The History of the Veteran's Memorial Grounds
The “Veterans Memorial Grounds” at Codorus State Park is a place where families can plant trees in honor and remembrance of deceased veterans. This memorial grew out of a request by the family of Laverne Smith, a Warrant Office and Veteran of the Viet Nam War, who was killed in an automobile accident in June of 2000. After Laverne’s death, his family wanted to honor his service to our country by planting a tree in his name.
Like many of the local veterans, Laverne was a member of the American Legion, AMVETS, and the VFW. The family went to the VFW, where Laverne had just been elected Commander for the upcoming year, and spoke to Laverne’s close friend Ken Riley, another Viet Nam Veteran. Ken told them that, unfortunately, there was no place in the Hanover area to honor veterans in that manner. However, Ken said he would talk to the AVC (Allied Veterans Council), to see what, if anything could be done. The AVC created a committee to investigate options. This committee included the Commanders from each of the local Veteran’s organizations, Laverne’s family, and Ken Riley, who serves as Chairman.
Through Ken’s efforts, the committee sent an e-mail to the office of then Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Ridge, who was also a Viet Nam Veteran and sympathetic to issues concerning Veterans. Governor Ridge suggested the committee contact Ed Kautz, the Superintendent at Codorus State Park, to pursue this idea and ensure compliance with all Park Services guidelines.
By that time, the initial committee had grown to include a number of volunteers with interest in this project. With Ken Riley coordinating its efforts, and Randy Nehr’s assistance, this group held several meetings with Ed Kautz to discuss the guidelines that had to be followed. By early Fall of 2000, the Committee adopted a very simple design for the Memorial and the Park Service approved it. Ed Kautz also provided a list of native trees that the Park Service approved. Each family can pick a tree from this list to be planted at the Memorial in honor of their deceased Veteran.
Throughout the fall and winter months of 2000, the committee held fund-raisers, and volunteers canvassed the Hanover area, soliciting donations of money and building materials. Construction of the Memorial began in late spring of 2001, and ended late that summer. The construction was completed entirely by volunteers and Park employees, as well as a core group of professional excavators, masons and carpenters, who also donated their time, and with their help, directed the other volunteers. From the time the planning for the Memorial began, until the construction was completed, over 20 families submitted requests for trees to be planted in honor of deceased Veterans.
The Dedication Ceremonies for the Memorial and the inaugural tree planting took place on Saturday, September 15, 2001, with Senator Mike Waugh as the keynote speaker. Governor Ridge committed to be present for the dedication, but was called to Washington earlier that week, to take care of the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Each year since the dedication of the Memorial in 2001, and including all ceremonies that have been conducted through the fall of 2016, over 125 Veterans have been honored with the planting of a tree in each Veteran’s name. This year marks the celebration of the 15th year Anniversary of the “Veterans Memorial Grounds” at Codorus State Park.
Since the completion of the Memorial, the employees at Codorus State Park, the Friends of Codorus State Park, and a small group of volunteers continue the maintenance of the trees and the grounds around the Memorial.