McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State news

October 28, 2013

‘You just can’t tell Elaine no’

ENID, Okla. — In June 2011, Don Allen, a Texan and the head of an organization called American Veterans Traveling Tribute, got a call from Enid’s Elaine Johns.

Johns, the executive director of Woodring Wall of Honor, asked Allen about the possibility of retiring and selling a traveling replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall the group brought to Enid for Memorial Day 2010. Her goal, to bring the wall here and put it on permanent display at Enid Woodring Regional Airport.

“I coerced Don Allen to come up and take a site visit,” said Johns. “He said, ‘I will take a look at your place and I will listen to your vision and I will make a decision after that.’ Then he said, ‘Don’t count on it.’”

Allen was reluctant because he once sold a retired wall to another community, but was unhappy with the way it was displayed. Ultimately, Allen was impressed with Johns’ vision for his wall, and he agreed.

“You just can’t tell Elaine no,” Allen said when the wall officially was welcomed to Enid in December 2012.

In just over two weeks the wall officially will be dedicated as part of the Woodring Wall of Honor complex. The dedication ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 — Veterans Day.

The journey from the summer of 2011 to the fall of 2013 was a long and sometimes difficult one. Allen agreed to sell the 80 percent replica wall to the Woodring Wall of Honor group for $500,000.

Fundraising efforts were begun, but stalled. That’s when Dan Ohnesorge stepped in.

“I looked on it, honestly, as a challenge,” Ohnesorge said. “A good challenge and a very worthwhile cause.”

Ohnesorge, a retired Air Force colonel, recruited Bob Farrell, a retired AF chief master sergeant, and the two began the long fundraising process.

An anonymous donor stepped forward and offered $250,000 if the group could raise the other quarter million. That task fell to Ohnesorge, Farrell and the rest of their committee, including Johns, Dr. Dennis Morehart, Mary Feightner, Jack Wagner, James Thompson, Kim Winfield and Alan Williams.

“Once we got this thing rolling, this was not really that hard to push,” said Ohnesorge. “Granted, it was a lot of work.”

The group sent out mass mailings, stood in front of local stores seeking donations from customers and traveled all over the region giving dozens of presentations to various groups.

“We had a very, very vested interest in this,” said Ohnesorge. “It could not fail. There was a point where we just weren’t making the money and I was really, really concerned.”

In time, all the effort paid off. A plaque to be placed near the wall will contain the names of some 265 groups, businesses and individuals who donated $1,000 or more in cash or in-kind labor or materials.

“We have 483 different names of people who have given something,” said Ohnesorge. “That does not include the individuals within organizations and the people (who donated during fundraisers) at Jumbo’s.

“It’s been very gratifying. I would say literally thousands of individuals have given money to this thing. In my opinion our goal was met there in that these people will feel some ownership of that wall.”

The group wound up raising more than $400,000, Ohnesorge said, and received about another $125,000 to $150,000 in assistance in donated materials and labor.

Donations of at least $1,000 came from far-flung places such as Williamsburg, Va., Denver, Texas and California.

“Folks did want to be a part of it in their own way. Whether it’s little or big, it’s big to them,” said Farrell. “If it’s big to them, it’s big to us.”

Both men singled out Feightner as especially instrumental in the fundraising process.

“She opens a lot of doors,” said Ohnesorge.

“As soon as people see Mary coming, people get their checkbook out,” said Farrell.

In December, more than 300 motorcyclists escorted the wall to Enid, where during a ceremony in Convention Hall, Allen was presented with a $500,000 check.

That’s when the hard part began.

“The funding came along pretty well,” said Ohnesorge, “it was the kicking off of the construction that seemed to take longer than we thought.”

Originally, the plans were to dedicate the wall last Memorial Day.

“We’re men, so when we tell the wife we’re going to go do a project, we tell her it’s going to take an hour and it usually takes two or three hours,” he said. “There was a lot more detail to it than I had kind of imagined. The finished product, I think, will be well worth it.”

The black anodized aluminum panels are being mounted on concrete painted black and topped with black granite. The wall will be fronted with paving stones and the area will be landscaped and lighted.

“When you look at the wall, you’ll see black,” said Farrell, “which is the way it is intended.”

The duo lauded several local companies for their work on installing the wall after ground for the project finally was broken in March. Among them were Tom Smith Construction, D.C. Bass Construction, North American Stone Crafters, Shepard Fabricators, GEFCO, Pellow Monument Works, Northwest Electric and Water Wizards.

“There’s some great folks in Enid who have stepped forward with their companies,” said Farrell, “and the guys who work for them have taken this on as a personal project themselves to make sure the work they are doing is first class. They’re not cutting corners. They understand what that wall means.”

And the wall, containing the names of 58,286 Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam, means different things to different people.

“It is a very comforting thing,” said Johns. “It will go a long way to healing for some of these veterans.”

“The names on that wall represent Vietnam-era veterans who were killed in action,” said Farrell, “but those names also represent what veterans do for their country every day, and have done.”

Even after the wall is dedicated, fundraising will continue to help pay for ongoing maintenance. Anyone wishing to donate in the future can do so through the Woodring Wall of Honor.

“Anyone who donated who comes out there is probably going to say, ‘I’m really happy that I was a part of this,’” said Farrell. “Those that didn’t donate, that’s fine, but I know in their heart they are going to say, ‘I wish I had done something.’ And they still can.”

The completed wall is expected to become a draw to bring people to Enid.

“It’s going to be a very, very nice memorial,” said Farrell, “not only for Enid but for this part of the country. This is done first-class. Vietnam veterans are going to be very, very pleased with the memorial that’s here.”

“If you’ve seen the wall in Washington once, and you come and see this wall, you’re going to say it’s virtually identical,” said Ohnesorge. “It’s very well done.

“Looking at it today, I am confident it will help make Enid a destination.”

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