park by the city of Springdale -- and that, he says, means striking a balance with the surrounding community, taking advantage of bike trail access, improving on what is now a bare field and considering and providing a means of revenue generation, perhaps by means of selling inscribed pavers.

Part of the Oct. 1 kickoff event was building connections that Mendenhall hopes will turn into money, "once they meet our design jurors and understand a little more about this undertaking," he says. "Of course, once we have an actual design selected, it will be easier for potential donors to visualize the final product, and I think many will be willing to contribute."

"It's a bit early to establish a total cost of this effort," adds Vinger. "We fully recognize that we are pursuing a rather ambitious project."

Vinger estimates the costs for the memorial to be "in the millions of dollars range" -- he has said $5-$10 million previously -- and plans to raise it "entirely through private contributions from individual donors, foundations and corporations."

"We ask for the entire community's help in joining this effort."

The competition

Launched Oct. 1, the competition is open to amateurs and professionals, established and emerging designers and college or high school students studying architecture, art or design.

The announcement phase will last through Dec. 31, so that entrants may review design criteria and ask questions. The deadline to register is Dec. 31.

Entries must be received by March 31. Then a jury that includes the dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, the designer of the World War I National Memorial and Layne, the president of SVMO, will announce a winner in May 2020.

The SVMO hopes to raise sufficient funding to begin construction with a groundbreaking ceremony on Memorial Day 2021 and open the memorial to the public on Veterans Day that November, Vinger says.

Details about the design competition are available at

"Memorials are more complicated than just a monument with a plaque," Vinger says. "Memorials generate a multitude of different emotions, memories, symbols and meanings for individuals, whether they served or not.

"We wish to see a dedicated site that will provide our community a prominent, inspirational and befitting space to gather and express our pride, our patriotism, our greatness as a community and our hopes for the future."

Image courtesy SVMO The Springdale Veterans Memorial Organization has been allocated space at J.B. Hunt Park for a veterans memorial they hope will be completed by Veterans Day in 2021.
Image courtesy SVMO The Springdale Veterans Memorial Organization has been allocated space at J.B. Hunt Park for a veterans memorial they hope will be completed by Veterans Day in 2021.

NAN Our Town on 10/03/2019

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