Back in 1958, when the center of Brookfield’s Eight Corners was first laid out as a test ring of sandbags, the circle was not a very attractive area. Unless you liked the look of sandbags.
Of course, it wasn’t going to look like this forever. Soon cement curbing was installed, and the interior of the circle became sodded and planted as a garden area.
By the 1960s, a flagpole had been erected here, giving way during the Yuletide seasons to Christmas trees set up in varying heights and compositions. However, further improvements were being planned for this area.
Being contemplated in early 1970 was the location of a new memorial dedicated to the fallen soldiers in Vietnam. By May, it was pointed out that there were already a number of war memorials scattered throughout the village. By the summer of 1970, the general belief was that possibly all of them could be combined as one great memorial, and that it could be located at Eight Corners.
Much was decided at a memorial planning meeting on Wednesday, July 8, 1970, attended by delegates of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (Brookfield Post #2868), the American Legion (Edward Feely Post 190) and the Amvets (William T. Gross Post 99).
These organizations were to eventually comprise the Brookfield Veterans’ Council. At this meeting, discussion turned to the matters of lighting, flag poles, a sprinkler system and a “book form memorial plaque.”
Also getting the nod was the “living flame.” Yes, the early version of what was to become the well-known watery fountain was first going to be an “eternal gas flame.” A motion had been made by Ray Diedrickson of the V.F.W., seconded by Mrs. Leona Rossow of the V.F.W. Auxiliary, voted on, and carried.
Diedrickson also made the motion “to make one memorial site, that one to be at the Broadway Circle, [and] utilizing existing memorials at the Village Hall.”
Florence Rooney of the V.F.W. Auxiliary seconded, and the motion carried. Also decided and voted upon was “that the name of the circle will be ‘Veterans’ Memorial Circle.'” Village President Phil Hollinger was to be asked for help in securing an architect for the project, which, as yet, had no definite completion date.
Months later, on Jan. 18, 1971, the Brookfield Veterans’ Council, was still in the process of ironing out the details of this new, all-inclusive memorial. Actually, not all of the elements of the village’s memorials were set to be moved to the circle. For instance, the World War II cannon at the corner of Brookfield and Forest avenues, and the F-86L Sabre jet plane at Ehlert Park were going to stay put.
James Asaro, then the chairman of the Veterans’ Council, submitted a letter to the village board, which was read on Monday June 14, 1971. This officially asked the village for use of the circle, to be called the “Brookfield Veterans’ Memorial Circle.” The target date for completion of this memorial was set for Veterans Day of 1971. Architect Jean K. Davidson of Hinsdale provided three sketches of the project.
Former Village Manager Frederick E. McGuire had thoughts about the memorial, some of which still ring true even today. In a letter to the council, dated June 25, 1971, he expressed concern that “during my term as village manager, we had approximately one car a year drive over the circle. This usually occurred on Maple Avenue, north [and] south bound. Traffic-wise, it is a little dangerous to have people walking to and fro from the Circle area. It would be an attraction for the kids. It would be difficult for traffic to see children if they were to dart in and out from this area.”
In spite of his cautionary tone, McGuire believed in the whole idea.
“I, personally, like the idea of a memorial very much, and I hope the project can be carried out to a successful conclusion,” he wrote.
By September, Hollinger had his own idea about putting a gas flame memorial at the village hall, at the corner of Brookfield and Prairie avenues. He persisted with this notion into 1973, believing by then that a fountain in front of the new village hall being built on the other side of Salt Creek would look just dandy. No such fountain was ever constructed.
At the Sept. 9, 1971 Brookfield Memorial Circle meeting, the minutes related that “the Circle might have some damage if the flame is used. This will be discussed further.”
The date for the completion of the memorial was no longer to be Veteran’s Day, 1971, but was extended indefinitely due to getting plans drawn. Fundraising, however, had already begun two months earlier, on July 16.
“Lest we forget” was the slogan of the memorial project, and in December a wooden barometer sign was erected at Eight Corners so that everyone could chart the progress being made towards the $15,000 goal. In early October, the first donation, a check for $500, was made to the memorial fund by Paul and Frank Incrocci. For years, the Incroccis, owners of Leo’s Liquors, had daily raised and lowered the flag at the circle.
Donations were quick in coming, at first. By December, the memorial fund barometer showed that $5,000, one third of the goal, had been reached. Then Christmas came, with Christmas bills, and contributions slowed until a total of only $6,500 was registered in March 1972.
But a major fundraising event was in the making. January 1972 saw the first announcement that Frankie Yankovic, the Polka King, had been engaged to be the featured band at a memorial benefit dance on Saturday, March 11. Tickets were $2, and the event was held at the Sokol Hall, 3907 Prairie Ave.
The Veterans’ Council went all out for this event, advertising in newspapers, and on television and radio. The dance profit, after expenses, was $1,382.79.
During 1972, The Times newspaper printed an ever-growing list of donors to the memorial fund. By August, the list contained the names of 73 people and organizations.
The idea of having a gas-powered “living flame” in the center of the circle was still a viable idea as of February 1972. The Scottco Gaslighting Company of Scottsdale, Ariz. sent the council a brochure showing their products, which were decorative gas torches.
Gaslite Illinois Inc. sent information on their bowl-like “gas flame display” and “combination fire and water display.” As of the May 1972 council meeting, plans named the “fire and water display,” as advertised by Gaslight Illinois, Inc. at a cost of $1,035.
By July 4″the new target date for completion”the problems associated with running a gas line out to the center of the circle, combined with other factors, led to the consideration of a solely water-running fountain. The Rain Jet Corporation of Burbank, Calif. reportedly had one of the best maintenance-free fountains.
Furthermore, it could be unplugged and stored for the winter and replugged and set up in the spring. The council decided upon this, and even set a new target date of Sept. 1, 1972 for the completion of the memorial. Once again, their hopes were premature.
A new dedication date of November 11, 1972, Veterans’ Day, came and went. At least it gave the council more time to raise funds which were coming in very slowly. Only about half of the needed $15,000 had been obtained.
There were still other hurdles to overcome. One especially worrisome one was that since Maple Avenue crossed the Circle, the council needed the county to give permission, since the avenue was a county highway. This permission was eventually granted in May 1973.
Another Frankie Yankovic Dance was held again at the Sokol Hall, on March 10, 1973. Many paid their $2 admission, and the event was judged to be a success. However, it only raised $565 profit, which was a great disappointment to all workers involved.
From the beginning, the council had considered almost any way possible to raise money, including bingo and bake sales. The goal was revised to a total of $12,500.
In the meantime, an editorial in The Times newspaper for March 21, 1973 stated optimistically, “We hope that, instead of it becoming known as a ‘war memorial,’ as has been the custom in the past, that it be dedicated as a symbol of peace. A colorful fountain has no relation to war anyway, and we are pleased that no symbol to remind us of the ugliness of war was chosen.”
Once the last hurdle of county highway authorization was cleared in early May, the ground was officially broken on May 19 by members of the Brookfield Veterans’ Memorial Council. From that time on, actual physical work went forward. By early June, Contractor John Butkovich of Brookfield was digging up the center of the circle and installation of the underground water system was accomplished.
Work then proceeded quickly. On Sunday, July 1, dedication ceremonies for the fountain and attendant memorial gardens were held. The fountain reportedly had an 18 foot high spray, which was soon to be lowered due to wind conditions. At night, the six colored lights illuminated the rising and falling waters. Around it were walkways, shrubbery and two lighted flagpoles. In addition, six bronze plaques were set in the sod around the Circle, with five commemorating the memory of past wars and one left blank.
Thus the fountain and Veterans’ Memorial Circle came into being, though the maintenance of the area was still an ongoing problem for a few decades after.
Into the 1990s, upkeep of the memorial was done by private citizens and groups within the village. For about the last eight years, the village, and notably its Public Works Department, has taken over the duties of keeping the memorial not only as beautiful as it was once hoped to be, back in the early 1970s, but more so, even today.
During the late autumn, winter and early spring, the fountain is unplugged and stored, while its base is sheltered by a special wooden cover constructed by Department of Public Works Chief Engineer Adam Burger and his partner Roman Swierczynski. Watch for the fountain, soon to return around May 1.
Today the fountain and the grounds around it are both a thing of beauty, and a thing of memory, as we both smile, but also sadly remember why it came to exist.