Photo Credit: Boyd Huppert KARE 11
You wouldn’t recognize Dominique Claseman if you saw him on the streets of his hometown of Olivia, MN. Like most teens, he goes about his day trying to take care of his responsibilities while finding some moments to have some fun.
Claseman was only 15 when he went to a city council meeting to say that he wanted to build a veteran’s memorial in their community for his Eagle Scout project. He came organized that evening, offering architectural plans and a spot to use. []
The memorial was finished before Claseman’s 17th birthday.
The City Council Was Skeptical of the Idea at First
Mayor John Hawkinson heard Claseman’s presentation and wondered if the teen had bitten off more than he could chew.
Hawkinson also recalls that there was a drive in Claseman that made people pay attention to the project. “He knew there would be people in our community who would want to donate to something like this,” the mayor recalled. []
There were several skeptics at first, including Ron Kopacek, who headed up the honor guard for the memorial’s dedication. “Fifteen years old, sophomore in high school – he’s going to raise $12,000 to $15,000 and we’re thinking, ‘What? Really?’”
Several hundred people gathered on Memorial Day 2022 to dedicate the new veteran’s memorial.
“I question myself on how I even did it sometimes,” said Claseman. He hung flyers in businesses, gave interviews to local radio stations and newspapers, and set up a table to talk about his project when the Olivia American Legion hosted events.
As Purchases Exceeded Expectations, Claseman’s Vision Expanded
Claseman comes from a long line of family who served their country, including his father, an Iraq war veteran.
Claseman asked his dad, Mark, to leave 21 footprints in the memorial’s wet cement, and he happily obliged the request. You can see Dominique give a casual shrug when asked why he kept going as donations and purchases exceeded his expectations. “I wanted to show more appreciation in a bigger way,” he said.
Mark Jurgensen is also the Scoutmaster for his son’s Boy Scout troop. He says he isn’t surprised that Dominique saw the project come to its conclusion.
“He’s one of those kinds of kids that likes to make sure that he doesn’t disappoint anyone, and he strives really hard for that,” Mark said.
More than 280 pavers are part of the new memorial, engraved with the names of those with ties to Olivia who served in the military. Some of them gave their lives for their country. Three flags flutter over the pavers: the United States flag, the state flag, and a POW flag.
It Was a Powerful Moment for the Community
Kim Wertish was one of the first people to tour the veteran’s memorial that Claseman created. Her son, James, was killed in Iraq on July 16, 2009, during an attack that took the lives of two other members of the Minnesota National Guard, Dan Drevnick and Carlos Wilcox.
All three men have their names engraved on the pavers for the new memorial. Wertish gave Dominique a strong hug during the event, offering an emotional thank you for the inclusion.
“James has been honored in many cities through connections with the military, and that’s dear to us, but this is our hometown,” said Wertish.
Mark Hebig drove two hours to Olivia so that he could be part of the ceremony. His father, Alfred, served in the Korean War and has his name included. “I never knew him well because he was killed in a car accident when I was only one,” Hebig said. “It’s been a long time, but you still always remember.”
Several speakers were included as part of the dedication ceremony, including Dominique. “The memorial before you is the result of the generosity and support that I, and the veterans of our community, have received,” he said.
Aaron Russell, who serves as a district executive with BSA, said the entire event was something special. He raised “maybe $800” for the project and thought that was tough. “We were trying to figure out if there’s been, in recent memory, a project of this scale, especially with the money raised. We couldn’t think or find anything even close to it.”
The new memorial is open to anyone who stops by. It can be found in Olivia’s Kubesh Park, near where Highways 71 and 212 meet. Dominique hopes his younger brothers will one day expand the memorial for their Eagle Scout projects.