May 25, 2012 12:00AM
Out of all the memorable occasions at the PSU Veterans Memorial, the dedication ceremony on Memorial Day 2004 stands out for Jim AuBuchon, who has led the planning for the annual observance since the memorial opened.
“It was a beautiful day,” AuBuchon recalled. “All the seats were filled and another thousand people stood.”
Monday’s observance, the ninth Memorial Day ceremony at the memorial, will also be memorable for AuBuchon, because it will be the last that he will lead. Early this year, AuBuchon and Ken Brock, who with his wife, Debbie, provided the lead gift for the construction of the memorial, both announced their intention to step down from the committee that plans the Memorial Day observance.
“It’s time,” AuBuchon said simply, noting he still plans to be involved and to be in attendance at important events at the memorial.
AuBuchon, a retired PSU vice president and retired Army brigadier general, said his connection to the PSU Veterans Memorial began at a time when the structure was just an idea.
“In 1996, when I came over to the Office of Development from Student Affairs, one of the first things that Grady Smoot (then the vice president for University Advancement) said to me was that we ought to build a veterans memorial on campus. The whole genesis of the project came from Grady Smoot,” AuBuchon said.
When Smoot retired, AuBuchon was named vice president for University Advancement and he carried on with the concept of a memorial for veterans on the PSU campus.
“President John Darling embraced the vision and we jointly decided to move the idea along,” AuBuchon said.
A location for the memorial was selected and two donors, Guy Sutherland, of Bartlesville, Okla., and George Zugmeier, of Scottsdale, Ariz., provided funds to hire an architect to work on a design.
With a design in hand, AuBuchon set about raising the funds required to build the memorial.
“The very first major donors were Ken and Debbie Brock,” AuBuchon said. “They embraced the project immediately.”
AuBuchon admitted that he was surprised by how quickly other donors stepped forward and how enthusiastic they were.
“We raised about $1.2 million in about a year,” AuBuchon said.
With the funding coming in, the contractor, Crossland Construction, began work. The project was completed in just nine months, AuBuchon said, just in time for Memorial Day.
In the years since the memorial opened, AuBuchon has seen how strongly it continues to affect visitors.
“The memorial can and does evoke some very powerful emotions,” AuBuchon said. “I have been there at dusk when the lights come on and have seen Vietnam veterans come to the Wall, touch a name or two or three and then very quietly go sit on one of the benches. I’ve seen people go to the memorial for quiet reflection. I’ve seen that a lot and I’ve done it myself.”
Although this will be the last Memorial Day observance that AuBuchon and Brock will lead, both men still plan to be involved in programs at the memorial and they say they are leaving this major annual event in good hands.
“Melvin Rupard has been a member of the Memorial Day planning committee for years,” AuBuchon said. “He’s a member of the Frontenac American Legion Post and when Ken and I first started talking about stepping down, Melvin volunteered to approach the post about taking this over and they agreed. I know they’re going to do a great job, with the help of all of the others who have been part of this over the years.”
The 2012 Memorial Day observance at the PSU Veterans Memorial will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 28. The keynote speaker will be Lt. Col. Robert Brock. Other speakers will include Jim AuBuchon and PSU President Steven A. Scott. Music will be provided by Joel Wren, of the Great Highland Bagpipes; the PSU Brass Ensemble; and the Tri-Statesmen Barbershop Chorus. At the conclusion of the ceremony, AuBuchon will join veterans and their families for the unveiling of newly installed pavers. The PSU Veterans Memorial is located at 1909 S. Rouse. Parking is available at the memorial and at the Bicknell Sports Complex.