DeKALB – History was made and commemorated in DeKalb on Thursday.
A rededication ceremony of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Clock was held in conjunction with a full military ceremony for Veterans Day. Guest speakers included DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes, state Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, and DeKalb American Legion Post 66 Commander Manny Olade.
“Veterans Day is about honoring people who have served something larger than themselves,” said Barnes, who is a U.S. Army veteran. “We celebrate our country, even with its flaws and struggles, and continue to develop that ideal of the American Dream and the United States of America.”
The clock, built in 1920 by E. Howard & Company of Boston, was originally dedicated Feb. 13, 1921, at the First Methodist Church in DeKalb. Several hundred people crowded into the church with about 500 turned away because of a lack of space. About 100 people attended the rededication ceremony Thursday.
Through the years, the clock has had four locations, was struck by lightning twice and has been hit by a truck and a car. The clock was moved to Memorial Park, at the intersection of First Street and Lincoln Highway in downtown DeKalb, and rededicated Nov. 11, 1996.
On Thursday, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the clock’s newest rededication.
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Members of the DeKalb American Legion Post 66 Honor Guard stand at attention Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, during a Veterans Day and Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Clock rededication ceremony at Memorial Park in downtown DeKalb. (Mark Busch/Mark Busch - email@example.com)
U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Embrey, who emceed the event, said his goal is “to make DeKalb, Illinois, the most veteran-friendly city in the United States.”
“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by Terri Crain Goodman, and the DeKalb Rotary Club gave a presentation about the clock’s history. Guest speakers included Mike Coghlan, chairman of the clock restoration project; DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas; and DeKalb Rotary Club President Brian Corr.
Since last winter, the rotary club and the American Legion Post 66 has been fundraising to restore the clock. The Rotary Club, Legion post and clock each celebrated 100 years of existence in 2021.
“The clock has been moved, hit by a car and lightning and painted a few times, but it has always remained a symbol of the city and a memorial to those that served our country,” Corr said. “Our clock truly is something special. … Clock specialists have said that it is something that belongs in a museum. It’s something we should be very proud of.”
Although the clock was structurally sound, its mechanisms were not working. It needed mechanical repairs and historic restoration, including solving leakage problems, removing rust and placing stainless steel bolts. The cost of fixing the clock’s interior mechanisms was about $7,000, and painting and restoring the exterior of the clock cost between $15,000 and $16,000.
Roger Keys, who restored the clock with his historic restoration business R.W. Keys and Son, also helped restore the clock 25 years ago in 1996.
Automotive paint and a clear coat finish were applied to help the color remain vibrant through the years and not fade. The clock’s paint is a custom color created to match paint drippings found inside the clock from its original 1920 shade.
Olade, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, described the clock as “a visual display for DeKalb veterans.”
“‘Veteran’ is a title we carry with us the rest of our lives,” he said. “Every veteran has contributed to the freedoms we all share.”
American Legion Post 66 Chaplin Mike Giuliano led a ceremony prayer, and Crain Goodman led the crowd of about 100 people in singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The song was also sung during the clock’s original dedication ceremony in 1921.
The ceremony ended with a full military tribute by the DeKalb American Legion Honor Guard to honor deceased veterans and the playing of taps by Embrey.
Tom Doherty of DeKalb, who served in the Marine Corps Reserves from 1966 to 1972, described the restored clock as “incredible.”
“Today’s an important day for DeKalb and for veterans,” he said. “My service has made me a better person. It’s taught me discipline, respect for authority and responsibility. It’s important to be here today as a veteran to remember and honor other veterans.”
A time capsule to be opened in 50 years will be placed inside the clock at a later date, and new plaques will be added to the base of the clock to thank donors that helped raise money for the restoration.
A plaque on the clock was restored. It reads: “May the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice live forever in the hearts of the people,” and includes a quote by President Theodore Roosevelt: “To all those who have paid with their bodies for their soul’s desire.”
Bill O’Neill of DeKalb, a Vietnam War-era veteran who served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Enterprise, said that he attended the ceremony “to remember those we left behind.”
“I pass by the clock every day,” he said. “It serves as a reminder in the community of veterans’ service and their sacrifices.”