A place to remember - Veterans" Memorial takes shape at Mercerdale Park

By Ruth Longoria

It's a way of remembering. And a way of saying ``Thanks.''

About 6,500 pounds of burgundy-red steel framework was delivered to Mercerdale Park on Friday. A Vashon Island artist will finish welding that metal this week to complete a 38 foot- by-12 foot pergola that will become the Island's military memorial. After a four-year process involving the city, the Art Council, public input and the artistic talents of welder Richard Frombach, the pergola will be dedicated at a public Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. May 30 at the park on 77th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 32nd Street.

Although not a veteran himself, Frombach, 54, says he's proud to be part of the Island's Veterans' Memorial project. ``I appreciate all our veterans and soldiers have done and are doing for us,'' Frombach said. ``Right now, in Iraq, our soldiers are risking their lives for us. I have a lot of feelings about veterans because we owe them a lot.''

Frombach became involved in the project after then-Art Council chair Susan Landon saw some of his work at Dig's Nursery on Vashon Island and asked him to submit drawings for a memorial design. Frombach has been a welder for most of his life. He learned to weld at 15 from his dad, Terry Frombach, who at age 84 still works as a welder for a gas station on Vashon Island. ``I have my baby shoes at home and I could swear there's a burnt spot on them from getting too close when I was that small and watching my dad welding,'' Frombach jokes.

Through the years, he has worked on many major projects, including in the 1970s, construction of the former Kingdome and the Bell telephone tower in Seattle. He also has worked as a welder for the Boeing Company and Todd Shipyards. He started out making welded artwork as Christmas presents for his family. Later, in the 1970s, he made a sculpture of a ferry and was commissioned to weld a model of a pleasure boat. Then came a request to make garden art for a Vashon Island nursery.

He said he spent a few thousand dollars on designs for the pergola prior to his selection by the city to create the artwork. After talking it over with Landon, his drawings were scaled down to about half the size he originally envisioned. Frombach's designs were selected -- from a group of five prospective artists -- to create the project. Since then, Frombach has worked with his friend and co-metal worker Tom Wlazlak, 50, owner of Corinne Technical Design in Vashon Island with the city of Mercer Island to ensure that the pergola will meet design standards and be safe for people who visit the park.

``There were a lot of things that needed to be checked out and done that you'd never even think of,'' Frombach says. Such as: Soil tests were performed by drilling through the concrete area where the pergola will be placed, to ensure the soil can support the weight of the structure. Special permits were obtained by the Seattle trucking company, Nelson Trucking, to transport the steel pieces on the ferry from Vashon Island.

When Frombach and Wlazlak finish putting it together this week, the pergola will be a 19-foot-tall arbor-like structure with steel support columns and arched-roof beams. Bronze medallions on the cross-beam side of the structure honor each of the five branches of the military, and stainless steel lettering says ``Honoring the service of our veterans.'' A tarp-like dome ceiling is being created to add to the pergola during the summer months to keep the inside of the structure dry or shaded for performers when it is used for concerts. Frombach says he is excited to see the pergola finished. ``I haven't seen it all put together yet, except as a drawing,'' he says. As the finishing touch, a finial spire atop a ball -- will complete the structure ``sort of like a cherry on the topping,'' Frombach says.

Jennifer Berner, recreation supervisor for the city parks and recreation department, says it has been a long process to get the pergola completed, but she's confident it will be a structure that provides residents with exactly what they wanted for a memorial.

``We spent a long time working on this because we wanted to involve the veterans and get enough public input,'' she says. ``Before this design nothing really jumped out at us. We'd defined characteristics we wanted the piece to have and we knew we wanted some kind of structure where people could gather. When we saw this we knew it is a stately piece that fit exactly what we wanted.''

Plans for the dedication ceremony include music from the Mercer island High School band, presentation of colors and Pledge of Allegiance by the Mercer Island VFW and Girl Scouts and speeches by Deputy Mayor Bryan Cairns and VFW Commander Michael Gazarek.

Gazarek, 62, a retired Naval officer who served in Vietnam and around the world during his 22 years of duty, says he's glad the Island is finally getting its own Veteran's Memorial.

``It's gratifying to a veteran to know that people understand what we did to protect our country. It's not fun putting yourself in harm's way or spending time away from your family. But, we did what we felt had to be done,'' Gazarek says. Putting up a steel memorial is a way of saying ``thanks,'' he says. ``We too often forget to tell people `Thank you' for little or big things they do. It's a warm feeling you get when someone says `Thank you' and appreciates what you've done.''

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