Strong support both locally and at the state level brought about passage of LB911, which begins the process of turning over Grand Island’s Veterans Memorial Cemetery to the state.
Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the bill into law Aug. 6. Introduced by state Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island, the bill was approved July 31 by the Legislature 49-0.
A lot of work remains, but when the process is complete, the Veterans Cemetery and 20 additional acres will become a state veterans cemetery.
Until now, the cemetery was open only to members of the Grand Island Veterans Home. Spouses were buried there only if they were Veterans Home members at the time of their deaths. Hall County Veterans Service Officer Don Shuda said the state cemetery will be operated under the same guidelines as a national cemetery.
Shuda is “extremely happy” that the bill was passed and signed. “Everybody just worked together to make that happen,” he said.
He pointed to the leadership of Ricketts and John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as well as Quick and his colleagues, state Sens. Tom Brewer and Jim Scheer. Brewer is chair of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and Scheer is speaker of the Legislature. “They all jumped on board,” Shuda said.
Making it a state cemetery will be important to veterans and their families “to have a place for their loved ones to be buried,” Shuda said.
Quick said, “This is just going to be a great honor for our veterans.”
But it’s also important for Grand Island. The city will be on the national map in being recognized for “supporting veterans again, which is a big plus for the community,” Shuda said.
People from central Nebraska will benefit from having a burial site nearby, Shuda said. Relatives won’t have to drive to Alliance, Maxwell or the Omaha area to visit their loved ones’ graves. Quick said those distances are too far to travel for many families.
The process began last year with Shuda visiting Hilgert “because we had to have the support of the state,” he said. Without state support, the effort wouldn’t have gone anywhere.
Hilgert expressed “100%” support for the idea, Shuda said. Hilgert then visited with the governor.
Shuda and other supporters then met with Quick, who agreed to introduce the bill.
Local supporters of the idea included Hall County Commissioners Pam Lancaster and Gary Quandt, Jay Vavricek, Dan Naranjo and Mike Ponte, who is chairman of the United Veterans Club Board.
The group visited with city officials to discuss the additional land and other details. Shuda praised the cooperation of Mayor Roger Steele and City Administrator Jerry Janulewicz.
The supporters “wanted to make sure we had all our bases covered before the bill was introduced,” Shuda said.
The Grand Island group met with Brewer to ask his position on the bill, and he was “immediately agreeable,” Shuda said.
Quick met with representatives of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Hilgert’s support was important, Quick said.
The groundwork helped clear any potential hurdles “so we didn’t have any opposition to the bill at all,” Quick said.
Quick said Grand Island residents who testified in Lincoln “did a great job.”
Delivering help to his constituents is what it’s all about, Quick said.
Local people eventually will be asked to contribute financially. A lot of support will be needed to make the state cemetery a reality.
“But we’ve sure got a good start on it,” Shuda said.
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