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Mich. Volunteers Restore Once-Vibrant Veterans Park


February 15, 2012

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A spacious expanse of land once called “Michigan’s Most Beautiful Mile” cradles a special enclave known as Veteran’s Memorial Park in the mid-western part of the state. Near a sparkling river and full of lush trees, the 50-acre site honors soldiers of wars spanning from World War I to Afghanistan and stands as a living tribute to the sacrifices made by many in the community.


But the effects of time and lack of upkeep had let much of the park slip into a state of disrepair – a problem that Muskegon Local 275 retirees Jack Kramer and Steve Marshall are helping meet head on.

For the past year, Kramer and Marshall have helped coordinate a vast crew including retirees, journeymen and apprentices to rebuild, rewire and reestablish the park’s original 1934 luster. Marshall, a 21-year member and Navy veteran, said:

It’s a great opportunity to help beautify the city and it’s a way to honor our fellow veterans. Plus, it shows that the IBEW is engaged and that we care for our community.

And “community” is the active word for this large-scale endeavor. The renewal effort began in the 1970s, when the VFW and the American Legion formed the Save Our Veterans Memorial Park Committee. Among many structural improvements, new granite monuments were erected bearing the names of local residents who died in wars and conflicts. Now comes the electrical phase, made possible through a partnership of Local 275 and the Michigan NECA chapter.

Kramer, Marshall, and a handful of retirees were the first on the scene in early 2011 to start construction on the master electrical components needed to supply power, and enthusiasm for the project quickly spread. About 20 electricians from the hall joined the effort to overhaul the south end of the park last year, installing new pedestals and timers to operate lighting.

“We used the strongest materials we could to withstand harsh weather and wear and tear,” said Marshall, adding that old PVC was switched out with rigid conduit:

The city’s electrical inspector looked at our work and asked us if we were building a battleship. We just want it to be able to last as long as possible.

When winter subsides and the ground thaws, the crew will be back at work to complete electrical construction at the north end and in the renovated island area, as well as to bolster the park’s overall lighting.

Signatory contractor Belasco Electric provided thousands of dollars of materials at cost over the past year, which was paid for by the city and county governments and the Lions Club. Owner John Belasco is a second generation member whose father is also a veteran.

Volunteers hope to finish the job by the fall. By that time, project leaders estimate that they will have provided $60,000 worth of volunteer labor and nearly $100,000 in donated materials.

Along the way, the members have recruited additional helpers representing civic organizations like the Lions Club and the VFW who perform some non-electrical duties. They’ve also gained support from companies like Consumers Energy, which is helping upgrade the utilities capacity to the park.

For Marshall and many others, the effort is both civic and personal. He joined the Navy at 17, just two weeks out of high school. Marshall went on to work as an electrician wiring aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War. More of the local’s volunteers are Vietnam veterans, and a few apprentices on the project served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local 275 also has a community service component to its apprenticeship program to inspire budding journeyman to give back to their communities.

Business Manager Sean Egan said:

This has been a member-driven volunteer effort, with the local mainly providing some coordinating support. We’re getting participation from brand new members, retirees and all age groups in between. This really helps show how we care about our veterans, and how unions are a vital source of service in making our towns and cities better places to live. Plus, at the end of the day, you know you’ve had the chance to do something good.


Click here to view more photos of the project at Local 275’s Flickr page.