Greenville Area Community Foundation donates to Belding Veterans Park

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 10:12 am on Friday, November 22, 2013

From left, Terry Hessler, GACF Chairman John O’Donald, Denny Craycraft, Belding Police Chief Dale Nelson, Belding City Councilman Joe Feuerstein, GACF Director Amy O’Brien, Ray Tower and Lloyd Loper stand together Thursday afternoon at Belding Veterans Park to celebrate a GACF donation in the amount of $4,000. — Daily News/Cory Smith


BELDING — Every time Denny Craycraft and the Belding Veterans Park Committee complete a new war monument in Belding, they face the task of having to find funds to pay for the completion of each structure before moving on to the next project.

But every time they reach out for aid, someone in the community, be it one generous donor or an entire organization, is always there to offer a helping hand.

On Thursday, the committee celebrated another donation in the amount of $4,000 from the Greenville Area Community Foundation, which will officially pay off the remaining balance of the recently added $7,600 Korean War monument and allow the committee to pursue the creation of a World War I monument.

The donation comes in addition to several other recent donations, including $1,000 from Meijer Inc., $500 from Leppink’s Grocery, $500 from the family of Dave and Kittie Eady, and $500 from the Lloyd Baylis family.

Denny Craycraft, who spearheaded the idea of the Belding Veterans Park, holds a list of 180 names of World War I veterans he has gathered by visiting cemeteries. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“Thousands of people in this community, and Greenville and Ionia, it’s touching a lot of their hearts,” said Craycraft of the veterans park. “Our veterans are very important.”

Craycraft said he couldn’t be more grateful to the Greenville Area Community Foundation for reaching outside of the boundaries of Greenville and into the community of Belding. The foundation also donated $10,000 last year toward the Belding Freedom Wall, a monument built to honor the memory of World War II veterans.

“What we’re doing here, remembering veterans that made what our country and community stands for, well you’ve done a great thing to help us here with this,” said Craycraft of the foundation. “Again, we got pulled out of the hole and now we’re going for the WWI (monument). Please don’t let the donations stop because we’ve got a long, long ways to go.”

Greenville Area Community Foundation Chairman John O’Donald said he believes donating toward the park is a perfect way to honor the organizations motto.

“Our motto is ‘for good, forever,’ and this is certainly going to be here forever” O’Donald said. “You could certainly say our fallen solders are for good, forever as well. We’re proud to be a part of this.”

Amy O’Brien, director of the Greenville Area Community Foundation, said reaching out to the neighboring community of Belding is always a goal of the organization.

“The Ray and Mary Tower Family Fund has already provided tremendous support for the Greenville area and organizations,” O’Brien said. “I’m sure they are glad to be able to reach out to a neighboring community on something that means a lot to them.”

Ray Tower III, a Vietnam veteran and son of the late Ray and Mary Tower, was at the park Thursday for the first time. He walked throughout the park, eventually stopping in the grass at the future sight of what will someday be a Vietnam War memorial.

“I come through Belding on occasion to visit the library, but live in Greenville,” Tower said. “This is really neat, I didn’t even know it was here.”

The Korean War Monument in Belding was dedicated on Nov. 11 and is now paid for after recent donations helped pay off the balance of $7,600. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Tower said the park was especially moving because his father was a veteran of World War II.

“We’re going to get him a brick and place it in this park,” he said. “I think dad would like this. Greenville doesn’t have anything exactly like this. It’s pretty neat.”

Belding Police Chief Dale Nelson was also on hand Thursday to thank the foundation. He reflected on the importance of the monument to both him and the city.

“Denny embarked on this monumental project a long time ago, and as a result we have our World War II veterans wall, and that means a lot to me as both of my parents were veterans of that war,” Nelson said. “None of this would have been possible had we not had good people who came forward and donated to our cause. It has been very exciting for us in Belding to have contributions from the Greenville area that have made this project possible and made it possible for us to move forward.”

During Tuesday’s Belding City Council meeting, council members and City Manager Meg Mullendore expressed their gratitude toward Craycraft and his committee.

“Being a product of a veteran and coming from a military veteran, I applaud all that you do,” Mullendore said. “The effort that you put into it, I’m sure at times it seems very thankless, but it is quite impressive and quite the tribute. I think Belding is very fortunate to have someone with your tenacity and determination to see this come to fruition, especially in recognizing all of the wars. Being an Army brat and having been born overseas, it means the world to me.”

Councilman Joe Fuerestein has been a supporter of the project since he was first elected to council, and was thankful to see a project move forward after witnessing resistance in the beginning stages.

“This is one of the better things for this community, and everyone has gotten on board,” Fuerestein said.


Next up: World War I memorial

With the Korean War monument now paid for, Craycraft said efforts will be focused on building the next monument, a tribute to the veterans of World War I.

According to Craycraft, that monument will eventually be followed in the future with monuments dedicated toward the Vietnam War, Dessert Storm and recent wars against the War on Terror.

Craycraft has already been visiting area cemeteries and has collected more than 180 names of veterans of WWI. He has a goal to place a brick with the name of every veteran in front of the future WWI monument, but said it will come at a cost as very few family members are around today to pay for the bricks of their deceased relatives.

Bricks with the names of area veterans are in place in front of each monument at Belding Veterans Park. Bricks painted gold recognize veterans who were killed in action. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Craycraft estimated upward of $5,000 to pay for the bricks of the growing list of area WWI veterans. He hopes to have the bricks in place by Memorial Day of 2014 and have the WWI monument in place by Veterans Day of 2014.

“Brick forms are available at the park, the Pere Marquette Depot, the VFW, American Legion and the Morning Glory Bakery,” Craycraft said. “We’ve been blessed, but we will always appreciate the continued support and donations from the wonderful members of our communities.”

For more information or to donate, call Craycraft at (616) 550-6990.

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