40,000 square-foot, $32 million facility first-of-its-kind
The Minnesota Military and Veterans Museum held a ceremonial groundbreaking on its new site at Camp Ripley in Little Falls on Sunday, Sept. 17. Located on more than 30 acres just off Highway 371, and adjacent to the Little Falls State Veterans Cemetery, the future site of the Museum will ensure easy access by the public.
The outdoor event drew a crowd of more than 300 people and included a keynote address from retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, a Minnesota native and the former four-star commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command. During his remarks, Votel shared that “…it is in these stores that we learn, and that we honor. That is why this one-of-a-kind, world-class museum is so important. I know of no other state [that] has committed both private and public funds to build an institution of the kind envisioned here. And when I say ‘world-class,’ I don’t just mean a gleaming building with well-appointed display cases. I mean world-class stores of service, sacrifice, and love of country, all told well.”
The program also included participation from Civil War reenactors and special music. The five-member crew who ceremonially tossed the first shovelfuls of dirt included the following:
• Joe Nayquonabe Sr., an elder of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, a Vietnam Veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
• Evan Krawczyk, the grandson of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey, one of Minnesota’s most decorated Veterans. Evan’s grandfather and grandmother are buried just across the street at the Veterans Cemetery.
• Army National Guard Captain Takeisha Hunt. Captain Hunt serves as the Director of the Joint Visitor’s Bureau at Camp Ripley. She is one of five servicemembers represented in Charles Kapsner’s exceptional painting, titled “Women on Guard,” now on view in the current museum.
• Bob Anderson, the man responsible for getting all this started when he and his wife Debra donated 30 acres for the new Veterans Museum.
• Don Halverson, a WWII Veteran of the 168th Infantry, 34th Division, during the Italian Campaign.
For the grand finale, a restored WWII Bulldozer fired up and bulldozed a small section of the site. Construction is set to begin in earnest in the spring of 2024, with a grand opening expected in early 2026.
The State of Minnesota provided $32 million to design and construct the 40,000-square-foot facility. The museum’s board of directors continues to raise private funds to outfit the facility with the galleries, classrooms and collections spaces planned for the Museum.
Following the ceremony, the Hopkins VFW Post #425 made a $25K donation to the nonprofit Museum. The board is more than halfway toward their private fundraising goal of $10 million, which will be used to outfit the facility with gallery spaces, classrooms and collections.
“When complete, this project will honor all branches of service, both past and present,” said Randal Dietrich, Executive Director of the Minnesota Military and Veterans Museum. “It will also truly represent a community effort, encompassing fiscal support from federal, state, community and private funding sources.
As part of the development process the board and planners traveled to some of the best museums in the country, spoke with veterans in Minnesota and beyond, and ultimately enlisted the renowned HGA Architects to help lead the design.