Dominique Claseman is not your ordinary 15-year-old boy.
Determined to honor those who served our nation in uniform, the Minnesota high school students visited the Olivia City Council with plans to build his hometown a veterans memorial.
The Mayor, Jon Hawkinson, wondered if the zealous young man had bitten off more than he could chew.
“He had architect drawings, he had the space picked out,” the mayor recalls.
Ron Kopacek, who headed up the dedication’s honor guard, was surprised as anyone that Dominique pulled it off. “Fifteen years old, a sophomore in high school, he’s going to raise $12,000 to $15,000 we’re thinking, ‘What? Really?’”
Turns out Dominque didn’t stop at his goal of $12,000 to $15,000 but ended up collecting more than $77,000, Kare 11 News reported.
“I question myself on how I even did it sometimes,” Dominque says with a smile.
Using flyers hung in businesses, interviews with the local newspaper and radio station, and setting up a table to pitch his project during events at the Olivia American Legion, he blew away everyone’s expectations.
As purchases of engraved pavers and other donations exceeded Dominique’s expectations, he expanded his vision of what the memorial could be.
“I wanted to show more appreciation in a bigger way,” says Dominique, who comes from a long line of men who served their country. Among them: Dominique’s father, who wore his Iraq combat boots, at Dominique’s request, to leave 21-foot prints in the memorial’s wet cement.
Mark Jurgensen, who serves as a Boy Scout scoutmaster, isn’t surprised his son saw the project through to its grand conclusion.
“He’s one of them kind of kids that likes to make sure that he doesn’t disappoint anybody, and he strives really hard for that,” Mark says.
On dedication day, a stream of people walked through the memorial, reading the pavers engraved with the names of men and women with Olivia ties who served in the military, some who gave their lives for their country.
The U.S. flag, the Minnesota flag, and the POW flag fluttered over the honored names, a central headstone, black granite benches, and bronze statues.
Off to one side of the memorial, Kim Wertish hugged Dominique tightly. “Thank you,” she told him.
Kim’s son James was killed in Iraq on July 16, 2009, with two other members of the Minnesota National Guard, Carlos Wilcox and Dan Drevnick, whose names are also etched in the memorial.
“James has been honored in many cities through connections with the military, and that’s dear to us also, but this is our hometown,” Kim says.
Dave Wertish, James’ father, says of Dominique, “He’s got a good heart.”
Dominque also has a knack for raising money.
“This is something special,” says Aaron Russell, a district executive with the Boy Scouts of America. “We were trying to figure out if there’s been in recent memory a project of this scale, especially with the money raised. We couldn’t think or find anything even close to it.”
Aaron smiles, then adds. “I’m an Eagle Scout myself and I raised, maybe $700, $800 for (his project) total, and I thought that was tough at the time. I can’t even imagine.”
In early May, Dominique dug a shovel of dirt in a ceremonial groundbreaking, before turning the job over to the contractors he hired.
This is what America is all about.
Passionate people from young to old, dreaming big, serving others, and then taking the risks.
In the end, others tend to be more blessed than those who stepped out in faith to try in the first place.
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