Community Alliance to repair memorial

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2005

Natchez &8212; The Natchez Veterans Memorial may be getting a renewal of sorts, courtesy of the Community Alliance.

The Chamber of Commerce-sponsored group of local leaders has decided to partner with the city to restore the Memorial Park monument.

Community leaders found the memorial vandalized and in disrepair during this year&8217;s Veterans Day ceremonies.

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In past few months, the memorial, dedicated in 1997, has been vandalized by what officials believe to be skateboarders. Marble tile on the five-sided monument has been chipped and torn away, leaving bare concrete in its place. Shards of broken tile cover the sidewalk made of bricks donated by Natchez residents in support of the monument.

Earlier this year, vandals spray-painted a pentagram and other graffiti on the marble. Efforts to clean the monument have left ghost images of the graffiti on its surface.

&8220;We on the Community Alliance have witnessed the deterioration of that wonderful and important memorial,&8221; alliance Chairman Matilda Stephens said in a press release. &8220;We need to take action.&8221;

Taking the first steps toward action may be as close as the Natchez Public Works director&8217;s office.

&8220;When we built the monument, we set aside some marble tile for just this reason,&8221; then-mayor Larry L. &8220;Butch&8221; Brown said last week. &8220;(The tile) is at public works.&8221;

Public Works Director Ronnie Ivy confirmed he had the marble in the department&8217;s closet.

In fact, over the past three months Ivy and other community leaders have been discussing what the next course of action should be.

&8220;(The Natchez Police Department) is trying to figure a way to keep the skateboarders from breaking it,&8221; Ivy said Friday. &8220;(The monument) really does look bad and something needs to be done.&8221;

Ivy said he was waiting to be told whether to replace the marble tile or not.

But for Stephens and others on the Community Alliance, this is also an opportunity to do more than replace the damaged tile on the monument.

&8220;Our goal is to make the memorial a show place, not a shame place,&8221; Stephens said.

On Oct. 26, the alliance set up a committee specifically to address the memorial. Mark LaFrancis, a veteran and alliance member, will chair the newly formed restoration and renewal committee.

His committee will have an announcement in early December about the restoration effort, he said.

&8220;Already energy is mounting for our effort even before the announcement. We have pledges of financial support and volunteer work,&8221; LaFrancis said. &8220;We believe the community will embrace a renewal and rededication of the Veterans Memorial not only because it is the right thing to do for our community, but it is the right thing to do for those who are currently serving our country in uniform and those who have served.&8221;

Those who are interested in joining the effort or making a contribution can call Ralph Tedder, director of the Natchez Recreation Department, at 601-4445-4927.