Volunteer group raising money for ‘the extras’ to help beautify Illinois Veterans Home grounds

Cherish the Memories women

From left, Teresa Pickle, Cathy Shanks and Linda King stand in the Shirlee Northern Memorial Garden at the Illinois Veterans Home. The three women have created "Cherish the Memories," which raises money to supplement the work by the state and the Veterans Administration at the home. | David Adam

QUINCY — A simple Facebook post asking to fix rusty benches eventually led to the creation of a group of people dedicated to raising money to beautify the grounds at the Illinois Veterans Home.

Teresa Pickle and Cathy Shanks, retired nurses at the home, have combined with Linda King to coordinate Cherish the Memories, which raises money to supplement the work by the state and the Veterans Administration at the home.

“The VA, they’ll maintain the buildings,” Pickle said. “But they don’t maintain the extras.”

“There’s no funds for the extras,” Shanks said.

One of the most visible extras is the renovation work on the “Soldiers and Sailors Home” sign at the entrance to the home near the intersection of Eighth and Locust, which recently was completed. 

Jacob Cornwell, foreground, and Jordan Gallagher with Kemner Painting add a coat of paint last month to the arched sign at the entrance to the Illinois Veterans Home near the intersection of Eighth and Locust. | David Adam

Nine original cast iron urns in front of the home’s stone building and in front of the mansion, which date back to at least the early 1900s, are being re-welded at a local welding shop. A fountain, which was in the boulevard off the 12th Street entrance, is being moved to the Shirlee Northern Memorial Garden. 

“As volunteers, it is so rewarding to give back,” Shanks said. “The community stepped up 135 years ago to get the Veterans Home, and now the community is stepping up again to beautify this place.”

King was visiting the Lynn Deer Park with her children, Bradley and Madilyn, in October 2020 when she noticed 10 wrought iron benches were deteriorating. She wrote a Facebook post about the benches and asked if anybody was interesting in helping her restore them. Shanks didn’t want the post to encourage people to show up and just start fixing things on the property, so she wrote to King and told her she would help.

“I take care of the memorial garden, and I said the master gardeners would pay for one bench to be restored,” Shanks said. “Then 24 hours later, she had 100 responses from people wanting to do all 10 benches.”

Shanks and King later met with a group of Veterans Home employees, including administrator Troy Culbertson. Sara Colgrove, the home’s director of volunteer services and activities, suggested partnering with AMVETS, a volunteer-led nonprofit military organization which built the pavilion next to the Lynn Deer Park in the 1990s.

Once Pickle, the adjutant for AMVETS, got involved, her organization eventually helped pay for the restoration of 51 benches throughout the grounds.

This is one of the 51 benches that were restored on the Illinois Veterans Home grounds. | David Adam

“(The benches) are all from different eras, because different groups like AMVETS, the American Legion and Purple Heart have paid for them,” Shanks said. “Some were (paid for) by private people. Luckily, they’ve all been done with the same kind of style.”

As part of the restoration project, the group will identify the names of each organization that paid for the bench with an engraved plate.

Pickle said the money for the bench project poured in from across the country and from as far away as Australia. Plenty remained over once the project was complete.

“What are we going to do? Well, we’re going to buy picnic tables,” Pickle said. 

Nineteen steel-tubed powder-coated picnic tables — four that are handicapped accessible — plus two gaming tables were bought. 

As more projects on the Veterans Home property were completed, Cherish the Memories found more to do. The group bought an aeration system for the pond, replaced the scrollwork on the wrought-iron fence around the Lynn Deer Park and paid to have the bandstand, pavilion and trolley house repainted.

They repaired the fence at the gate near Eighth Street, and the ground also paid to have signs made about the Lynn Deer Park, the bison at the home, Lake Illinois and the Veterans Home itself. They created another sign recognizing people who donated at least $125 to the restoration of the benches. The group also wants to renovate the guardhouse, which needs work done on the chimney and porch.

“Everybody who has worked on this project has either given of their time and services or has have greatly reduced what they would charge to do any of this,” Pickle said.

When asked why they’re involved in so many projects at the home, Pickle and Shanks both replied at the same time, “Why not?”

“I love Quincy, I love the community, I love veterans,” Shanks said. “We’ve been backed by everybody.”

Pickle said she drove around Quincy one day with her husband to write down the names of businesses she eventually sent letters to, asking for donations.

“Then the big money started coming in,” she said. “It’s just like gifts from God.”

Cherish the Moments also received grants from local organizations, while all the donations collected “is still growing before our eyes,” Shanks said. 

“We’ve got a mansion we could redo if anybody wants to donate a million,” Shanks said with a laugh.

Other transformational work is being done at the Veterans Home as well.

The Quincy Illinois Veterans Home Renovation and Rehabilitation Act was part of the Rebuild Illinois capital bill that was signed into law in June 2019. It called for spending $230 million to build a state-of-the-art skilled facility with 210 beds and a domiciliary with 80 beds at the 12th and Locust campus.

“The construction is going on here is amazing,” Pickle said. “The timing is so perfect to beautify what is already here, plus we get to keep the old, and our storyboards will tell some of those stories.”

Troy Culbertson, administrator for the Illinois Veterans Home, called the work of the Cherish the Moments group “invaluable.”

“Their attention to items such as new park benches and restoration painting of the wrought-iron fencing has really enhanced those areas,” he said. “They also worked seamlessly with the national office of the American Legion auxiliary for grant funding that has been a great addition to the project. The Eighth Street gate restoration is shaping up to be the apex accomplishment for this group of IVHQ supporters. We are grateful for their support.”

Pickle has one big project she hopes to accomplish.

“We want to make an amphitheater in the sunken garden, then have Bon Jovi and AC/DC come and play,” she said with a laugh.

To contribute to the Cherish the Memories group, visit their page on Facebook or call Pickle at 217-257-7953.

The recently painted arched sign at the Illinois Veterans Home. | David Adam

EDITOR’S NOTE: The spelling of the name of one of Linda King’s children was incorrect in a previous version.

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