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Volunteers who worked on laying the sod last October. From left: Nick Bauman, Charles Drexelius, Dan Robillard, Mike Boerschig, Justin Glose, Ray DeGlopper, Brian Ambrusko, Larry Bota and Joe Mesmer.
Volunteers who worked on laying the sod last October. From left: Nick Bauman, Charles Drexelius, Dan Robillard, Mike Boerschig, Justin Glose, Ray DeGlopper, Brian Ambrusko, Larry Bota and Joe Mesmer.

DeGlopper Memorial site volunteers continue push for federal monument status

Sat, Mar 16th 2024 07:00 am

By Michael J. Billoni

Senior Contributing Writer

Unusually nice weather last fall and this spring has been great news for the volunteers who have been working tirelessly to build and maintain the DeGlopper Memorial, while anxiously awaiting the goal of having this space declared a federal monument.

Late last October, Dan “Double D” Drexelius received a call from veteran John Braddell, president of Lakeside Sod Supply Co. Inc. in Clarence Center, asking if he could use rolls of sod he was willing to donate to the memorial at the corner of Grand Island Boulevard and Baseline Road.

“Double D” could not say “Yes” fast enough.

A month earlier, a stamped concrete walkway was created from the monument of Grand Island’s World War II hero, U.S. Army Pfc. Charles N. DeGlopper, to the killed in action statues. “Double D” knew he needed sod for both sides of the walkway, so he dispatched his son, Charlie, in a truck to retrieve three-and-a-half pallets of sod and 10 yards of topsoil. He then called volunteers Nick Bauman, Dan Robillard, Mike Boerschig, Justin Glose, Ray DeGlopper, Brian Ambrusko, Larry Bota and Joe Mesmer to help lay the sod so late in the season.

“If it wasn’t for Dan Drexelius, we wouldn’t be here today,” Ray DeGlopper said in October. “I just love the crew he assembled to get all this work done.”

“Double D” added: “There are so many people who have helped make this memorial a reality through in-kind and monetary donations or volunteering. The generosity of Lakeside Sod has been amazing. The entire green space is sod donated by them, which totals at least $40,000. The sprinkler system we have in place ensures that grass is green all year round.”

Drexelius was at the memorial this week inspecting the sod, and he gave the job a thumbs up as it made it through the winter and is now part of the site’s beautiful landscape.

He was also there to greet another major supporter of the project, Stone Art Memorial in Lackawanna, which made seven granite benches for the site. Once it received donations from residents to name the benches, including Grand Island’s American Legion Post 1346 and the Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial VFW Post 9249, Stone Art was able to engrave them. With the warm temperatures this month, “Double D” gave them the green light for delivery. Volunteers Deb Bota and Robillard assisted in placing the benches throughout the space on Wednesday.

In 2019, Grand Island High School student Ryan Wellence, as an Eagle Scout project, raised funds to purchase seven park bench kits he built and placed at the DeGlopper Memorial. The kits cost $350 each. Among the donations he received was $265 from the sale of poppies prior to the second annual veterans parade in the fall of 2018 by Veronica Connor Middle School social studies teacher Dawn Hayes and her students. The members of the American Legion Post 9249 were so impressed they matched the funds, giving Wellence more than $500 toward his goal.

Charlie Drexelius unloads topsoil for the laying of the sod.


“We had always wanted the DeGlopper Memorial to be designated as a federal monument,” Drexelius said. “When Ryan donated the park benches, we did not know one of the requirements to earn federal monument status is that everything in the space must be built to last 100 years. We explained that to him and, once these granite benches were built and were ready to be delivered, we asked the Town Parks Department to move Ryan’s benches to parks in the town. We truly appreciated his efforts.”

Thanks to volunteer Elsie Martino’s diligence of calling officials in Albany continuously for several years before finally receiving a $100,000 grant last year that had been promised to the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee in 2018, the memorial is nearly complete. The finishing touches are trees that will be planted adjacent to the new park benches, and they now have the funds for impressive granite monuments recognizing all Purple Heart recipients; and taps, with the words from the first version printed adjacent to a bugler at the site where a veteran paid the ultimate price while fighting for our freedoms. Tom Koch of Stone Art Memorial is managing the project of cutting the granite and creating the artwork for the statues.

Drexelius said the trees should be in place before the Memorial Day ceremony. He said he hopes the two statues can be in place by Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

The DeGlopper Memorial sits on land that is owned by the Town of Grand Island and the American Legion. The town owns the land from the cannon to the killed in action monument. Drexelius and members of his committee will be meeting with town officials soon to put those two properties together to make one parcel.

A copy of the deed of that property will be turned over to the federal government as the final piece of the application for monument status. The local committee are working with local congressmen in both parties to show bipartisan support for this project.

“We learned a long time ago there are many historians from across the country who travel all over to see these federal monuments,” Drexelius said. “With Niagara Falls so close, we are creating a tourist destination right here in Grand Island. It will be exciting when we are finally able to make that announcement.”

This entire process has been somewhat overwhelming for local veteran, Ray DeGlopper, who was just a boy when his uncle, Charlie, was killed during the Battle of Normandy in World War II. The young soldier posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the highest award given by the U.S. military.

Standing next to his uncle’s statue last fall while several volunteers placed the sod in place, DeGlopper, commander of American Legion Post 9249, reflected on the journey to create a monument in honor of his uncle, a giant of a young man at 6-foot 7-inches, who died while saving the lives of his comrades on June 9, 1944.

“This is so amazing to see these men out here on what is easily the last day we could possibly lay sod, and they are doing it to make this memorial look beautiful,” he said last October. “This entire project has come together because of the generosity of so many in this town. What a tribute to Charles and to all the veterans from Grand Island. I am just so happy to live here.”

The DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Committee continues to accept donations, which will be used for continued maintenance. Visit www.degloppermemorial.org to donate or to purchase engraved brick pavers.

Ray DeGlopper stares in admiration at statue of his cousin, World War II hero and Grand Island native, Pfc Charles N. DeGlopper.

The new granite personalized park benches.

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