Back in the 80s, when Tenino stonemason Keith Phillips wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, little did he know that his one letter would become a catalyst pushing veterans, families of veterans, and the city into action. In the letter, Keith asked why the Tenino Blue Star Memorial Highway site near the 507 interchange had been left overgrown and forgotten. His question got a few people’s attention, but especially that of Frank Hicks, the Veterans of Foreign War Post 5878 Commander. Soon after, Frank and their Auxiliary President, Trudy Burnham, along with other members of the community, stepped forward to restore the Blue Star Highway Memorial and its stone marker. Then Frank got to thinking about another overlooked memorial.

“It prompted the question of ‘whatever happened to the old honor roll memorial,’” says Frank, “and we couldn’t find anything.

Granite Grinder with Arch
The wall at the base of the Veterans Memorial combines dry-stacked Columbia granite with Tenino Sandstone accents. Photo credit: Meagan Murphy Ross

“It had been taken down for repair in the 60s,” Trudy adds, “but that was the last anyone heard about it.”

Frank nods. “That is when we decided to take on the project of restoring it – the VFW, the Auxiliary and the American Legion.”

When a Good Idea Keeps Growing

Like the Blue Star, The Tenino Honor Roll (now known as the Roll of Honor) recognizes those who serve their country with military service. And though the Roll of Honor is yet to be resurrected, it was through those grassroots efforts a new veteran memorial has been realized: The Tenino Veterans Memorial.

After the VFW and Auxiliary contacted the city, the city was able to secure funding with the County Parks Department. It is through their efforts, and those of the talented contractors, the City of Tenino has been able to create a superb tribute.

This memorial features several elements including flags, monoliths – one featuring the Veterans Gold Star to recognize those killed while serving their country – and an ornamental/functional retaining wall containing tympanum’s depicting the civic and military history of Tenino residents.

Tenino Memorial Plaza Flagstone
“I really hope people can find a piece of sanctuary and reflection when they visit, especially the stones at the top of the stairs,” says Bill Lenker. Photo courtesy: LenkerBrook Stoneworks

Bill Lenker, owner of Lenkerbrook Stonework, has been constructing the wall for the past four months, but the concept came long before then. “Wayne Fournier, the mayor, had seen our wall on Johnson Point on Facebook,” says Bill, “and asked if I would be willing to give him a bid. I did and then it took three years of hard work on Wayne’s part to secure financing for the project. So patience was definitely a virtue.”

“There are four arches,” explains John Millard, Tenino’s clerk/treasurer. “Inside of those arches will be a stone fresco, hand carved, which depicts the relationship between labor, our citizens, and hearing the call to arms.” The sandstone work was bid out to the local company, Tenino Stone Carvers.

On a recent bright morning, local master stone cutter Keith Phillips was working with apprentice Dan Miller constructing the last of the four arches for the wall. “Keith is a true master,” said Dan as Keith walked out of earshot. “To come down here and get a chance to work with someone at his level is a real privilege.” Keith returned and watched carefully as Dan lowered the springer stone in place.

Tenino Veterans Memorial
The first tympanum will be in place for the dedication ceremony on Veterans Day. Photo credit: Ed Salerno

Sandstone Reclaimed from Quarry Pool

Keith prepared the stones to exact geometric proportions in his workshop at the Hercules Quarry #1 near the west edge of town. Original Tenino sandstone, they were cut from a large piece raised from the bottom of the quarry during a renovation. “It had been pickled down there all those years,” said Keith nodding toward the chiseled stones, “so it was in good shape and easy to work with.”

Downtown, at the Tenino Stone Carvers space known as The Shed, Ed Salerno has been working on the drawings for the tympanums. A stone carver, he will have one of the four carvings complete for the dedication, the other three will be finished in early December.

Working from the Ground Up

“Objectively, it is an impressive structure,” said John. “It is fascinating to watch the guys do the dry stacked building technique. It is what they used to build Hadrian’s Wall. Though they use modern tools, there is no mortar except for the arches, the dry blocks are fitted into their final position. Just the thing itself is impressive let alone the memorial.”

“I designed this wall three years ago with Tenino in mind,” says Bill. “It is really gratifying to see what you drew at your desk come to life. Overall, it has been an honor to get to work with Keith Philips and the other stone carvers he has under his wing.” Bill pauses. “Just to be in that peer group, being immersed in our trade. The experience overall has been very positive. Tenino has treated us very well.”

The Final Effect

For those visiting the Tenino Veterans Memorial, there are sure to be deep emotions. In speaking with the Tenino residents for this article, the amount of care and dedication each person brought to the conversation of honoring local veterans was remarkable.

Stone Carver Ed in Shed
The tympanums used for the arches, being hand carved by Ed Salernos, depict citizens called to work, to arms, and to the work at the sandstone quarry behind the memorial. Photo credit: Meagan Murphy Ross

Though the Roll of Honor wall is not yet a reality, judging by the determination of Frank and Trudy there will be another dedication ceremony in the not so distant future. As for the risk of the Veterans Memorial falling into a state of disrepair like the Blue Star Highway memorial? Not this time. Fundraising by the local VFW and Auxiliary through the sale of inscribed pavers for the walkway has already brought in well-over $5,000. And a majority of those funds are earmarked for maintaining the site of the new Tenino Veterans Memorial. If you are interested in purchasing a paver, they are available through the City of Tenino and details can be uploaded here.

The Tenino Memorial Dedication Ceremony will be held on Sunday, November 11 promptly at 10:00 a.m. at the memorial site in front of the quarry pool. There will be guest speakers including Lieutenant General Gary Volesky, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s I Corps, and Congressman Denny Heck.

An Honor Guard will provide the presentation of the national colors and an ensemble from the 56th Army Band will play the national anthem and taps. Silence will be observed at 11:00 a.m., the time armistice took effect, ending World War I in 1918.

Plan to arrive early as well over 300 attendees are expected to participate.

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