Mat-Su Veterans' Wall of Honor moving to Wasilla
After years of uncertainty, the Mat-Su Valley’s Veterans’ Wall of Honor will soon have a new place to call home.
The City of Wasilla will relocate the walls to the former Iditarod Elementary School off Wasilla-Fishhook Road, which will be the site for the new Wasilla Police Department.
For more than 25 years the walls have stood on a hill near Mat-Su Regional Hospital. Many of the hundreds of names of servicemen and women were personally engraved by Hazel Schwulst.
“It was hard sometimes, but it was worth it,” Hazel said.
Her son, Mark Schwulst, served in the Army and helped put up almost every panel, too.
“It's almost like everyone who is on here is family. It's an honor to be putting these up and engraving the names; it's a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Mark said.
The Schwulsts have made it their mission to ensure veterans have a special place to pay tribute to those both living and dead.
“Every time I see a veteran, I think of how much they have given up to their country, to serve and help save our country and our freedom,” Hazel said.
The Wall of Honor has faced an unknown future for years. The land on which it sits has been sold three times.
“This has been a terrible situation for the last couple years-- not knowing if we're going to have a place or not,” Hazel said.
The Mat-Su Health Foundation now owns the property. Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Ripley said the organization has no current plans for the land but it will eventually be used to accommodate the needs of the growing population in the Valley.
The foundation is pitching in $312,000 to help with the move; the Mat-Su Borough put up an additional $150,000. Together with the City of Wasilla, they all worked to find the best location and design for the Wall of Honor.
“You have all parties at the table, all parties wanting the same thing, which is a really honorable and accessible location for our veterans to honor their gifts to our country and everyone has come together to make that happen. We're grateful for that and grateful to our veterans,” Ripley said.
Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle said the new location in town means more access for people and, more importantly, peace of mind for the veterans.
“I've got family members on that wall, so there needs to be some closure. There are people who want to put their name on that wall who have been holding back until there was a permanent location and some place they can call home and hopefully this will do it,” Cottle said.
The city has offered the veterans groups a 99-year lease for $1 per year, with the option to renew for another 99 years.
Hazel said she’s grateful to Wasilla for stepping up and giving the wall a final resting place.
“It's been a long battle but it's finally over,” she said.
The Wasilla City Council is scheduled to approve funding and award a contract at its next meeting on July 9.
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