Veterans, officials celebrate ‘big step’ for future veterans home in Preston

State Rep. Greg Davids talks about the Preston veterans home project while, from left, committee co-chairpersons Ron Scheevel and Don Gildner along with Preston economic development director Cathy Enerson listen. DAVID PHILLIPS/NEWS LEADER
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Area veterans and public officials gathered Thursday, May 31, adjacent to a field on the edge of Preston to celebrate the future construction of a veterans home in that location. The project moved one step closer to realization after Gov. Mark Dayton signed a capital investment bill into law the day before.

The bonding bill signed by the governor included $10.2 million for the veterans home project in Preston as well as $12.4 million for a proposed home in Bemidji, $9.4 million for a proposed home in Montevideo and $9 million for the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to repair and upgrade existing state veterans homes. Although the proposed homes still need federal approval to go ahead since federal funding accounts for 65 percent of the cost of veterans homes, the state funding is a big step.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, one of the authors of the bill in the House, put together the gathering Thursday to celebrate the accomplishment and to recognize some of the people involved in advancing this proposal.

Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks welcomed the crowd, saying it was a “great day for veterans” in Greater Minnesota, and southeastern Minnesota in particular.

Cathy Enerson, who serves as economic development director for Preston, gave an overview of the local effort with Don Gildner and Ron Scheevel, chairpersons of the local veterans home committee, at her side. She noted that the effort had great community support as a survey showed 97 percent of the residents in favor of donating land for the project.

Based on that survey, the Economic Development Authority, the Preston Area Chamber of Commerce and other volunteers got behind the project. She also cited various studies that show the number of veterans in the area, the pool of skilled workers available and the need for a home in southeastern Minnesota.

“Many, many volunteers, including out counterparts over in Spring Valley, helped us lead this effort through the Legislature,” said Scheevel. “We were lucky enough to be the recipients of this project here in Preston, but they helped immensely.”

He also thanked the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners, which made the decision to locate the home in Preston, as well as Davids, state Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and other leaders at the Capitol.

“I don’t know how many trips these three made up to St. Paul to make sure this was something that would become a reality,” said Davids about Enerson and the chairpersons.

Davids said this day was a day of thanks, although he was reluctant to list people because there were so many involved. However, he did go back to recap how the effort started.

Maynard LaFleur of Rushford came up with the idea and came to Davids with the question of why there is no veterans home in southeastern Minnesota, showing him on a state map the hole that is created in this area when all the existing homes are marked.

Davids worked with him for a while and then officials from Preston contacted him and then Chatfield, Spring Valley, Lanesboro and Harmony. He gave officials in each city a packet and told them they need to take it from there. Preston and Spring Valley ended up being the two finalists.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Spring Valley for them making this a better project,” said Davids. “Competition is a good thing and the county commissioners made a difficult decision and now we stand here today.”

He also recognized the efforts of Miller, who “just never stopped on this. The two of us worked together to make sure this got in the bonding bill.”

It has already taken nine years to get to this point, said Davids, as he called out county commissioners and past county commissioners in the audience for their efforts.

“I think we have the best county board in the state, without a question,” he said. “I’ve never seen a county board that works so well together to get things done for the common good.”

He also recognized Preston officials who put in many hours and his wife, Bonnie, for her support. Davids noted that the day is about communities working together and the county working with communities.

Although Davids said the day is about thanking those responsible, he also hoped the volunteers would take it from this “very good spot to be” and carry it across the “finish line,” he told the crowd in attendance.

“What this is really about, folks, this is about honoring our vets,” he said. “The veterans that are here today, thank you so much for your service. This will be a beautiful facility.”

Although he noted all the ups and downs in the process, along with the time commitment for those involved in something that “was not a smooth ride,” he appreciated the progress made so far.

“We still have a long ways to go. This is not a done deal. We’re not going to have Scheevel Construction out here with his bulldozers tomorrow,” said Davids.

Plans still need to be coordinated and a proposal will need to be placed in the federal queue. Due to the state funding obtained in the bonding bill, the project may move up in priority because he said some projects in line from other states aren’t that serious.

“There’s still a lot of work to do on this,” said Davids. “They say five to seven years if everything goes perfectly. Well, we started off perfectly. We’ve got the first step here and it’s a big step.”