Ripon's veterans will have a museum all their own

RIPON -- The dream to build a veterans museum and wall here is slowly but surely becoming reality.

A 1917 building that once was a church and later City Hall has been painted sage green with rust-colored trim. After volunteers finish the walls and install carpet, they will move in mannequins and glass cases for displaying artifacts, from medals to a uniform worn by a Ripon resident in the Spanish-American War.

The city has plans to move its war memorial from outside the Police Department to the site at First Street and Locust Avenue.

A masonry wall there holds the names of 295 veterans. An additional 150 names are ready to go up. Unlike walls dedicated to those who lost their lives, this one includes the names of veterans who are still alive. Granite tiles are engraved with the name, branch of the service and the dates.

"They were all ready to serve, and some died doing it, but everyone takes the same chances," said Tony Bell, 84, a retired career Army Air Corps radio operator and member of Ripon's American Legion Post 190, which led the effort to build the wall. "I have been around this country and other countries, and I don't think I've seen anything like this anywhere. You can go down there and see your own name on the wall."

He and other members of the American Legion came up with the idea as a way of recognizing the service of veterans who have lived in Ripon or the unincorporated area surrounding it. It is a so-called "living wall," on which names will be added as time goes on.

Volunteers gave veterans applications to put their names on the wall and distributed applications around the community. They ask for a $75 donation to defray the cost of the granite and engraving but don't require a donation. About three out of four people have donated, said organizer Don Schaapman, 78.

Not everyone wants his name on the wall, Bell said. He imagines some have disturbing memories of war.

Purple Hearts awarded to Ripon residents wounded or killed in battle will be on display inside the museum. Soldiers' letters home also will be displayed, said museum organizer John Mangelos, president and founder of the Ripon Historical Society. He said he thinks the museum will be the only one of its kind in the region.

It fits with Ripon's reputation as synonymous with volunteering, he said.

"I was born and raised here, and this has always been a community that puts its hand out to the person in need in the community, and veterans are a perfect example of that," said Mangelos, 52.

"They go to war to preserve the rights we have. And that's what Ripon is a perfect example of. People of Ripon work diligently to help each other. If you can't mow your lawn and you tell your neighbor, it is very likely your neighbor will help you."

Much of the labor and materials for the project have been donated. The city agreed this week to chip in as much as $30,000 for landscaping and lighting.

Organizers plan to call the landscaped area Veterans Park, Schaapman said. "It's going to be a beautiful spot."

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 599-8760.