Veterans, local officials, and community members gathered at the entrance of a soybean field on a sunny May 31 morning to celebrate the inclusion of veterans home funding in the 2018 Minnesota bonding bill. Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks welcomed everyone to the future site of the veterans home, calling it a great day for veterans in southeast Minnesota.
Since 2013 there has been an effort to have a veterans home constructed in Fillmore County. On May 20 as the midnight hour approached, signaling the end of the 2018 legislative session an $825 million public works construction bill was passed (42 to 25 in the Senate and 113 to 13 in the House).
Among the projects slated to receive funding was the effort for three new veterans homes in Minnesota. Thirty-two million dollars was included in the bonding bill for homes in Preston, Bemidji, and Montevideo (Preston $10.2 million). Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill into law on May 30.
Five years of Veterans Home Committee meetings in Preston and Spring Valley preceded a decision by the county board in early April to support the Preston location for a 72 bed veterans home in Fillmore County.
To get to this point in the process local American Legions, VFW posts and communities have telegraphed their support for a veterans home. Local officials have trekked to St. Paul as well as Washington, DC to garner support. Rep. Greg Davids and Senator Jeremy Miller have supported the quest in the legislature along with other legislators.
Minnesota has a federal designation allowing for a total of 1,058 beds, which means there are 234 new beds possible.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs will submit an application to get the Preston site into the federal queue.
Demand for federal grant funding exceeds available funds. There is a rolling priority list.
EDA director Cathy Enerson credits Rep. Greg Davids for his good instincts to get the effort started for a veterans home in Fillmore County. Davids explained that Rushford resident Maynard LaFleur had alerted him to the fact that there was no veterans home in southeast Minnesota.
Enerson stated a community survey showed that 97% were in support of the donation of land for a veterans home. She maintained the local land donation for the home speaks volumes. An economic impact/needs study revealed there are 1,100 skilled health care workers in the county. A veterans home would allow more of them to work near their homes. In the 15 county catchment area to be served there are 30,000 veterans.
The Chamber has created a veteran friendly community and supported the effort. Members of the Preston Veterans Home Committee, co-chaired by Ron Scheevel and Don Gildner, and EDA members are all volunteers. Rochester Community and Technical College has agreed to offer training so workers can better see to specific veterans needs.
Scheevel credited their counterparts in Spring Valley who helped in St. Paul. He thanked all who have helped. Davids called today a day of thank-you. He gave a special thank-you to Spring Valley, suggesting the competition made the project better. A lot of people made this happen. This is about honoring our veterans; thank-you for your service. Today is about communities working together, adding, “This wasn’t a smooth ride.’
Davids called the work on this bonding bill a “joy in my heart.” He recognized county board members, calling them the best in the state without question. The board made a difficult decision between Preston and Spring Valley. Davids stated they work to get things done for the common good. He thanked them and the Preston city council.
Davids admitted there still is a long way to go, maybe 5-7 years if things go perfectly. Just look at the site, “What a beautiful tribute.”