Cathy Maloney, the chairwoman of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission made a thorough and convincing argument on Nov. 16 to move the Gold Star Memorial in Guthrie Park to a prominent area in front of the Riverside Township Hall.
But veterans and – in the end, most importantly, a majority of the Riverside Village Board – opted to leave the memorial right where it is.
Instead of moving the memorial, the village board recommended sprucing up and shoring up the boulders and plaques bearing the names of those Riverside residents who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during the 20th century.
The village board has also asked that the landscape architecture firm serving as a consultant to the Landscape Advisory Commission craft a new plan that would make the memorial more visible and accessible.
“It would be a huge disservice for us to move that and it would be a huge disservice for us not to renovate it, and provide the honor that those 54 [fallen servicemen whose names appear on the plaques] deserve,” said Trustee Scott Lumsden, who spoke passionately in defense of leaving the monument in the place it’s been located since 1921. “That legacy needs to continue.”
Lumsden, a retired 20-year U.S. Navy veteran, echoed the powerful emotional connection veterans have to the memorial and its specific location. While Maloney’s well-thought out argument for moving the memorial stressed making it more visible and accessible to more people while maintaining the memorial’s solemn nature, the emotional connection was too strong.
Both Lumsden and Trustee Wendell Jisa, who is not a veteran but whose family can trace its roots to the village’s founders, said maintaining the memorial in its longtime home preserved the memory of the fallen and the legacy of the village.
Lumsden said he and his son visit the memorial often and that, “We not only remember the folks that are there, but remember the brothers [in arms] that I lost. That’s a very sacred place to me. There’s nobody buried there, but their souls are there when they’re with me.”
Seven members of the public, all but one a Riverside resident and many of them veterans, also emphasized what to them was the sacred nature of the Gold Star Memorial, which was dedicated on Memorial Day 1921 to honor three Riverside natives who died while serving the country during World War I.
Riverside resident and Vietnam War-era veteran Ron Newman recalled visiting the Guthrie Park memorial with his father in 1949, the year after the large boulder bearing the names of those who died during World War II was dedicated.
“It would be a real shame if that memorial was ever moved,” Newman said.
It’s not clear at this point what the scope of the improvements will be to the memorial and the area surrounding it. Lumsden suggested that improvements could be phased in, beginning with stabilizing and possibly resetting the memorial boulders.
Maloney said the Landscape Advisory Committee’s intent would be to maintain “naturalistic” landscape at the memorial, in keeping with the principles of Frederick Law Olmsted, who laid out Riverside and its parks, including Guthrie Park.
Maloney, while she failed to sway veterans and village trustees, made a compelling argument for moving the memorial. She said the memorial, except on Memorial Day, sat mostly unvisited, was poorly sited and unsuccessfully attempted to accomplish two contradictory goals – being unobtrusive while at the same time calling attention to itself.
“The memorial in its current location imparts a sense of abandonment or worse,’ Maloney said.
Based on her own observations, Maloney also said she’s seen someone walking through the park stumble over the memorial, saw a dog urinate on the memorial and saw a man using the memorial space as a place to picnic during a village-sponsored event.
“The solemnity of the memorial is at odds with the nature of the many festivals that occur in Guthrie Park, and picnics and festivals are only expected to increase in the future,” Maloney said.
She said the memorial was a man-made island in the midst of an Olmsted landscape, that it was out of scale, that plant selection was limited due to the shady nature of the site and that constructing an accessible path through the park to the memorial would be “a big deal.”
“When, since Riverside’s historic landmark designation, has a hardscape path ever been cut through a signature park, particularly when there is a very good alternative location?” Maloney asked.
She unveiled a concept sketch of what the memorial might look like if moved to the site adjacent to the flag pole in front of the township hall. The concept illustration, done by the design consulting firm Living Habitats, offers a contemplative, somewhat private space in front of the township hall, with easy access and benches.
“All of these problems can be fixed by relocating the memorial and making it a showcase of which we can be proud,” Maloney said.
Two village trustees, Elizabeth Peters and Doug Pollock, said they could see moving the memorial in order to make it more accessible and more visible, able to inform those passing by every day about the sacrifices the memorial commemorates.
Peters said she had lived in Riverside for five years before she discovered the memorial. Pollock, who is village administrator of suburban Burr Ridge, said that municipality moved a memorial to its village hall and, in doing so, greatly increased its visibility and access.
But trustees agreed with veterans that the memorial should remain in place and that it was the village’s job to make sure the memorial was visible and served to educate residents about those who died while serving their country.
“The responsibility of education belongs to us,” said Village President Ben Sells. “If we have a situation in the village where people are not aware of that memorial, that’s our job to make sure that is remedied in the future, and I think a proper renovation of the memorial in its sylvan setting would be appropriate.”