Veterans memorial group far from fundraising goal, but leader refuses to quit
It might be taking longer than originally hoped, but fundraising efforts to erect a veterans memorial in Rantoul will continue until the necessary funds are collected.
So said Jim Cheek, chairman of the Rantoul Veterans Memorial committee, whose goal is to raise $150,000.
The group has raised a little more than $30,000 since the effort began almost two years ago.
"Originally we had hoped to have it done in 2 years," Cheek said last week. "But now is looks like three to five years.
"We're still moving ahead, but with times being what they are, people are being very conservative."
The committee raised about $10,000 last year.
The veterans memorial will be erected south of the Rantoul Business Center, just east of Century Boulevard, close to what years ago was the north gate to Chanute Air Force Base.
The committee has scaled back its scope for the memorial. An earlier circular plan would cost too much money, a contractor told the committee, so a simplified model has been approved.
Many area communities have memorials to honor military veterans. Cheek and other members of the committee felt it was logical that a community of Rantoul's size that formerly housed an Air Force base should have one.
Despite the slow progress, Cheek remains upbeat. He is committed.
"People ask me all the time, 'What if we don't raise enough money?' and I say 'I'll die first,'" said Cheek, who obviously is passionate about the project.
He is excited about the fundraising plans earmarked for this year and beyond.
Cheek said he has approached a well-heeled businessman who has donated several million dollars to worthy causes through his foundation. The philanthropist is a Korean War veteran and appeared to look favorably upon the contribution request.
But the foundation's contributions have already been doled out for this year, Cheek was told, so any foundation money that would be given to the veterans memorial would have to come next year.
The veterans memorial committee recently held a spaghetti supper fundraiser at American Lutheran Church, and a breakfast at the church netted $700.
Another fundraiser in the works includes a car wash that will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday at Morris Mufflers.
"This summer we have two or three things that we'd like to do," Cheek said.
One is a "big bash" the third week in July in which a timeline is set up near the proposed site for the memorial.
The timeline would run from the Civil War to modern day.
"A guy on the (veterans memorial) board does Civil War re-enactments," Cheek said, "and one of the members of our committee works with him. They got the idea of doing a timeline with Civil War cannons and tents and (then) get some of the newer uniform people like through World War I and World War II up to date.
"It's going to be one of those things you try to have a band there and maybe a fly-over."
The committee will also have "bucket collections" — seeking donations at several local stores such as CVS, County Market and Wal-Mart.
Another event Cheek hopes to have is a battle of the DJs in late summer.
Area residents will also be reminded on a regular basis of the fundraising drive to build the veterans memorial when a sign is erected near the site, paid for by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
The sign will say "future site of Rantoul veterans memorial" and will include a place for sponsorship.
Donations to the veterans memorial may be made through the Community Foundation of Rantoul, P.O. Box 631, Rantoul, IL 61866. Make the check out to the foundation and include "veterans memorial" in the memo line.
Donors may also buy a brick dedicated to a veteran for $150. The veteran's name will be engraved on the brick. Donors may call Cheek at 217-714-1352 and provide their name and address, and he will send a form that the donor can fill out for the brick dedication program.
Last year, the veterans memorial committee conducted a mail solicitation campaign to Rantoul area business and corporations that raised about $1,000.
Cheek said this year a mailing campaign will be directed to Champaign County businesses and corporations.
The memorial is for all veterans "who gave their service to keep this country free," Cheek said.