Funds to help preserve veterans’ stories at Memorial Hall
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) – The Veteran’s Memorial Hall and Museum in downtown Rockford is undergoing renovations.
The building, located at 211 N. Main St. in downtown Rockford, opened to the public on June 3, 1903, when former President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the building to area veterans (from 2022, he is the first and only sitting president to visit Rockford).
Thanks to more than $350,000 in grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Winnebago County Capital Improvement Plan, the building and its place in the community will be preserved.
“This building in a way represents the commitment of the county and the citizens of the city to honor the veterans of this area,” said museum director Scott Lewandowski. “If we were just talking about WWII or Camp Grant, we lose that connection to the individuals.”
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant was approved in 2020, but construction did not begin until fall 2020 due to the pandemic.
Lewandowski says one rewarding thing about being part of the museum is what they do to honor veterans in the area. During one of his rounds, he showed a woman an album in the downstairs library with a picture of Sidney Van Duzer who served in World War I. The woman looked at the picture and said, “That’s my grandfather standing next to him.”
“We are a huge community and a huge community of veterans. And I think it’s important to keep people as a story,” says Lewandowski.
Improvements include repaired limestone steps, a ramp at the east side entrance, a memorial garden and a rain garden for visitors of all ages, like Mark Digellonardo, who walked through the museum entrance for the first time on Tuesday.
“I was having a coffee across the street here today a roasting company looking over and I decided to walk in and walked in and was amazed at the history of this building that I didn’t even know was here,” says Digellonardo.
Digellonardo’s father served in World War II and his brother-in-law served in Vietnam. He says other visitors won’t be disappointed.
“I am happy to see that there will be renovations made particularly more accessible to people with disabilities. I hope someone like me in Rockford or the area who has never been here will come and enjoy what is here,” says Digellonardo. “It’s truly amazing to see the history of this building dating back to 1903 everything inside.”
The extension of the exterior entrance, the building’s electrical supply washed and covered, the windows repainted and resealed, the handrails and historic lamppost repainted, an electronically activated museum entrance from the ramp and security measures updated. update are part of additional improvements to improve accessibility for museum visitors. The upgrades are expected to be complete by mid-summer 2022.
This is the first improvement to the building since the late 1980s. Memorial Hall was also updated in the early 1960s.
The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Private tours and event spaces are available upon request.
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