FLOYDADA The newly-dedicated Floyd County Veterans Memorial was established because of a trip to the lake.
Back in July 2001, 4-H’er Skyler Cornelius of Floydada, along with his parents and younger brother, were on a holiday trip to Possum Kingdom Lake. “We were going through Benjamin on the way, and I saw a veterans’ memorial (to the veterans of Knox County),” Skyler said. “I asked my dad to stop. It (the memorial) took my breath away. I said, if a town of 200 could do it, why not a county of 8,000?”
The family also visited the Young County Veterans’ Memorial in Graham while on their way to the lake, and were impressed by it.
When the family returned to Floydada, in Floyd County, Skyler and his mother got to work. “We talked about it and decided that we were going to stick with this project to see it completed,” he said.
“We officially started on Veterans’ Day 2001.”
“When we started this project, we didn’t know it would be this huge,” said Julianne Cornelius, Skyler’s mother and the 4-H adult leader for the project. “It’s just been incredible, the families and the lives that have been touched.”
Knowing the project would be enormous, Skyler and his mother asked for volunteers. When Skyler presented the project to his 4-H club, his mother said, “25 kids signed up the first night.”
In addition to the young volunteers “we called them junior board members,” Skyler said 23 adult board members also volunteered. “My mom was our adult leader for the project,” he said.
Information gathering had to come first. They contacted officials in Knox County who were in charge of the veterans’ memorial there, and the Archer City Chamber of Commerce and Odis Lewis in Young County for information on the memorial in Graham. They were given contact information for Willis Granite Company in Granite, Okla., who did the actual building of the memorial.
Then came footwork literally. Skyler and the young volunteers spent hours walking through the local cemetery, looking for veterans’ tombstones and recording the names and years of service.
When the project started, Skyler and his mother said, they were expecting to find the names of maybe 2,000 veterans from the county veterans who served in every war this country fought, from the Civil War through the Gulf War.
But the project turned out to be bigger than they thought. “We got 4,036 names,” Skyler said. And because this is a living memorial to service people past, present and future, “we will be able to add more names to it later,” he said.
The volunteers also had to make sure the spelling of each name was correct. “My mom and I have over 1,000 hours each in the program, and a lot of them were spent getting the names in the computer and getting the spellings right,” Skyler said. “They are listed in order of war, and then alphabetical.”
In the meantime, donations of money and services came pouring in. “We had a lot of support. It was really a county project, really the two towns together,” said Skyler, referring to how residents of Floydada and its sister city and friendly rival, Lockney, all joined in the project.
In addition to donations from individuals, First National Bank of Floydada donated $10,000; the public library donated $5,000; the county museum donated $5,000; a local business, Texas In A Box, donated $1,000 to pay for the costs of mailing out 16,000 brochures. Many other individuals, companies and community organizations donated to the project, Skyler and his mother said.
And Alice Gilroy, editor of the Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon, made sure the project was never far from the public eye. “She put us in the paper every week since Nov. 11, 2001, and most of it was on the front page,” Skyler said. “That was our main publicity at first.”
Interest kept growing and growing. “We had people from (as far away as) California and Florida sending us names and e-mails,” he said.
“Each name has a story behind it.”
One of these stories is about Jack Osborne, who is one of 74 listed on the monument as killed in action. In his speech at the memorial’s dedication, Skyler said: “Jack’s call to duty was during the Vietnam War, (and) I think about him because he was my age when he went to war …
“His friends told me that he lived for the game of football, even running a touchdown in a bi-district game wearing his shoes on the wrong feet, was ornery and loved a good fight, but was a great brother, uncle and friend.” Many of Osborne’s friends and relatives heard about the veterans’ memorial. “More than 40 people called to make sure his (Osborne’s) name was in the killed in action list,” Mrs. Cornelius said. “He was 19 when he was killed in Vietnam.”
By the time the project was winding down in time for its Veterans Day 2002 dedication ceremony, more than $95,000 had been raised, Mrs. Cornelius said. “We raised $95,000 in less than a year, and with no fund raiser.” But community support didn’t stop there. “The city employees and city manager saved us over $10,000 by their volunteer work” in the actual installation of the memorial, Skyler said.
“It was awesome,” his mother added. “They did all the work.
“This is how God works,” she said.”We prayed over the project from the beginning.”
The dedication ceremony was this year’s Veterans Day the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, which signifies the end of World War I in 1918 the day traditionally set aside to honor veterans of all armed conflicts.
“The dedication was on the courthouse square” in Floydada, Skyler said. “We had an honor guard from Altus, Okla., Air Force Base (courtesy of retired Maj. Gen. Robert Dempsey, USAF), and local entertainers (including singer) Kenny Maines (of the Maines Brothers) his niece is a Dixie Chick!”
Roger Stapp, the mayor of Lockney, and Bob Gilliland, the mayor of Floydada, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Boy Scouts from both communities were on hand. A pair of T-38s from Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls did a flyover.
And Pete Laney, Texas speaker of the house, was keynote speaker.
The response was overwhelming, Skyler said. “We had over 3,000 people show up. We had a city block blocked off … we had over 500 chairs (set up in the street) for veterans, and we had veterans standing in the back.”
The memorial and the community support for the project “means so much to the families,” he said, adding that about half the families represented on the memorial still live in the area. “It was pretty awesome to see people come (from all over). One man (told) my dad he hadn’t been to Floydada in over 50 years, and he came back for the dedication.
“A man came up to me at the dedication and told me it was the first time anyone had told him thank you’.”
This community-wide project is a “true 4-H success story,” said Brad Davis, Texas Cooperative Extension program specialist for 4-H. “The way Skyler involved other members of 4-H, other adults and other organizations within the county (makes it) a true success.
“To me it’s the perfect picture of youth development at its finest.” Skyler and his mother expressed their appreciation for all volunteers and the hard work they did, in addition to all the money that was donated for the project. “The main thing is: We had a lot of help,” Mrs. Cornelius said. “Over 160 people helped us get this done.”
Their thanks and appreciation also go out to all the individuals, families, businesses and organizations that donated money, time and effort into the veterans’ memorial project. In his letter of thanks, published in the Hesperian-Beacon, Skyler wrote: “The support, volunteer hours, dedication and contributions have been generously and lovingly offered. That says a lot about the character and patriotism of this West Texas community. Every citizen in Floyd County, past, present and future is part of this memorial.”
“It took a county to build a memorial,” Mrs. Cornelius said.