By Bob Uphues
The Gold Star Memorial honoring the 54 Riverside residents who died in service of the nation from World War I through Vietnam will be refurbished in time for Memorial Day, May 27 — just in time to mark the 100th anniversary of Riverside American Legion Post 488, which played a key role in the monument's creation.
Work removing the heavy stones from their places in Guthrie Park began on May 9. Workers that same day poured concrete footings for the boulders comprising the monument and moved the stones onto their new concrete pads.
"After working on this project for 12 years, I'm amazed," said Riverside resident Thomas Sisulak, who has advocated for rehabilitating the memorial for more than a decade and organizes the village's annual Memorial Day ceremony.
"I'm so pleased for the Riverside 54 and their family and friends," said Sisulak. "It'll be a very respectful, honorable, patriotic site for many, many years to come."
The Gold Star Memorial was dedicated in 1921 in honor of three Riverside residents who died while serving in World War I. The original memorial consisted of four large boulders — one each for Riverside's war dead and one commemorating all of those killed during The Great War — ringing a flagpole.
The boulders originally were placed to mark memorial trees planted in 1919, but those trees no longer survive.
A much larger granite boulder bearing a plaque honoring Riverside residents killed during World War II was added to the memorial in 1948. Eventually, plaques listing those killed during the Korean and Vietnam wars were affixed to that larger boulder.
Unexpectedly, the bottom of the World War II boulder was not flush, so it could not stand properly on its new concrete pad without assistance. On May 13, workers were to pour a reinforced concrete base on which the stone could rest and stand upright.
"The bottom is cone-shaped," said Public Works Director Edward Bailey. "We'll have to brace it up with steel and then put concrete forms at the back edge to level it off. It's going to turn out very well."
The work, wedged between some rainy days, chewed up sections of the grass in the park. Those will be restored, but it could take some time for them to look their best.
The existing planting beds that are part of the memorial will remain the same "with some new plants, suitable to the location, added," Bailey said.
While the goal is to have work on the memorial completed by Memorial Day, the project, including lawn restoration, should be substantially complete by May 18, when Riverside Arts Weekend kicks off.
According to Sisulak, American Legion Post 488 will wait until fall of 2020 to officially rededicate the site in order to give new plantings time to mature. The post hopes to invite surviving relatives of Riverside's war dead to the rededication ceremony.
American Legion Post 488 raised about $17,000 to help fund the memorial's rehabilitation. That amount included a $2,000 grant from the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, a $5,000 World War I Monument Preservation Grant from Landmarks Illinois, and a $2,000 grant from Riverside Township. Another grant request to Riverside Township is pending approval, according to American Legion Post 488 Commander Joseph Topinka.
In 2016, the post earlier had donated $5,000 to the village of Riverside to get the rehabilitation effort off the ground, and it has gathered other donations for the project.
In April, the Riverside Village Board awarded a $43,312 contract to Chicago-based F.H. Paschen to complete the work, which included pouring new footings for, and replacing, the memorial boulders and the Driver Monument, cleaning and painting the flagpole, installing new electric outlets and floodlights, and restoring the landscape.