A dream relinquished: Memorial Hall

In response to the [Rockford Register Star] editorial on Dec. 21, 2004, “Memorial Hall a treasure…”, Memorial Hall is indeed a treasure, but it belongs to all of Winnebago County.

I am one of the initial appointees to the Memorial Hall Board of Trustees. I’ve never felt like a “trustee” as the term trust was never applied to the five of us who were chosen from the community; we were to be volunteers with “no purview” as such (I’ve heard this term often).

It is obvious from the gist of the editorial that the Editorial Board of the Register Star has a vested interest in the downtown Rotary. In 1900, the County Board proposed to “… erect a memorial (building) for the soldiers and sailors of Winnebago County.” The people voted 6,024 for it and 2,757 against it, a building so that “plaques, records and relics of the different wars could be preserved.” The people voted to erect a memorial, not an office building.

Construction began in 1901 and was completed in 1902. An article during that time stated, “First of its kind in the nation, dedicated June 3, 1903, by President Theodore Roosevelt.”

The building was managed for almost a century as a memorial. At some point, about 10 to 15 years ago, it was decided to prostitute the building and rent it out to various organizations who closed off the rooms containing relics and plaques (plaque rooms). Two small rooms on the lower floor were assigned to four veterans’ groups.

Recently, a Korean War Veterans Association was formed in Rockford. The Association takes its place alongside the VFW, the American Legion and the VietNow. Over time, I developed a “dream” of returning Memorial Hall to its original status as a memorial. In late 2001, the County Board called for applicants for a Memorial Hall Board of Trustees. I thought that my dream was going to come true. What a disappointment it has been serving as a puppet to a County Board who are, in fact, the Trustees of Memorial Hall.

Every attempt of the trustees to serve the veterans of the community has, in one way or another, been blocked by the County Board, both the previous administration, who initiated the Trustees Board, and now the present administration.

After three years of meeting twice a month, I feel I have accomplished nothing of consequence, and I am tendering my resignation from the Board. The members from the community that remain are dedicated people with the interest of the community at heart. I cannot say the same for the County Board appointees, who are focused on their political careers.

The County does indeed have to do more, as do the veterans, but the County holds the keys to the building. A few small gains have been made that will keep the building open three days a week and get the collection back from storage in Midway Village. (This was part of the Trustees’ plan.) I wish the Trustees the best of luck, and they will need it. I have abandoned my dream.

Editor’s note: Lou Suit is a Korean War veteran and Rockford resident. The Rockford Register Star published an article concerning Memorial Hall after The Rock River Times printed a similar article Nov. 10, 2004.

Jack Philbrick, another veteran and Memorial Hall Trustee, followed Suit’s lead and resigned within 10 days of Suit’s resignation in December.

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