Group pays to replace vandalized Longview veterans plaza statue

From left, Veterans Recognition Foundation members Billy Clay and Gail Jurkowski, Pythian Jerry Camp, the foundation's Richard Jurkowski and Pythians Sonny Adkisson, Tim Hood and Harry Barth flank a statue Friday in the Veterans Plaza that was a complement to the vandalized statue that the Pythians are paying to replace.

It troubled Tim Hood when he read reports of a statue destroyed by vandals at an entrance to the Veterans Plaza at Longview's Teague Park.

The grand vice chancellor of the Longview lodge of the Knights of Pythias is not a veteran, but like many in his shoes, he respects the Americans who defended his freedom and are honored in the walk-through memorial.

"We had a meeting that night, so I took it to the lodge," Hood said Friday morning after handing the fruits of that discussion — a $1,000 check — to Veterans Recognition Foundation leaders Billy Clay and Gail Jurkowski.

Hood had broached the donation idea to Jurkowski and her husband, Richard, during Gov. Greg Abbott's May 6 visit to help his old Boy Scout troop celebrate its 100th birthday at the Scout Hut abutting the plaza.

Hood asked how much would be needed to replace the soldier statue. The $1,000 will cover the costs.

"We were just amazed and blown away," Jurkowski said Friday as she next to Hood on a plaza bench.

The garden of monuments to every U.S. conflict since World War I was dedicated in November 2015. It was planned, funded and executed by the grass-roots Veterans Recognition Foundation and includes a half-size replica of the Vietnam Wall on the National Mall in Washington.

Replacing the destroyed statue — which represents every service member — was not likely to happen soon with the nonprofit Recognition Foundation owing $65,000 on the $177,000 wall replica.

"Without these guys coming forward, it would be a long time for us to do something about this statue," Jurkowski said.

The statue, made in Georgia and one of four in the plaza, was a complement to a similar granite resin-and-concrete figure on the west side of the plaza.

Jurkowski said news of the vandalism, which broke off the 400-pound figure at the ankles despite four steel rebar anchors, drew small donations from the community.

"This (plaza) is for everybody," she said, after noting other recent improvements at the park. "We didn't have anything here, and everybody's saying we've got 20,000 vets in this area. ... (The park) has changed tremendously. There's families coming out here. They're having picnics, and they're feeding the ducks, and they're feeding the turtles."

As if on cue, a Houston businessman in town for the day appeared at the Vietnam wall.

"Hi, sir," Jurkowski said. "Are you finding your buddy?"

"Oh, yeah," Simmy Denney replied, pointing to the name of his friend, Ronald Canter. "Oh, I see him."

Upon overhearing Jurkowski reveal the debt owed on the wall, Hood spoke up. And it sounded like he'll be talking with his 78 fellow Pythians about Veterans Plaza again.

"Now that I've heard that, we may have to have a fundraiser for y'all," he told Jurkowski.

The Pythians meet for dinner at 6 p.m. every first and third Thursday in their lodge at Center Street and Bank Alley in downtown Longview. The regular meeting follows at 6:45 p.m., and Hood said the public is welcome.

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