Elk River Mayor John Dietz proposes bringing back holiday parade
by Jim Boyle
After last year’s annual Elk River Memorial Day program had to be scratched to abide by executive orders handed down in a pandemic, Elk River American Legion Commander Tom Kulkay and Elk River Mayor John Dietz agreed this year’s needed to be a special one.
The program was held at Rivers Edge Commons Park in downtown Elk River as an American flag hung from atop an Elk River Fire Department’s ladder truck. Old Glory and the hundreds of people who turned out for the May 31 event basked in welcome sunlight and relished a chance to honor past and present members of the Armed Forces and their families for their sacrifices and especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Those in attendance enjoyed a host of music, speakers, award presentations, and ceremonies that started with the Elk River American Legion Honor Guard marching in and closed with a three-round volley salute before Ryan Walz, the son of retired United States Army Sgt. 1st Class Jodi T. Walz, performed taps in honor of the veterans who have died over the past two years. That list includes his father and Victor Arnold, William Campbell, David Clough, William Dollansky, Duane Flikke, Wallace Fox, Dennis Fyten, Earl Greer, Alfred Grell, Eugene Guimont, Curtis Job, Daniel Maher, Murray McNair, Steve Nichols, James Nord, Larry Pepos, William Schulz, Hartley Story, James Tacheny, Roger Tarnowski, Norman Volkers, William Walker, Dean Warden, Kenneth Weeks, Roger Westholter, Thomas Wilson, Leonard Wirtz, Gary Chancellor and Richard Swanson.
Commander Kulkay hosted the event, and Mayor Dietz was one of many speakers. The longtime resident of Elk River who moved to the city as small child reflected on how the significance of Memorial Day has become increasingly important to him. He suggested during his speech, to a round of applause, bringing back a Memorial Day parade. It’s his hope that can be accomplished for next year’s program. (See his speech on page 4.)
Cheryl Pendleton performed the national anthem. Youth from Elk River Scouts BSA led everyone in attendance in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The opening invocation was provided by incoming chaplain of Post 112 Larry Gross, a United States Marine Corps veteran, chaplain and Legion Rider.
American Legion Adjutant Greg Artman, who served as the master of ceremonies, honored the Legion Post 112 Honor Guard.
“While the community honors the fallen one day a year, Honor Guard squads across this country remember Memorial Day every day, 365 days a year,” he said. “Whether it is in Washington, D.C., or right here in Elk River, in the pouring rain outside of Dare’s funeral home, or in the driving January wind at St. Andrew’s Cemetery on Jackson, the Honor Guard squad stands firm in all elements of the weather.
“We would like to take a moment to acknowledge them for their dedicated and unwavering service.”
He listed the current members of the Elk River American Legion Honor Guard: Tom Kulkay, Keith Quammen, John Salk, John Olsen, Charlie Finck, Larry Gross, Bill Stevenson, Vern Draxler, Ron Walz, Mike Lestico, Jerry Takle, Doug Stillwell, Glenn Haugen, Greg Crow, Vaughn Smith and Artman.
Artman noted the Honor Guard lost two valuable members of its squad in 2020: “Our very own Honor Guard Commander Bill Dolansky and bugler SFC Jodi Walz, U.S. Army, retired,” he said.
Local musician Tony Digatono, who performed patriotic music while the Honor Guard completed its cemetery tour, played a song named “Freedom Soil,” written by Dean Ellenwood.
Post Commander awards, certificates
Kulkay presented certificates of appreciation and awards to individuals who go above and beyond their duties. Certificates went to Dietz, Quammen and Ryan Walz.
Dietz was recognized for his outstanding support of American Legion Post 112 and its mission of serving the veterans in our community.
Quammen received the award for his tireless devotion to Post 112. He is said to be one of the most dependable volunteers who always shows up with a great attitude and ready to serve others.
Ryan Walz, a college student and musician who played his dad’s trumpet at all of the cemetery stops earlier in the day, was recognized for following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps by showing his dedication to serving something greater than himself.
Rock on Trucks, based in St. Cloud, was recognized for providing the replica war memorials that had been parked at the Elk River American Legion all Memorial Day weekend.
Auxiliary President Cathy Artman, accompanied by Sharon Mendenhall, initiated a relationship that was responsible for the Memorial Tribute Trucks being in Elk River this Memorial Day at Post 112. They were there all weekend, too.
The St. Cloud Stand Down was also recognized. The private nonprofit 501(c)(3) veteran organization was established in 1998 and is administered by a board of directors consisting of veterans and community representatives. Stand Down is staffed entirely by veterans and volunteers who donate their time. This boots-on-the-ground operation provides for immediate needs of veterans. They offer warm showers, hot meals, boots and a path to an apartment or homeownership as well as advice on where to find work, mentoring, legal assistance and meeting space. They also provide haircuts, basic nail care and camaraderie.
The group’s president is Bob Behrens, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.
Kulkay gave out three awards to Robert Hackenmeuller, William Stevenson and Bernard Richter (see photo on this page). He also recognized Greg Artman with a certificate.
Cathy Artman recognized Carol Heath with an American Legion Auxiliary award for her volunteerism (see photo).
Michele Smith, Auxiliary 1st vice chair and Chaplain for American Legion riders, provided the benediction leading into the Honor Guard salute, rifle volley and playing of taps.