HOLYOKE — It started with a car repair and a cup of coffee.
Three years ago, while waiting for his car to be fixed, Mike Falcetti bought a cup of coffee and strolled through Veterans Memorial Park. It was a nice day in May and Falcetti took a turn around the Lady Liberty statue dedicated July 4, 1876 — the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The monument honors the memory of the 55 Holyoke men who lost their lives in the Civil War. But the names of those who had died, chiseled into the granite monument, were unreadable. After 145 years out in the open, the names were fading.
Falcetti, vice chairman of the Holyoke Community Preservation Act Committee, called Don Provost, former chairman of the War Memorial Committee. They agreed that the memorial was much in need of restoration and made their case to the Holyoke Preservation Committee. The committee allocated $25,000 for an evaluation of the monument and guidelines for restoration. The New Haven, Connecticut design firm that took on the project estimated that a proper overhaul of the monument would cost $110,000.
Time to call in the big guns.
Falcetti and Provost approached state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, and chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. Himself a veteran, Velis advocates for veterans’ services and memorials across the state. He saw to it that $50,000 was included in the fiscal 2022 state budget to help fund the restoration. The budget was passed by the state Senate and House and signed into law in July.
All of which led to a ceremony Thursday at the base of the monument. Under the sober gaze of Lady Liberty, Velis presented a $50,000 “check” the size of a movie poster to acting Mayor Terry Murphy, Ward 6 City Councilor Juan Anderson-Burgos, and the two gentlemen who launched the effort, Provost and Falcetti.
Velis said failing to honor veterans by allowing war memorials to fall into disrepair is “insulting and wrong.” He extended this concern to include veterans of the Vietnam War, saying “the way they were treated was one of the worst black marks” on the nation’s history. He congratulated Falcetti and Provost for their advocacy on behalf of the monument.
Councilor Anderson-Burgos shared Velis’ sentiment, saying a statement to veterans such as “Thank you for your service” is not enough.
“The least we can do is acknowledge” the sacrifices veterans have made. Indicating the monument he added, “This is where we start.”
Falcetti said the $50,000 contribution from the state means “we’re halfway home.” He expects a local fundraising effort calling on banks and businesses in Holyoke will secure the additional $60,000 needed to cover restoration costs.
The monument, designed by H.G Ellicott of Virginia, cost Holyoke $10,000 back in the day. It features a majestic Lady Liberty bearing both a shield and a wreath. Below her, closer to the base, are four bronze relief plaques, each depicting poignant scenes from the Civil war: desperate fighting, binding wounds, a weeping mother and a wife and child holding fast to a soldier bound for war.
The project will restore the statue and the relief images to their original copper and bronze tones. And those 55 fading names will receive special, enduring treatment.
“The names will be in bronze,” Falcetti said. “They’ll never be forgotten.”