BELDING — On a cold, snowy day, Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson pulled his truck up to the Veterans Park, stepped outside, and grabbed himself a shovel.
As he began to dig into and heave snow over his shoulder, clearing a more traversable pathway for visitors of the park, he noticed something in the snow.
What he found were footprints, tracks from wheelchairs, and marks left from walkers.
It was evident, even in poor weather conditions, there were people who wanted to visit the monuments at the park, to remember veterans of the city and surrounding area.
“It’s very rewarding,” Gunderson said. “I think only once or twice, when we had extremely cold weather, that I didn’t find footprints, wheelchair or walker marks in the snow. That alone was incredible to see.”
Gunderson was shoveling snow because last December, Denny Craycraft had approached council members with disappointment as no one was shoveling snow in the park, making it difficult to visit and appreciate.
“There is too much snow,” he said. “Who’s going to shovel the pad for people to walk?”
It was then that Gunderson and Councilman Jerry Lallo volunteered to shovel the park for the remainder of the winter, and now two months later, those efforts have come full circle for Craycraft.
“I want to thank Ron and Jerry for doing a tremendous job on keeping the walkway shoveled,” Craycraft said during Tuesday evening’s city council meeting. “I had a couple complaints a month ago, and they’ve graciously taken care of that now.”
For Craycraft, knowing that people are visiting the park, even when weather conditions would suggest otherwise, is a rewarding thought. He has spent the past several months browsing through thousands of old articles at the Belding Alvah N. Library, searching for every World War I veteran from the area.
As of now, he’s compiled a list of 180 veterans, and he’s now gearing toward erecting a monument in their honor.
“There’s a tremendous, tremendous history on our veterans I’ve discovered at the library,” he said. “I’m not surprised, I’m amazed, by what our little town did during WWI.”
Since Craycraft first dreamed of building a World War II Freedom Wall monument, he has since helped to see two additional monuments built at the park.
A WWI monument would be the fourth monument installed, now that the Korean War Monument, dedicated last November, has officially been paid for.
“Our main project right now is to get $6,500 raised,” he said. “If a business or family will sponsor 10 names, which equals $500, that will get you a sponsor brick.”
Craycraft said the $6,500 will pay for a single brick for every veteran who fought in WWI, to eventually be installed at the park and dedicated on Memorial Day of this year.
“It’s kind of a slow period for us right now,” he said. “But we’re still working hard on research and trying to secure funds.”
Craycraft said designs for the WWI monument itself are still in the planning stages, but he is hoping that a monument will be in place no later than Veterans Day, and possibly by Labor Day if all goes well.
“Now we’re looking at possibly, due to the weather and the age of some of the veterans, unveiling the monument on Labor Day weekend,” he said. “We could run a large barbecue out there in nice weather, it’s something we’re thinking about.”
Craycraft said he has also explored installing benches at the park, and has reached an agreement with North Woods Rustic Furniture in Belding to build four benches.
“I’ve been soliciting different businesses to try to get benches for our park this spring,” he said. “We decided to sit down with North Furniture on a fair agreement.”
Craycraft said the benches will be 72 inches long and made of fiberglass, needing little maintenance.
“The price was a little pricier than I really anticipated, but we’re going to buy three of them and they will donate a fourth,” he said. “I’ve been running around to businesses looking for donations for the benches, and hopefully by next week we’ll be ready to go with those.”
Craycraft is hoping the benches will encourage more people to visit the park, and spend a little more time observing and appreciating the monuments honoring the veterans of the area.
“There’s a lot of good stories I’ve discovered doing this research about our veterans,” he said. “I just hope I can share those stories with everyone.”
For more information or to donate, call Craycraft at (616) 550-6990.