Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle is a community project to raise awareness of – and inspire action for – an area in Rockford, Illinois steeped in local and U.S. history. The project is being organized by private citizens to spruce up the grounds of the roundabout at North Main and Auburn streets so that the monument signs and plaques there that honor Winnebago County veterans can stand out and reflect our community’s respect for their service and their sacrifice.
This beautification project, the work of a grassroots effort known as Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle:
Churchill’s Grove is the near-downtown neighborhood on the west banks of the Rock River that is bounded on the north by Auburn Street, on the south by Franklin Place and on the west by North Main Street. The roundabout is on the northwestern edge of Churchill’s Grove; a quarter of Veterans Memorial Circle is in Churchill’s Grove.
Rather than owning the project, Churchill’s Grove is an incubator for it. Formal organization of the project started with a Churchill’s Grove resident, Rick Westlake, who is a local champion of veterans’ causes. Here is what Rick Westlake has done and is doing to consolidate community involvement in the Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle project.
How the project got started
For several years, Churchill’s Grove residents along with residents of neighboring neighborhood associations have stepped up to maintain the flower boxes on Auburn Street from the roundabout to the Rock River. The perennials planted there were dying out; left were empty flower beds covered in weeds.
In early 2018, Rick Westlake, operations manager for a trailer dealership, started coordinating the caretaking of the flower beds. Rick secured donations from local individuals and companies and synchronized the manpower to have a Spruce-Up Day for the flower beds.
Many of the photos on this website were taken by Rick Westlake during the effort in July 2018.
At the September 2018 meeting of Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association, Rick raised awareness that the roundabout at N. Main and Auburn is not only a veterans’ memorial, but a veterans’ memorial in need of attention. He distributed copies of a flyer showing how the overgrowth of ornamental grasses was obscuring views of the monument signs and plaques.
Buy-in for this beautification project among Churchill’s Grove members attending that meeting was immediate.
By the December 2018 meeting of the neighborhood association, Rick had written to both Mayor Tom McNamara and to Director of Public Works Mark Stockton about the initiative, had met with city officials at the site to discuss plans for the project, and had gained City of Rockford approval for it.
By the January 2019 meeting of Churchill’s Grove Neighborhood Association, the Friends of Veterans Memorial Circle Committee was established and Rick Westlake had a co-chair and project manager: Ernie Redfern, a retired business owner and Army veteran who moved to Churchill’s Grove in late 2018.
By the February 2019 meeting, the committee grew to include another co-chair: Helen Karakoudas Redfern, Ernie’s wife and a former community newspaper managing editor. Helen is in charge of promotion for the project.
As Rick continued his outreach about this effort through meeting after meeting with community leaders, Ernie and Helen put together a brochure for the project and created this website.
More about the origins of this project:
“We understand this project cannot directly address material needs that so many of today’s veterans have. But if for one moment a veteran sees the fruits of this effort and feels our appreciation for their sacrifice, our goal will have been achieved.”
– Rick Westlake and Ernie Redfern, leaders of Beautify Veterans Memorial Circle project