Every year, communities throughout the United States hold special Memorial Day ceremonies honoring those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and have died.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Monday, May 25, the majority of the familiar big commemorations and big crowds will be gone, along with the parades, speeches and bands.
However, in their place, local veteran groups are continuing to find ways to honor fallen comrades, whether privately, virtually or quietly.
In Chaska, Memorial Day will be virtual.
“It won’t be the same thing, but it’s as close to a substitute as we can get,” said Chaska VFW Post 1791 Commander Rich Daniels. “For a local production, it’s going to be pretty cool.”
It was lights, camera, action on May 14. Veterans, volunteers and city employees filmed Memorial Day services in Chaska’s new Veterans Park, to broadcast on Memorial Day via local cable and YouTube.
Gary Van Eyll, former Chaska mayor and incoming American Legion Post 57 commander, supervised the flag raising, directing a few takes before it was camera ready.
“We thought of this as a virtual way to do this,” Van Eyll said. “We thought we could make it special and still have that ceremony and still have that tradition going.”
“What we want to do is make sure we’re honoring fallen veterans,” said Steve NaSalle, American Legion Post 57 commander. “The VFW and Legion are still here to serve the community.”
Jordan veterans continue to honor the fallen on Memorial Day. They’re just scaling back a bit.
There will be no parade, no Gettysburg Address, no roll call of the fallen.
However, veterans will still visit St. Joseph, Spirit Hill and Calvary cemeteries. At each cemetery, there will be a shortened ceremony, with a flag raising, prayer and “Taps,” according to Mary Jane LaPlant, Jordan VFW Post 2854 Auxiliary president.
The cemetery is wide open, so people can maintain social distance, said VFW Post 2854 Commander Phil Schmieg.
“I think people are stepping back and taking more note of what’s really important,” Schmieg said. The public needs to honor what those who have served have given, and “appreciate what we have for our freedoms and our benefits in this country,” he said.
Normally, Chanhassen, Savage and Shakopee host large public ceremonies.
The events are long-standing traditions. Chanhassen has been holding Memorial Day services since 1954, according to American Legion Post 580 Sergeant-at-Arms James Schindler.
However, this year, some veterans groups are canceling services, or holding private services at area cemeteries.
“We want to make sure we don’t violate (social) distancing,” said Shakopee American Legion Post 2 Commander Bernie Baumann. The Shakopee Veterans Honor Guard will virtually commemorate veterans on Memorial Day at 7 a.m. via the ShakopeeVHG Facebook page.
Members of Savage’s Dan Patch American Legion Post 643 and Chanhassen American Legion Post 580 each plan to visit three local cemeteries with small honor guards.
However, to maintain social distancing, and keep the numbers of participants low, the services will be private and abridged.
“We have decided not to do our formal program,” said Legion Post 643 Commander Nile Plapp.
Like other cities, Prior Lake has canceled its large Memorial Day ceremony.
However one tradition continues.
Every year Rich and Darlene Davidson, with Frieda Barlage, Tom Moore and Tim Harper, install hundreds of flags in seven Prior Lake cemeteries.
They began helping Tony and Mildred Conry with the initiative in 1992, taking over the program in 2005.
Every year the crew, ages 71-87, spend 145 hours putting up 548 flags. The flags, and in many cases markers, honor veterans dating back to the Civil War, and members of the veteran auxiliaries.
The crew also needs to put up hundreds of markers for the flags. To make sure they’re getting all the graves, Darlene keeps a database of 1,308 Prior Lake veterans and auxiliary members who have died, gleaned from obituaries and other reports. (Not all the veterans are buried in Prior Lake cemeteries.)
“With the virus and everything, we felt that this would be something that would be a real positive note,” Rich said.
At the end of the day, Rich said he can look at hundreds of flags flying in a cemetery. “It’s a heartwarming sight,” he said.
It’s also something American and spiritual, Rich said — something to look at and say, “We’re going to make it through this.”
Something new this year in downtown Prior Lake is the installation of 16 new banners honoring those currently in the U.S. Armed Services.
Mark and Dawn Kes “were the foundation of the program,” which began several months ago with assistance from the city, said Prior Lake VFW Post 6208 Senior Vice Commandeer Dave Thompson.
Memorial Day is about honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, Thompson said. He said he hopes those passing the banners will “have a chance to think about those who’ve gone before, and thank those currently serving.”
The banners will hang in downtown Prior Lake until Labor Day, and then be presented to the families, Thompson said. The plan for future years is to also honor past members of the military.
Despite the lack of public celebrations, veteran group leaders note the public can honor the fallen in other ways.
Commander Plapp recalls a family who visited a cemetery last year. “They had a tape recorder that had a bugle playing ‘Taps,’ and stood around and put flowers down and everyone said a bit,” Plapp said.
Chanhassen Legion 580 Commander Glenn Anderson recommended putting up a flag or calling a veteran to lift their spirit.
Commander Daniels agreed.
“Besides remembering those we lost, a lot of veterans are stuck at home. Give them a call and tell them ‘Thank you for your service,’” Daniels said.
“It’s a good time to reflect on our values,” said Commander Schmieg. “We go through hard times. But this is a great country to live in, and it is because of the sacrifice of the men and women that have served before us and we need to honor them.”
Daniels, a Vietnam War veteran who has lost friends and relatives in combat, plans to visit Chaska’s Veterans Park on Memorial Day and reflect.
“I think about that — what they’ve given for the country, what they’ve sacrificed for the country, Daniels said. “Memorial Day is about those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice.”
District 112 Board Chair Jeff Ross didn’t mince words. The past year has been a challenging one for Eastern Carver County Schools, he said.
With Clint Christopher stepping down from the District 112 superintendent position, moving home to Iowa, the school board selected someone Ross called a “dynamic, strong leader” to lead the way in coming years.
The Eastern Carver County School Board unanimously agreed to enter into negotiations with Lisa Sayles-Adams for the position of superintendent effective July 1. Sayles-Adams is currently assistant superintendent at North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Public Schools.
Her selection concludes a rigorous process that began in March and ended with eight strong candidates interviewed May 5-6, and then narrowed down to three finalists.
Candidates participated in day-long interviews on May 11, 13, and 14 that included staff, student, and community “virtual” meetings as well as in-person interviews with the School Board. The other finalists for the position were Dr. Ryan Laager, superintendent of Belle Plaine Public Schools; and Dr. Jeff Ridlehoover, assistant superintendent at Mounds View Public Schools.
“We knew we needed a dynamic, strong leader, not just to raise the already high quality of education for our students, but to help bring together our community. In Lisa we have found a truly outstanding leader with the skills and background to deliver the excellence we all expect,” Ross said.
“She showed tonight she’s ready to hit the ground running, has the complete skill set we were seeking, and we are excited for what her leadership will accomplish for our students, staff, and community,” Ross said.
The newspaper asked Sayles-Adams a few questions about the job.
What was it like, getting the call, hearing that you were selected?
A: I am so excited. I feel very honored and very blessed. It feels amazing. This is something I have waited for a long time. To get that call, it’s very hard to put into words, but I think the biggest thing is thankful.
What made the District 112 position attractive to you?
A: First of all, I think a lot of things the candidates talked about. Of course the academics, top-notch in the state. The high graduation rate. We have a tremendous amount of students that go on to a four-year or two-year institution immediately after high school. That’s something to be really extremely proud of.
But also being a regional leader in personalized learning, being able to be innovative, being ahead of the curve is super exciting. I also look at growing enrollment. When I had the opportunity to truly understand how quickly the area is growing, that is very exciting.
Watching a lot of the board meetings, to see the passion and commitment from all the stakeholders who came up to ask a question — whether they be a student, a parent, a community member — there was great points of pride.
All of the students, staff, talking about all the great work being done in the district. That was very intriguing to me. The more I dug, the more excited I became.
What resonated from the board, from the community, in your interviews?
A: Steady and strong leadership. Someone who is visible, out in the community, out in the buildings. Someone who is continuing to do their best with personalizing learning.
Taking it on to the next level. That is something that came up again and again with the stakeholders.
What from your previous job experience do you feel will help you lead District 112 in an
A: I think having 24 years of experience in public education is going to serve me well. Having an understanding of what it looks like at the elementary, middle and high school level, plus alternative high school, not to forget about that.
The biggest piece is keeping the students at the center. Starting off as a teacher and that is something I will hold steadfast to. When you keep the students at the center, that helps you make the right decision.
A recent study from USA Today found that 76% of K-12 educators are women, yet only 24% of superintendents are women. Why do you feel it is that way?
A: There have been a lot of articles written on that. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has a strategic plan about to increase female leadership at the superintendence level.
They have identified that is an issue and that is something they are trying to work on with focus groups, having leadership development opportunities so women who aspire to be superintendents are able to get that mentoring, that coaching, and that support.
Locally, we’re starting to see more women get those superintendent positions, but we’re working to get caught up.
What from your experience over the last eight years in an assistant superintendent role will help you in your next role as superintendent?
A: I think being able to have that high level, district view, is important. Having the scope of the district. How each and every piece makes the district work.
If you look at the building principal, they’re the ones that lead the charge in the buildings that support the teachers. Teachers are the important ones that plan the lessons and they provide that engaging learning environment and those strong relationships. Para-professionals, non-certified staff, they are also right in the classroom providing those relationships and much needed instructional support.
Really it comes down to knowing we need each and every staff member. It takes everyone working together to have quality schools. Also, being able to work at the instructional level.
Whether I was a principal, whether I was an assistant superintendent, working tightly with teachers, we’re all lead instruction leaders. You want to make sure you’re keeping posted on current best practices. You want to make sure you’re setting a tone in your school community.
This summer will continue to be an unique time, is there a message you want to send to your future district about the road ahead?
A: The message to keep in mind, and it is simple, growing strong together. When people work together, work collaboratively, we’re able to get more things done.
I’m super excited. I can’t wait to start. We want to grow strong together and work stronger together for each and every child in the district.