NEW ULM - As local promoter Denny Warta puts it - and as many other people would surely agree - Hermann Monument is New Ulm's "signature sight."
Less known, however, might be the fact that the monument - which belongs to the city at large - has its own base of extra-dedicated fans - the Hermann Monument Society (HMS).
Formally started in 2007, the society has the objective of "conservation, interpretation, promotion and development of the Hermann Monument and Park," its mission statement says.
Photo by Steve Muscatello
A new fence around Hermann Monument was funded by the Hermann Monument Society, a civic group dedicated to the park’s preservation and improvement.
"We will promote our German culture nationally and internationally," the statement also reads.
Officer positions of the Hermann Monument Society include chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. Committees include "membership and development," interpretive center," and "special projects."
The society funds projects by selling memberships. Tiered memberships range from $20 per individual or $30 per household, to $35 for non-profit organizations and $50 for businesses. It takes $100 or more to join the "Century Club," and $500 or more to attain "benefactor" status.
As the city prepared last summer to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the Germanic hero's victory in a battle over Roman legions in 9 AD - and as interest in the historic figures and events involved reached a new peak - the society counted more than 225 members. They are spread throughout the United States, Canada and Germany.
Sponsors of Hermann Monument fence
Last month, the society officially wrapped up its most major project to date - a new wrought iron fence around Hermann monument.
Counting all elements of the project - engineering studies, groundwork, insurance, construction, temporary fence, etc - the effort cost almost $100,000 from start to finish.
On Dec. 7, 2009, the society repaid a city advance that went toward the funding of the $97,288.81 project, effectively "sealing in" what HMS members Warta and George Glotzbach term "a beautiful gift to the city, made possible by the generosity of individuals, businesses and other groups."
It took several years between the time the project was conceived, back in 2004 or 2005, and its nick-of-time dedication, just before the Hermann Victory festival kicked off.
The project remained "almost on hold" until the winter of 2008, when promoters realized that if it were to be completed, they'd better get going!
A tried-and-true fund raising tool came in handy - marketing granite paving stones to sponsors - to help pay for the fence.
The paving stones make up part of the walkways around the monument complex.
The tool had been successfully tested in the 1990s, when raising money to rebuild German Park, another Warta "brainchild."
As had been the case in the downtown park, the pavers were billed as an opportunity to support the concept with "a gift that assures lasting recognition at the entrance of Hermann Monument" - memorializing the giver.
Contributions were acknowledged with the engraving of a granite paver.
Sponsorship of an 8" by 16" paver was set at $200; and of a 16" by 16" paver at $500.
Donors were encouraged to include an inscription, different type fonts, and perhaps a business logo.
The addition of the word "since," followed by the year a business was founded, was especially encouraged by Warta, to create "a lasting, historically significant record."
Zander's Heritage Memorials donated four granite benches. Each bench could be engraved with a donor's text, for a gift of $2,000.
Engraved pavers- 196 in all - now cover the northwest walkway entrance.
They sold so well that the second phase has begun, with a paver walkway adjacent to the first, to eventually lead to the street. By early December, 43 pavers had been sold for this second pad.
Two of the benches have been sponsored, as well.
As is ever so common, the project went through its up and downs.
The organizers experienced several "surprises" - which eventually almost doubled the price from the originally projected $50,000 budget, recalls Glotzbach.
One "sticker shock" came in the form an engineering study. Then, it turned out that additional dirt needed to be hauled in; then, potential liability issues necessitated a temporary fence.
The civil engineers, Bolton and Menk, donated part of their time; while Glotzbach wrote, and succeeded in obtaining, last-minute grants.
An area manufacturer, Haala Industries of Sleepy Eye, made the fence.
The city of New Ulm gave the HMS an interest-free loan, to be repaid within a year; that loan has now been repaid.
Warta and Glotzbach are grateful to all who helped with the project; in their dreams, they are looking ahead.
Dreaming future improvements
On its end, the city of New Ulm has funded interpretive panels that explain the monument's significance, as a National Register of Historic Places site, and as a symbol of the contributions of German Americans to American life designated by the 106 U.S. Congress.
The city has developed a master plan for the complex, with short-term and long-term goals.
The plan is a documentary guideline that inspires monument activists like Warta and Glotzbach.
In the short term, they want to continue with landscaping the memorial walkways. Sponsorship of granite paver stones and benches is again available.
Over the long term, there are dreaming up other possibilities.
Warta shares what he termed a "beautiful rendition" by Lance Hartzell, arts professor at Martin Luther College, of a possible structure of a German American center facility at the Hermann Heights Park bluff. The glass roof and the platform could utilize a pay-telescope year-round, Warta dreams. "This would enable visitors to not only view the valley through the telescope or binoculars, but also inspect the monument, especially the artistic details that make up the Hermann statue itself - year-round," he says.
Ever the fund raiser, Warta adds, "this also has the potential for a major funder to have the center named after him or her."
The depiction is a chance to visually see a center in place, "with the many options that this opens for development, and for New Ulm to become the place to visit by all Americans of Germanic heritage," says Warta.
Hartzell, the arts professor, is also doing a conceptual drawing of what a grand staircase at the monument might look like, says Warta. This idea is taken from the original Hermann Monument near Detmold. That staircase also goes "nowhere," but uses stairs as seating for presentations in a small landing area at the bottom. A New Ulm grand staircase might be of use by the college, too, Warta dreams.
Even if only a few of the many ideas ever materialize, the Hermann Monument Society would have made its point - as promoters put it, "keeping the park more beautiful and attractive," so it can be "a magnet for people who are proud of their heritage."
Text by Kremi Spengler