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David Wilson's roots in Williston go back generations. His grandparents once owned a boarding house where Hardee's now stands.
He grew up here, graduated from high school here and years after returning from Vietnam a decorated veteran, he came back here to live. Two of his children live here.
He loves this town – this community.
Monday night, Wilson told members of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) that only those who have served in the military can fully appreciate the feelings a veteran has, and the memories they must live with long after their service is over.
"We signed a blank check to Uncle Sam," Wilson said, "to fight for freedom and democracy."
And that's why today, more than three years after the CRA launched a fundraiser to erect a veterans' memorial in Heritage Park, Wilson is disappointed, or in his words, "saddened and embarrassed" that not even half the money needed has been raised.
For over three years, the CRA has asked the community to purchase pavers, or bricks, that honor military men and women.
At $50 each, the intent was that those sales would start a campaign that would bring in enough money to pay for a lighted memorial that honors all branches of service.
The pavers would surround the memorial, along with benches and landscaping. People would be able to sit and reflect on the sacrifices made for them.
Three years ago, the rough estimate for the memorial was $20,000. With inflation, the price may be higher.
To date, $10,867 is in the Veterans Memorial Fund.
Dr. Ken Schwiebert, CRA chairman, set a personal goal to see the memorial is erected by Nov. 11 – Veterans Day – of this year.
One memorial manufacturer has said an order must be placed by June to make that deadline.
From the design and etching to the placement may take up to five months.
The CRA is not financially prepared right now to make that commitment.
"Someone needs to be a real spearhead for this," Wilson told the CRA members.
In addition to flyers placed around town and occasional ads in the Williston Pioneer, a mailout was recently sent out asking for donations.
In two months, about $2,000 came in.
"Why can't the CRA put up the money?" Lisa Huigens, who sits on the board asked.
When told the Block 12 improvements will drain the CRA's coffers, Huigens said those expenses were a year out, giving the agency time to recoup its expenses.
"I'm surprised the city hasn't take the bull by the horns and helped get it done," Wilson said.
Both he and Schwiebert said that during their many travels across the country, most towns – even the smallest – have some kind of veterans memorial.
Over the course of the next couple months, the CRA and the Williston Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the fund, will be more visible in their efforts to get the money.
Wilson volunteered to man a booth at the Levy County Fair March 30-April 2.
The Chamber will appeal to its membership to collect change and donations from its membership and other businesses with Veteran Buckets throughout May.
Red, White & Blues Farm will hold a Blueberry Festival May 7 and 8 and the CRA plans to have a presence there.
If you would like to make a donation to the Veterans Memorial Fund or purchase a paver to honor a veteran, contact the Chamber at 538-5552 or send your check to:
Veterans Memorial Fund
Williston Chamber of Commerce
607 SW 1st Ave.
Williston, FL 32696