In July 2020, when the Hooks-Orr American Legion Post 235 commander approached the board of commissioners with a plan to renovate the veteran’s memorial at Stumptown Park, the board felt the collaboration was a win-win.
The Legion worked through various conduits to have plans approved, requested donations from local businesses, and even the artistic renderings were made by veterans who are also artists.
Legion Post 235 got to work, transforming the landscape around the existing veterans memorials with a thoughtful installation that celebrates all of our nation’s military forces.
Towards the end of the project, excited veterans and other contributors began brainstorming another way to honor our vets: by renaming the park Stumptown Veterans Memorial Park.
The town board heard from many voices, mostly veterans, who were for the renaming.
We also heard from a handful against the renaming, a few of whom, political players and former mayors, championed the rebranding of the original parade and celebration, Stumptown Festival, to Matthews Alive!
Erasing history from a weekend festival then championing the same name as personal legacy seems incongruous.
After some discussion, and for legitimate reasons, renaming the park is off the table.
The current debate is if creating a Veterans Memorial Pocket Park out of the renovated area would interrupt the annual Matthews Alive! Festival.
Festival fun aside, there’s a creative solution being thrown around: removable benches that would face the memorial most days, turn to face the stage for event seating (possibly reserved for community members with mobility difficulty), and go in storage during events where every inch of park is needed.
The name Stumptown is a legacy for people who have dedicated their lives to serving Matthews. The name Stumptown Park remains, honoring theirs and countless others who laid the groundwork for what Matthews is today.
Hindsight is 20/20, and we, as a board, realized the Matthews Parks, Rec, and Cultural Advisory Board in partnership with the Matthews Veterans Advisory Board should determine a collaborative solution without messy politics involved.
So, for the past several months, the advisory committees have been discussing the issue, holding public meetings, gathering input and forming opinions.
With each step toward consensus, inevitably progress is stunted by outside forces of political posturing. While we discuss semantics and minutiae, Matthews veterans are subjected to a cold and unnecessary controversy.
Yes, some are remembering a return home from a horrific war only to feel isolated and unwelcomed.
As community leaders, we must find a compromise and show our friends and neighbors compassion. We must replace ego with honor in this conversation.
I would venture to say that none of us on the board of commissioners expected the process to become so heated; after all, the singular purpose is to honor the sacrifice and service of the veterans of Matthews.
Compromise is necessary.
The Matthews Veterans Memorial Park will be a pocket park, relegated to a small area at the rear of Stumptown, with new and renovated memorials that will teach children about those who have served in a tangible way while giving veterans a place to remember the fallen and feel a long overdue appreciation.
It all comes down to benches; a simple solution to resolve this political game of ping-pong.
Renee Garner serves as mayor pro tem of Matthews.