About a year ago, Northwest High School graduate Gene Johnson approached the Northwest Local School’s Board of Education with a specific issue and a specific request.
According to Johnson, in 2012, the Northwest Alumni Association began selling engraved bricks to raise money for college scholarships.
“Let’s just say they weren’t exactly going over really well,” Johnson said recently.
Johnson figures one of the problems was the location of the bricks which could only be seen during school hours. He felt they might prove more popular if they were headed for a more visible location. With that in mind, Johnson hatched the idea of a monument or tribute to Northwest alumni as well as local veterans.
That monument is now a reality. A formal dedication is planned for 1 p.m. Oct. 25 at the site of the monument in front of Northwest Junior High School. Johnson said American Legion Post 23 will present the colors for the event and there are plans to have someone sing the national anthem. State Rep. Terry Johnson, R-90, is scheduled to speak. The general public is welcome along with Northwest alumni of any era as well as local veterans of any era, and, of course, the families of either.
Johnson, his two brothers Ken and Leonard, along with a handful of other volunteers, spent most of the summer putting together the memorial in front of the junior high. The monument consists of a walkway of bricks, most of which have not been sold and therefore not engraved. The walkway leads to a small plaza, the highlights of which include a flagpole with the American flag, an ornate stone bench engraved with the name of former teacher and veteran Nancy Rosier and to the left of the bench a small brick and concrete wall engraved with the names of six Northwest alumni killed in action in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
Donated by a local Lowe’s store, are six small trees surrounding the plaza to commemorate the names on that wall, Johnson said.
An Air Force veteran himself, Johnson said he attended school with three of the Vietnam vets listed on the memorial wall. A Marine veteran, Ken Johnson said he also knew people on the wall. He added persons familiar with the project asked he and his brother why roughly three-fourths of the memorial wall was left blank. Ken said as the additional space remains untouched in case of the need to add more names, he personally hopes the remainder of the wall stays empty.
Ken was as involved in the building of the memorial as his brother Gene. Yet another Air Force vet, Leonard Johnson also did his part but was out of town recently and unavailable for comment.
Noting the hot temperatures this summer, Ken said “a whole lot of sweat” went into creation of the memorial. While the memorial and hopefully the accompanying brick sale are headed for success, Ken and Gene said the idea of moving the bricks to outside the junior high school wasn’t always popular. Gene said some Alumni Association members worried the bricks would be stolen since they would no longer be in a fenced in area. The brothers noted the engraved bricks are packed in tightly. Special tools and a bit of effort are needed for their removal.
The brothers also mentioned setting up a closed-circuit TV camera to keep an eye on the memorial 24 hours a day.
The first engraved brick placed in the new memorial bears the name of Don Staten, a custodian at Northwest schools as well as a veteran. The brothers said Staten’s wife Reba, a retired Northwest teacher, provided persons working on the memorial with food and goodies over the summer.
Gene noted that before the move to outside the junior high school, the engraved bricks being sold came from an out-of-state firm. The bricks now come from Portsmouth Cement and Lime of Portsmouth. Flowers Monuments in Lucasville engraves the bricks once they are purchased.
Purchase of the bricks is not limited to veterans but is open to anyone connected in some way with the Northwest School District.
“As long as it’s not vulgar or about Fluffy the Cat, it’s okay,” Ken said.
The Alumni Association ultimately hopes to raise about $50,000 through sale of the bricks, Gene said. He also noted the price of the bricks dropped since memorial was moved. Smaller bricks now are $35; larger bricks, $45. There are about 110 engraved bricks in place now with over 2,000 more available. If you are interested, call Gene Johnson at (740) 259- 5877.