Monticello Veterans Memorial at MHS honors all who have served

The Monticello Veterans Memorial at Monticello High School officially opened to the public earlier this month after four years of planning and work by four MHS graduates and numerous other community members. The memorial features a plaque for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, three flags, and pavers honoring those who serve or have served. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)
The Monticello Veterans Memorial at Monticello High School officially opened to the public earlier this month after four years of planning and work by four MHS graduates and numerous other community members. The memorial features a plaque for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, three flags, and pavers honoring those who serve or have served. (Photos by Clay Sawatzke)

It started with the idea of raising money to purchase a POW/MIA flag to fly outside of the Monticello High School. It blossomed into a veterans memorial that is likely unmatched at the high school level, a touching, poignant, and beautiful tribute that will greet every single visitor to the new Monticello High School athletic complex.

The new Monticello Veterans Memorial, outside of Monticello Memorial Stadium, was officially unveiled to the public on Thursday, Aug. 17, with a program that featured several speakers, a ribbon-cutting, a flag-raising, and a strong turnout from the community, highlighted by a number of veterans in attendance.

For Jason Telecky, a former Marine, a teacher at Monticello High School, the head varsity football coach, and one of the leading forces in the push for this memorial, the night was all a bit surreal.

“It was a long process from then until now,” said Telecky. “It’s hard to believe that it is actually there.”

The idea was sparked when Telecky was a liaison for the student council. Four members of that council, Trevor Bautch, Clarke Andrews, Conner Olson, and Jacob Wilts came up with the idea of raising money for a POW flag. After making that goal happen, they were challenged by Monticelloan David Kanthak to dream bigger. What resulted is a large, pentagon-shaped pavilion with five plaques, one dedicated to each branch of the military, three flags (POW/MIA, United States of America, and a Minnesota state flag), and pavers that can be engraved on behalf of those who serve, or have served the United States of America.

Monticello American Legion Commander Pete Larson cuts the ceremonial ribbon, being held by Kyle Walter from ICS and MHS Principal Mike Carr during the mid-August grand opening of the Monticello Veterans Memorial and Monticello Memorial Stadium.
Monticello American Legion Commander Pete Larson cuts the ceremonial ribbon, being held by Kyle Walter from ICS and MHS Principal Mike Carr during the mid-August grand opening of the Monticello Veterans Memorial and Monticello Memorial Stadium.

Former Superintendent Jim Johnson spoke during the ceremony on Aug. 17, and talked about what this memorial says about not just the Monticello School District, but the Monticello community.

“People will walk through here to every event that takes place for years to come. And I want to be standing out here during some of those events,” said Johnson. “Because I want to hear what people from other communities say, about what we value. Because we value that idea of service, of giving back, of making places better. That’s what this place is about.”

The transition from a flag to the memorial that Johnson called a “real community asset,” was neither quick nor easy.

It was four years ago when the four sophomores at MHS had the idea for a flag. Now sophomores in college, they saw the project through many delays, and over many hurdles.

“They kept at it,” said Telecky. “They were going to do whatever it took to make it happen.”

Bautch said it is his belief that Kanthak doesn’t get enough credit for his role in making the memorial happen.

Kanthak said when he learned about what the student council was trying to accomplish with the POW Flag, he decided to push them to do more.

“I said ‘hey, a flag is awesome, let’s do something bigger. Lets do something cool. Lets do something that nobody has,’” said Kanthak, who then helped out with lining up meetings with both contractors and potential funding sources.

Personalized pavers surround the five plaques of the memorial, with each paver dedicated to a service man or woman. Pavers will continue to be available for purchase (information at the bottom of the story) until the pavilion fills up.
Personalized pavers surround the five plaques of the memorial, with each paver dedicated to a service man or woman. Pavers will continue to be available for purchase (information at the bottom of the story) until the pavilion fills up.

The design started to take shape soon after that, but Monti still had many hurdles to clear, including funding for the project. Then several businesses stepped in to offer sponsorships. The Monticello Legion, Ultra Machining Co., and JME Companies all provided significant donations to the project. All three companies are listed as Platinum Sponsors at the memorial site. Monticello VFW Post 8731 is a Gold Sponsor, while the Legion Auxiliary Unit 260, VFW Auxiliary Post 8731, and Monticello Lions Club are all Silver Sponsors. Kjellbergs, Hoglund Transportation, and M. Pederson are Bronze Sponsors of the project.

In total, more than $60,000 was raised to cover the cost of the memorial.

“There are a lot of people that stepped up to help. This is an amazing community,” said Telecky, during his remarks at the opening ceremony. “When we reached out to the community and we had to reach a financial goal to make this happen, we got it very, very quickly. And it continues to grow.”

Bautch, who along with Andrews was able to be in attendance at the opening ceremony, said it was pretty unreal to see the finished product.

“Honestly I got chills standing up on the podium, just thinking about it,” he said. “To see it finally from paper to reality is remarkable. It’s beyond what we imagined it could be.”

Telecky said that the memorial is set-up to be self-sustaining, as the paver sales (it costs $100 to order a personalized paver) will continue to build the memorial fund.

“Someday we’ll fill all of this up with names,” Telecky told the gathered crowd while motioning to the pavers. “Just as this community continues to grow and expand, so will this memorial continue to grow and expand.”

Initial plans called for the memorial to be placed either at the south or east side of Monticello High School, but when the new athletic complex was approved, setting the memorial at its entrance was deemed a natural fit. Following the Aug. 17 ceremony, Telecky talked about the meaning of having the memorial stand at the stadium entrance.

“As coaches, you’re always looking for things to motivate kids. I don’t think you need any more motivation than what you see out there,” said Telecky. “What people have done so we have what we have today, is amazing. And we get to see it, everyday we get to be reminded of it.”

Even more importantly than motivation for his teams, Telecky hopes it provides a space for fellow veterans to gather.

“You need a place to be able to go sit down and talk and reconnect,” said Telecky, while acknowledging that the VFW and Legion are both great sites for that as well. “Sometimes it’s nice just to be outside.”

Many of those veterans attended the opening ceremony, some representing the color guard, some helping to raise the flags, and others just taking in the new memorial dedicated to their service.

Bautch, set to be a sophomore at Bethel University, said after that a number of them offered praise and appreciation, but that really the praise and appreciation should be going the other way.

“In reality, this is kind of our thank you to them,” said Bautch. “What they’ve done is far more than we could ever do with a monument.”

The memorial is located on the west side of Monticello High School, between the parking lot and Monticello Memorial Stadium.

Purchasing a paver: Those interested in purchasing a paver to honor someone who serves or has served in the United States Armed Forces can pick up forms from the Monticello VFW or the Monticello Legion. Pavers cost $100. If you have questions, contact the district office at 763-272-2000 or email Jason Telecky at [email protected]

Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]