DeKALB – Almost 100 people gathered Saturday in downtown DeKalb’s Memorial Park to give thanks to military service men and women, while officials announced a new plan to fund more public veterans memorials.
U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Embrey led the annual Veterans Day ceremony hosted by DeKalb American Legion Post 66. Embrey, a Legion member and active supporter of local veterans causes, said he and others have partnered with the DeKalb County Community Foundation to establish the DeKalb County Veterans Recognition Fund.
Proceeds will go to bolster efforts made by residents and veterans over the past few years to honor area military personnel.
“Our goal is to raise $100,000 so that in the future these memorials will be sponsored and paid for,” Embrey said.
The group has done so much work to honor local veterans that the city of DeKalb was lauded as the “Most Veteran Friendly City” and named Veteran City of the Year in 2023 by the Forty and Eight veterans organization.
Efforts by the group can be seen throughout the city of DeKalb.
“Hometown Heroes” banners line downtown streets celebrating local servicemen and women. The 102-year-old Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Clock at First Street and Lincoln Highway, originally built in 1921 to honor those who served in World War I, was restored and rededicated in 2021 with help from the DeKalb Rotary Club. Reserved veterans-only parking spaces have cropped up across town, Locust Street was designated as Veterans Way and the DeKalb Elks Veterans Memorial on Annie Glidden road unveiled additional features in October.
Continuing those efforts is the goal of the new Veterans Recognition Fund, said former DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith, a U.S. Army veteran, who spoke Saturday. Smith also is part of the committee behind the fund.
“Our goal is to expand recognition, whether it be clocks, whether it be benches, whether it be parks, throughout this county,” Smith said. “[...] So we’ve got a lot of things happening. Let’s continue this momentum. And we are just so pleased to be able to put together a few folks, and we we hope this will expand throughout DeKalb County.”
“This fund is making history today, here for the future, and honoring the past and those who served our country,” Community Foundation Executive Director Dan Templin said in a news release. “We are honored to be stewards of this important fund for generations to come.”
Donations to any fund at the Community Foundation, including the DeKalb County Veterans Recognition Fund, can be made online at dekalbccf.org/donate or by mail to the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 475 DeKalb Ave., Sycamore, IL 60178.
Saturday’s ceremony included an honor guard salute, the singing of the national anthem by Terri Crain Goodman, laying a ceremonial wreath at the clock site and recognition of several veterans and dignitaries in attendance.
Those included members of the American Legion; the AmVets Post 90; 1st Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Zasada, who also is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran; DeKalb County Sheriff Andy Sullivan; DeKalb Fire Chief Mike Thomas; DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas; veteran Frank Beierlotzer of 40&8; and retired judge and U.S. Marine veteran Tom Doherty.
Embrey said DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes, a U.S. Army veteran, sent his regards from Illinois State University, where the mayor spent Saturday with his son, who was being honored through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
Embrey said he’s been touched by the community response to the Elks Memorial and shared a recent encounter.
“Somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘You don’t know me, but I know you.’ And he said, ‘Every day, I drive up Annie Glidden going to work. As I drive by that memorial, I say hi to my dad,’” Embrey said in recollection.
Smith said he wanted attendees to remember to thank a veteran on Saturday.
“God bless our veterans, God bless those who are now in harms way in places a long way from here around the world. God bless the families of our veterans, those still living and those who have given their service to this country,” Smith said. “And God bless all of you for being here on this beautiful sunny day.”
This story was updated on Nov. 11, 2023 to correct an earlier version which misstated the branch of the military former DeKalb mayor Jerry Smith served in. Smith is a U.S. Army veteran.