For Older Americans Month, we recognize older adults who are “Aging Unbound.”
Undeterred by a pandemic-driven hiatus of two years, the need for significant fundraising, and the challenge of designing a monument worthy of its purpose, a group of veterans at Otterbein SeniorLife succeeded this spring in completing a Veterans Memorial on the campus of Otterbein’s Lebanon, OH, continuing care retirement community.
A dedication ceremony on April 20 featured a Presentation of Colors and unveiling of the Veterans Memorial, captured in this video on the story behind the Memorial.
Looking back to the origins of the memorial, Larry Rankin still marvels at how quickly and overwhelmingly the idea was adopted. Rankin, a Navy veteran and resident, refers to a meeting five years ago of Otterbein Honor, a group he leads for veterans living in the community.
“We had about 40 veterans attend the meeting,” Rankin says. “And we just asked them, what would you like to see done for you or for other veterans? What kind of programming would you be interested in? One man stood up–I believe he was a World War II veteran–and said, ‘Can we have a veterans memorial?’ As soon as he said that, every other veteran in that room supported it loudly and resoundingly.”
After COVID-19 put the work on hold in early 2020, Rankin says, the community’s director of development, Jeff Hills, helped restart the initiative in early 2022, and a committee of residents brought the memorial into being.
“The Veterans Committee was all residents,” says Rankin, “no employees or managers.” Not all seven committee members are veterans, he adds. One is the daughter of a military father and another is simply interested in the project.
“I just call them patriots,” says Rankin. “One thing that was proven here at Otterbein, which could be a model [for] other retirement communities, is that retirees can be productive. We had an interest in doing this, and we all took it very seriously; it was one of the most serious things I’ve ever done. None of us had ever thought about doing something like this, and I am so proud of what they’ve accomplished.”
The committee met weekly for seven months beginning in January 2022. Working with a nearby company with national experience in design and creation of monuments, it set to work on the concept.
“My idea was that a memorial could be centered around different conflicts, like Vietnam, Korea, or World War II,” Rankin says. “The committee decided the focus should really be on the veterans themselves. Some veterans happened to have been in [those] conflicts, but others served in peacetime.” (Rankin estimates there are as many as 140 veterans living in the community.)
With the help of Hills, says Rankin, “we had some big donors, some small donors, and some people off-campus who donated as well.” The fundraising challenge was met, as over $96,000 was raised in the space of only four months.
The final design is a seven-sided, laser-etched granite column. Six sides are dedicated to the six branches of service: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and the new Space Force. Each depicts actual military members and related imagery for each branch. (The learning curve about the Space Force was steep; no one knew anything about it at first.)
The seventh column spells out the purpose for the memorial, dedicating it to “All Veterans for Service and Sacrifice in Defending Freedom.”
The Otterbein YouTube channel includes this longer video of the entire April 20 dedication ceremony, which featured a Presentation of Colors, unveiling of the Memorial, and speeches by Rankin, Hills, Otterbein CEO Jill Wilson, and Steve Wilson, an Ohio State Senator.