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His hometown didn’t have a veterans memorial, so this teen built one himself

  • By Nell Clark/NPR
Dominique Claseman stands in front of the memorial he built for his Eagle Scouts project.

 Mark Jurgensen

Dominique Claseman stands in front of the memorial he built for his Eagle Scouts project.

When 17-year-old Dominique Claseman found out his hometown of Olivia, Minn. didn’t have a veterans memorial, he decided to take action.

Olivia is a small town that calls itself the “corn capital of the world” and many residents are veterans, or related to veterans, Claseman said.

His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served. “It’s just never-ending,” he said about his family’s roots in the military.

So when it came time for the teen to choose a goal for his Eagle Scouts project, he decided to build Olivia its own veterans memorial.

Mark Jurgensen

A view of a statue and engraved pavers of the finished memorial.

To his father, Mark Jurgensen, it was natural that his son had such ambitious plans. Jurgensen is the Scoutmaster of his son’s troop.

“I told Dominique when he was starting to kind of talk about his Eagle Scout project that because he’s the Scoutmaster’s son that he needs to go big or go home,” Jurgensen said.

Claseman visited nearby towns’ veterans memorials to research and get ideas, then he came up with a modest design.

“I was originally picturing just a walkway with 21 boot steps and pavers on the side, along with a main stone and a couple flags,” Claseman said.

He thought it would take about $15,000 to build, so he started fundraising.

Mark Jurgensen

The process of building the memorial.

For Eagle Scout projects, candidates aren’t supposed to use digital communications, Claseman said, so instead of using charity fundraising sites online, he launched flyer campaigns and spoke at local events.

“Pretty much it was either word-of-mouth or going door to door,” Claseman said.

But his methods worked. His community liked the idea of a veterans memorial so much that they were willing to donate much more than he expected.

When the fundraising ended, he’d raised exactly $77,777 for the project.

Claseman improved the design to fit the larger budget and got to work building it.

Mark Jurgensen

Wet cement dries as the memorial is built.

The finished memorial was unveiled to the public on Memorial Day. It features 280 engraved pavers leading to flag poles and places to sit, surrounded by landscaped plants.

“By the time everything was said and done, he definitely went big,” laughed Jurgensen.

During the ceremony, his neighbors told him how much they appreciated what he had done for the town.

Mark Jurgensen

The ceremony to unveil the memorial to the public.

“There’s one person that came up to me and they said that they are so happy to see this,” Claseman said. “They’ve been living in this town for 10 to 15 years and they were waiting for something like this to even happen.”

Claseman’s favorite part of the memorial are the 21 boot prints stamped into concrete leading to the flag poles, made to represent the 21-gun salute. His father helped him by putting on the combat boots he wore when he served and making the prints.

Mark Yurgensen

Combat boots stand in front of the memorial.

“It was nice being able to be part of that,” Jurgensen said. “Being a veteran myself, getting that peace out there for other veterans, that their families have a place to go to remember their service or remember their loved ones.”

As for what’s next, Claseman said he was already talking to his brothers about what they’ll do down the line for their own Eagle Scouts projects.

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