Building a Monument to First Responders

“Just Do It!”

Here’s part two of a recent interview with Larry Deetjen, Village Manager of Oak Lawn and Immediate Past-President of the Oak Lawn Rotary Club:


How did you get involved in this project?

“At the time in Oak Lawn, we had Lt. Art Clark in our Police Department, and Art was a commanding officer who both the Chief and I felt would be an excellent choice to head the Emergency Management Program.  It wasn’t at the level it needed to be and, based on my experience in two prior communities, it was critical that we got up to speed.  He expressed an interest and we recommended an appointment to the Mayor and Board. They supported the recommendation and from there it grew. There was a bonding relationship with Advocate Christ Medical Center.  They already had an emergency management program in place. They were more advanced than the Village. It was a good idea to hitch our wagon to them and work together.  In this case, one plus one equals three.

In my early days here, I had a chance to learn a lot about Art. We were progressing well with the new partnership, and we secured outside grants.  We needed a point person for all the details and Art was performing well.  He came to us and said, “I’m aware of this opportunity through the Port Authority where they are reaching out to municipalities who might be interested in displaying World Trade Center Artifacts for the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.”  We reacted immediately.

September 11, 2001 is one of those days in your life that you never forget, like where you were when JFK was assassinated. Everyone remembers where you were when the September 11th attacks occurred.

It didn’t require much thought.  It’s one of those instances in life where you say, “Just do it!”  We submitted the application. The Mayor and Board supported it. Shortly thereafter, we had to have a legal document reviewed by the law firm as well as discussion and approval in a public setting.  Parallel to that, Art developed a relationship with the Port Authority. Because of this relationship I feel we were able to get more artifacts from that tragic day than most.

I have been a Rotarian for many years, been Club President before and having done many community projects. There was a need for the Oak Lawn Rotary Club to be more visible. In the Oak Lawn Rotary Club’s 50 years, there have been a few highly visible projects. The “Mile of Flags” in Oak Lawn started as a Rotary project and very few people know this. The Club worked to found Morraine Valley Community College, which is important. We brought the idea to the Club and the Club stepped up with enthusiasm.

From there, various club members had ideas and unique contributions. Jim Weise with Park Lawn reached out with his expertise in fundraising. Chuck Groebe involved the Boy Scouts.  Dr. Mike Riordan brought to the table is connections in education.  Sandy Bury did the Blog and organized the fund raising. Every member was engaged.   All the various facets of Rotary Clubs across the world came together, and we had the military connection with Art Clark. This to me was most impressive.  Police and Fire Chiefs were involved because of Lt. Clark.  His dual role as a Police Officer who is a Veteran and Marine crossed both spans.

Then the Military Order of the Purple Heart got involved.  Fundraisers of all types were organized involving too many different groups to name.  A few are Mother McAuley, the Oak Lawn Interact Club, Dancing Under the Stars and Stripes, the concept rollout at the Children’s Museum, the Golf Ball Drop at Stony Creek, and the efforts of our Union partners and community volunteers. One of the most impressive things to me was the contributions of the Trinity Lutheran Church ladies with the pies that they baked.  It reminds me of our historic American roots. It speaks to the closeness of American neighbors and was a wonderfully delicious taste of Americana.”

About the Dedication on 09/11/11

“I knew the task at hand to meet a September 11th deadline for a dedication like that is huge. As a Manager, I‘m aware of all that goes on in the background such as pouring foundations, moving steel, moving earth, obtaining permits, inspections, and engineering specifications. All this is stuff that folks take for granted.  It was a challenge to see how can we get this dedicated in time? We pulled it off. It was a great compromise.  On September 11, 2011, one spire was erected, one was standing nearby and the beams were nearby on a flatbed displayed like they were for the July 4th Parade.

I have fresh in my memory other successful projects that I’ve participated in over the years. This has the same electricity. It has the pulse of the public and resonates across the entire Village of Oak Lawn. This is good. Nowhere in my wildest imagination would I have though that on that Sunday morning in September at the start of football season that we would have a good crowd for the Dedication.  I hoped for maybe a hundred people in attendance.  We had to have it on that date. There were no other options.  A Rotarian suggested that we ask Blackhawks Anthem Singer Jim Cornelison be there.  We had the band from Oak Lawn Community High School, the JROTC Honor Guard from Richards High School, the VFW and of course the Oak Lawn Police and Fire Honor Guard, The Patriot Guard, a bugle player, and bag pipe players. The community came out in droves.  They were on each level of the parking garage looking out and it was standing room only everywhere else. It was one of the most diverse and well rounded crowds that we have seen in recent history. We celebrated our 100th Anniversary as a Village and we didn’t have the attendance of this. It had a touch of that “Fall on the Green getting together” feeling.  It was magnificent to see everyone participate.

It’s what I’ve said before.  I believe years from now, sooner rather than later, there will be visitors to Chicago from across the world who hear about this Memorial and realize that they can take a quick train ride from downtown Chicago to Oak Lawn to see the Memorial.  While in town, they will perhaps see the Children’s Museum or visit our local businesses. In my travels around the world, I go other places besides the main sights in the center of big cities. I‘ll take a train to outlying areas. This is how I believe the world operates, and in Oak Lawn, because of the people of Oak Lawn, there is a wonderful connection to the people. The world becomes smaller ever day.  In this Memorial which shows how people come together, it shows that we can share these feelings with the world.

This Memorial has many connections locally and world wide.  An engineer flew in from California to donate his expertise and materials, Artist Erik Blome is in Egypt as we speak working on his Fulbright Award, we have the Haitian connection and, of course, Art in Afghanistan for his fourth tour of duty.

We don’t do enough that is distinctly and uniquely “Oak Lawn.”  There are lots of memorials around, but none like this. It’s a team effort. It’s an honor and privilege to be able to work with the many community folks.  This is the exciting part of it.  A person comes in with a $50 or $100 check.  Volunteers give of their time.  Folks have given at all levels: institutionally, monetarily or as volunteers… The events of 9/11 brought the people of Oak Lawn together in a patriotic way that is uniquely American.”

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