Memorial to police, firefighters to be dedicated

Editor's note: In the event of rain, the dedication ceremony will be held at the council chambers in the City Building, 102 N. Neil St., C.

CHAMPAIGN — Martha Hoffman Mariscal likes to sit in Champaign's West Side Park, particularly the northeast corner of the beautiful green space that separates downtown Champaign from some of the city's older, statelier neighborhoods.

That's because her father, Champaign's only firefighter known to be killed in the line of duty, is remembered there in the Fire and Police Memorial that will be officially dedicated Tuesday evening.

"I'm pleased. I'm honored," said the 55-year-old Mahomet woman who was a toddler when he died. "He died for a reason. Not every person would put their life on the line like that. It's a hard job."

Angela Devaney and Connie Finney know that all too well. Devaney is married to a firefighter and Finney to a police officer.

Connie Finney was walking through West Side Park on a summer night in 2005 with her husband, then Police Chief R.T. Finney, when he pointed out the former police memorial.

"I said, 'That's a light pole and that's a disgrace,'" she recounted.

After "going round and round about it" with her husband to do something about it for a couple years, he threw the challenge back to her.

"Why don't you do something?" he asked.

So she sent out an e-mail to the wives of Champaign police and firefighters and thus was born the fund-raising campaign for the memorial that stands today.

"It's been a long time coming. I am very pleased with the final product," Finney said.

While there have been several committee members working on the project off and on through the years, she and Devaney are among the handful who have been there from the beginning.

Seven years and $100,000 later — raised through a number of creative efforts such as the sale of engraved bricks, a football game between the police and fire departments, and food and wine tasting events — the women can take pride in the finished product that graces the corner of State and Church streets.

The memorial was built in two phases.

The first portion, dedicated in September 2010, features a granite stone base. The front-facing side has the words: "Their duty was to serve ... Our duty is to remember."

On the right face is a bronze police badge and under it are the names of police officers Thomas Dodsworth, killed in a bootlegging raid July 6, 1913, and Robert Tatman, killed during a traffic stop Nov. 25, 1967. On the left face is a bronze firefighter's Maltese Cross and under it is Hoffman's name. He died fighting a house fire March 5, 1960.

The stone acts as the base for a flagpole. Surrounding the stone are in-ground bricks, 169 of which are engraved with names of supporters, and in-ground lighting.

On either side of the stone are life-sized figures of a police officer and a firefighter. The bronze figures, cast by a foundry in Utah, were the last part of the monument to be completed and were installed March 31.

Devaney said the statues were custom made for Champaign.

"We sent actual uniforms to them. They created the faces on their own," she said.

The committee had hoped to have them in place last year to mark the 100th anniversary of Dodsworth's death and the erection of the first monument but Devaney said a problem at the foundry delayed that.

"There was a bad product and something on the police statue did not cure properly and they had to start over," she said.

The statues were ready in November but the committee didn't want to put them in during cold weather. Tuesday's 6 p.m. ceremony will include remarks from members of the committee and Mayor Don Gerard and is expected to last no more than 40 minutes, Finney said. Surviving members of Tatman's and Hoffman's family will also be honored.

"I am so proud of everybody that worked on it. It's not just for those three names on there. You don't want any more names on there. It's to honor all those people out there," she said of the police and firefighters. "This is a big city. We should have something like this."

Both women noted that just months after their fund-raising campaign was made public, a mentally disturbed man opened fire on police officers in West Side Park, not far from where the original memorial stood.

"It still gives me the chills when I think that was literally feet from where that memorial was," Finney said of the June 2007 shootings of Deputy Police Chief John Murphy and patrol officer Shannon Bridges, both of whom survived.

"When the shooting happened, it just helped us understand the commitment and why we were making it," Devaney said.

Tuesday tribute

What: Dedication of Fire and Police Memorial

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Northeast corner of West Side Park, Champaign

Sections (2):News, Local

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Local Yocal wrote on April 28, 2014 at 11:04 am
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"...a mentally disturbed man opened fire on police officers in West Side Park,..."

Since there was no public trial of this event, and incredibly, law enforcement allowed the defendant, Donnell Clemons, to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and allowed Clemons to spend his days in a mental hospital (with several bullets still lodged in his body) because,...law enforcement would have been very uncomfortable with any public investigation that might have showed it might have been Deputy Chief Murphy who first opened fire to a report of a man in a car with a gun, and that Shannon Bridges was hit by friendly fire. Until we have a real public investigation, spare us the guilt and angst over the West Side Park incident. According to Clemons, he pulled his revolver out of his glove compartment box in response/defense to his back windshield suddenly getting blown out by police bullets.

Murphy and R.T. Finney, as attested by their own employees, had long-standing difficulties with telling the truth and both were forced to exit stage right in disgrace.

While Connie Finney's intentions might be a noble gesture, we could just as easily create a memorial for the citizens who were brutalized by police, starting with Edgar Holts, Amber Grohall, Larry Martin, Andre Davis, and Kiwane Carrington. Were such an effort made public, we would shudder at the large number of families who could come foreward with horror stories of unjustified violence and wrongful convictions at the hands of law enforcement. It would far surpass the three names on the current "hero" memorial.