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Battleship memorial gets facelift before reunion

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- A Sioux Falls man is leading an effort to spruce up the USS South Dakota battleship memorial in time for a reunion of Navy veterans at the end of June.

Robert Ruf is recruiting several businesses to help him sandblast, power wash and repaint the concrete and steel monument before the biennial event, which once drew up to 200 veterans.

"This year, we expect 10 to 15," said organizer Cathy VerSheldon, of Buffalo Grove, Ill. "The last six years they have been saying, 'This is the last one.' Then they keep asking me to do it again."

Ruf, 51, an oil paint artist and water consultant for Culligan who served in the Navy from 1987 to 2002, tells the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that the facelift is the least the volunteers can do.

"It's not only local. It's a national landmark. If we don't keep it going, shame on us," he said.

Ruf estimates it will cost $50,000 to spruce up the memorial. Supporting businesses should cover all but about $10,000, he said.

The Navy launched the South Dakota from Camden, N.J., in 1941, the year the U.S. entered World War II. The original ship was scrapped in 1962.

The battleship memorial, in place since 1969, features a concrete wall stretching in a long oval across the Sherman Park grass to provide an outline matching the ship's perimeter. Inside are remnants of the ship, along with a museum and a series of plaques recapping its mission.

The effort to beautify the project is being done in conjunction with the battleship memorial foundation.

"We've put a lot of years on the memorial. It's very important to keep it in the best condition we can," said Harlan Bedford, 70, foundation vice president and a retired Navy officer who served in the submarine service during the Vietnam War era.