Spokane community unites to restore World War I Memorial bridge
By Rae Anna Victor
Special to the United States World War One Centennial Commission web site
Here in Spokane. WA, we raised nearly $20,000 and dedicated the Argonne World War I Memorial on Veterans Day 2019. Hundreds of people attended the dedication ceremony. We had an honor guard do the Bells of Peace Ceremony and the Marines do the flag salute, rifle volley, and taps. The 12 foot x 10 foot memorial features the names of the soldiers who died in the war from Spokane County, an original Doughboy hat, an eagle on a light post, and the story of the Argonne Offensive.
This was an incredible project. Here is how it happened:
Originally, five bronze plaques adorned the Argonne Bridge in Millwood; the bridge was named for the Argonne Meuse Offensive of World War I, and was dedicated on Veteran’s Day 1920. When the bridge was redone in the 70s, the plaques disappeared. Two have been recovered. The three with the names of the over 200 soldiers who lost their lives in World War I were not.
Months ago, I was chatting with local historian Chuck King. We have worked together on several historical projects. We talked about how sad it was that the plaques had been taken off the Argonne Bridge because now hardly anyone knew the origins of the name. Both of us agreed that it needed to be rectified and I said it might be a project my Jonas Babcock Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution chapter (DAR) would take on.
We kicked around several ideas. In 1970, when the bridge was redone, the dedication plaques were removed. I had heard that one the original bronze plaques was in the county roads office downtown, and that another had been donated to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. The two plaques that contained the names of all the soldiers who died in the war had disappeared.
At first, the idea was to make an informational plaque and put it somewhere on the bridge. The county was contacted in April about the possibilities. When talking with Bob Wiltske, Bridge and Roadside Maintenance Supervisor II, Spokane County Public Works, the project grew from one plaque to maybe a monument and we talked about where it could be installed. We walked the land on both sides of the bridge. We decided the northwest side, which was owned by the county would be best. After going through several offices, it was discovered that the land had been given to the parks department who didn’t want anything done until they decided, in two or three years, what they would do with the land.
About a week later, while looking on the Internet, I saw an ad and the icon they had, and a light bulb went off in my head. This is what the monument would look like. It would have two basalt columns and signage in between. The idea continued to germinate and grow.
One of the prime precepts of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution is historical preservation. The Jonas Babcock Chapter in Spokane is very active in this activity. When I brought the new concept to the group, they were onboard. As the project grew it was easy to see that it would be difficult for one chapter to complete the project. What had begun as a small monument was now a large monument.
The three other DAR chapters in Spokane each voted to participate and donated seed funds. The Spokane Sons of the American Revolution #1 also got on board.
This was really a "heart" project from the very beginning. I must say that this is one of the easiest projects for raising funds that I have ever been involved with. And I have been involved in a lot of projects. We promoted the idea of reclaiming history,
We "drew" up a model of our concept for the memorial and sent it to 50 or so close businesses, granting entities, and individuals we felt might be interested. Our focus point was to recreate the names of the soldiers tribute sign. We offered that for a $500 donation they would be able to have their name on the memorial for "posterity" and their kids and grand-kids could come by and see their names and know that they had a part in building it.
We knew that the Home Depot Foundation was very positive towards veterans’ causes and set a meeting with their assistant manager. We were ready with the facts and information as to why and how. He assisted us with writing a grant for 400 feet of pavers and $1,500 cash to put towards work on the memorial.
We made telephone calls to follow up on the letters. We contacted news outlets to drum up interest in and promote the meaning of the memorial and the need for funding.
While looking at ground on the north side of the Argonne Library and east side Argonne on the south side of the bridge owned by Inland Empire Paper Mill, we were contacted by the Millwood History Enthusiasts who were interested in being part of the project.
There were several sites in the boundaries of Millwood they felt would be adaptable to the project. When the Public Works Director of Millwood, Paul Allen, was contacted, he felt that he had the solution to our problem. The first part of July, Vikkie Naccarato of the Millwood History Enthusiasts,and I attended the city council meeting. The Council voted to allow the Spokane DAR and SAR use of the land on the north east corner of Argonne and Empire.
The initial cost estimate for the monument was between $3000 and $3500. As things moved along, the project grew, as did the cost. Once the location was secured fundraising started in earnest. Sponsorship letters were sent to local businesses in Millwood and the Valley. Grants were written, and individuals contacted. Anyone donating $500 was given the opportunity to have their name on the back of the monument. The first check donated was from Chuck King.
Chuck attended almost every planning meeting and work day. His friend, Rick Nelson, an award-winning contractor from Ornamental Fence and Gate, agreed to take lead on our project. While looking at basalt rocks at Gibson's Nursery in the valley, Chuck and I saw an eagle and a new idea began to germinate. Now, that eagle, a donation from Gibson's, sits on a 12-14-foot vintage light pole, reclaimed from the original Monroe Street Bridge of 1920, overlooking the memorial.
Paul Allen and his crew cleared the land at the site to make room for the memorial. Inland Empire Paper Company, who has been altruistic throughout the community for many years, again stepped up with a donation and permission to use the strip of land on the north side of the site for planting a poppy field, like Flanders Field in Belgium during World War I, with the accompanying poem.
On October 10, Vinny Pecht, Industrial Customs, a Millwood boy, created the silhouettes of two World War I soldiers, sent to him by the committee, on the basalt rocks. On October 11, members of DAR with Chuck King met at the site for a cleanup and planting the poppy field.
Being "sneaky," we asked a well-known TV personality in the area to be the MC. He promoted the project on news casts on several occasions.
One of the donors brought up the idea of the Doughboy hat, which we found online at EBay. The original concept went through several revisions as we attempted to make our donors feel part of the project by incorporating their ideas.
Recognition is the key. Not only did we put the donors name on the memorial, they were on the program as well. We sent hand written thank-yous to each sponsor at the time of the donation, and later sent a personal invitation to attend the ceremony.
During the ceremony the three sponsors of over $1,000 were recognized with a beautiful certificate and plaque. All donors received a Certificate of Appreciation that, whenever possible, were delivered in person.
Three top donors were visited and an extra-large box of chocolates and a photo book were given to each as a way for them to remember their part in the project and to thank them and their employees.
As more community members, local businesses, and organizations found out about the Memorial it became more than a project. With their participation it now genuinely reflects not only the history behind the original Argonne Bridge Memorial of World War I, but the spirit of it---joining the past to the present, and moving on into the future, forming solid connections with all who are involved.