Tar Heel of the Week

She built a veterans monument, with help of entire Garner community

CorrespondentMay 12, 2013 

TARHEEL-NE-050813-TEL

Faye Gardner was a driving force behind Garner's new veterans memorial, which was dedicated this month.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com

  • Faye Gardner

    Born: Oct. 7, 1942, Pine Level

    Career: Vice President, Garner Chamber of Commerce; Vice President, Garner Veterans Memorial Committee

    Education: Earned a two-year degree from the now-defunct Hardbargers Business College in Raleigh

    Family: Daughter, Lisa Bullard; one granddaughter, Meredith, a senior at Garner Magnet High School

    Fun Fact: The clay and concrete slabs that are part of the veterans memorial were the work of Thomas Sayre, who also created the iconic rings on the grounds of the N.C. Museum of Art. The earthen look of these pieces, when contrasted with the granite slabs opposite, is meant to conjure the idea of the earth, which many of these veterans worked as farmers before they went to war, and where they are now interred.

— The way Faye Gardner sees it, all of Garner helped erect the 12-foot-tall slabs of granite at Lake Benson Park, each bearing the names of local veterans killed in combat from the Revolutionary War to more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gardner says it’s likely every Garner resident contributed in some way to the $500,000 Garner Veterans Memorial, which was dedicated May 4 – whether by buying a $1,500 bench or eating a plate of barbecue at a church fundraiser.

Others who worked on the campaign say it likely wouldn’t have happened without Gardner, who helped lead the four-year effort to plan and fund the memorial. It was a huge undertaking, unlike anything she had done previously. But she says she never doubted that the project would succeed.

“Our community is very patriotic,” says Gardner, 70. “That’s why I felt strongly when we began the project that we could complete it. In my heart, I knew the people here respected and felt the veterans who have served are important to us.”

Nearly a thousand people turned out last weekend to dedicate the memorial, which was completed last month, ahead of schedule and on budget.

Harold Annis, a retired architect who was president of the committee, says Gardner’s knack as an organizer and way with people were crucial to the project’s success.

“Faye is so well known in the community and is such an uplifting, hardworking person,” Annis says. “She is a person who is very organized, and she knew how to make sure everything kept going on track.”

Involving everyone

Gardner was born in the Johnston County town of Pine Level, where she spent her early life on a farm, but then moved into town when her father took a job.

She met and married her husband in Pine Level, and the couple moved to Garner in the 1970s to be closer to their jobs in Raleigh.

She worked for Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) for 35 years before retiring 13 years ago. She now works part time at the Chamber of Commerce.

“It gives me a chance to stay involved, and to work at a sort of a happy place,” she says.

She was aware of plans for the memorial since the idea was conceived in 2006, after the funeral of Pfc. Henry Sanchez, believed to be the only Garner resident to have died in the conflict in Iraq.

But with the idea for the memorial in place, the project foundered for several years without a solid plan for the design or location. Gardner and Annis both joined the effort as leaders in 2009 and quickly jump-started the project.

Annis, a retired architect, had the technical know-how to plan the memorial itself. He held a design competition governed by independent judges.

Gardner started spreading the word about the project and gathering commitments from town leaders. The committee received a few large anonymous donations early on, and then conducted a public drive to raise the rest of the money.

Gardner visited civic groups and churches, spreading the word about the project and how they could help and returning to take pictures with a series of large cardboard checks.

Businesses and civic groups purchased benches for $1,500 each, and individual citizens pitched in for bricks inscribed with the names of veterans in their lives, for $125 or $200. The bricks line a walkway at the front of the memorial.

The committee sold about 850 bricks – funding about a fourth of the project – and is still selling them.

For Gardner, the brick sales are also important because they show the whole community is invested in the project.

“Our intent was not to find one or two donors to fund the project because then it becomes their memorial,” she says. “Our goal was to have the community feel like they are a part of it.”

Gardner is not a longtime fundraiser. She says she was involved in a project years ago to build a sanctuary at her church. But she says she felt the idea of a memorial was too important to fizzle out.

“I’m a project kind of person,” she says. “I wouldn’t have worked on this if it wasn’t something I felt was extremely valuable to our community.”

‘Typical Garner patriot’

Her late husband served in the Air Force, and while he was never in a conflict, he credited his military time for teaching him discipline. She had two brothers in Vietnam, and three uncles who served in World War II. All of them have bricks at the new memorial.

But she says even if she didn’t know anyone in the military, she would value veterans, as do her fellow townspeople. Garner hosts large celebrations for Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day.

“I would describe myself as a typical Garner patriot,” she says.

Large stone panels include information about each of the country’s conflicts and the names of local soldiers who died in each one. Arranged chronologically, the rare periods of peace are marked with benches, to encourage reflection.

Other, shorter slabs made of clay mixed with concrete serve as textured sculptures.

“Children who come on field trips or with their parents will be able to read and see that our country has been in conflict since the beginning,” says Gardner.

It is among the largest memorials in the region, so Gardner hopes it might also draw people to town to see it and then visit local businesses. Its location at Lake Benson Park, a major community gathering place, ensures a wide variety of visitors.

The memorial occupies most of a 6,000-square-foot footprint there. At night, floodlights make its columns visible from Buffaloe Road.

All of the pieces were made in North Carolina and brought to the site; the panels were made in Concord, and the granite was cut and inscribed in Mount Airy.

Gardner lives near the memorial and has visited several times since it was completed. On one visit, she met a woman who had bought a bench to honor her husband, and was sitting on it with a friend.

She has seen others reading the panels, tracing the bricks, telling their children about family members who served in each war.

“To see them come back and look at that memorial and just be so appreciative and so full of gratitude,” she says, “it makes this the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”

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