WHITE LAKE -- With the dedication of its new memorial plaza, there are probably few places anywhere that can boast of a more compact representation of civic history than White Lake.
Kris Kieffer, a member of the project's organizing committee, said the plaza honors the town's pioneers, veterans, and the stratosphere balloon landing that occurred about 76 years ago.
About 180 town and area residents turned out Sunday for the dedication of the 40-foot by 40-foot White Lake Memorial Plaza north of the town park.
Following the waning notes of "God Bless America," Dan Guericke, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, offered a prayer and benediction for the new plaza.
"May it be a place of comfort and remembrance," he said.
It became just that for those who stayed, took photos and shared stories.
The plaza is special for fourth-generation White Lake resident Mark Gillen.
"I have some pretty emotional feelings about it simply because my family is here, in the plaza," he said.
Gillen, 57, was credited with starting the project. It rapidly grew with the enthusiasm of townspeople, he said.
"It started out a lot simpler," Gillen said. Then people wanted more and more and this is what it came to. I guess we're just lucky."
The plaza began with a plan to give a more fitting home to the two bronze tablets from the town's 1982 centennial celebration and tablets that honored the landing of the stratosphere balloon south of town on Nov. 11, 1935. The Explorer II balloon had taken off from the Black Hills on Nov. 10 and reached White Lake the next afternoon. The event was important because it set the world altitude record of 72,395 feet, a record that stood for more than 20 years.
Another polished black granite slab in the plaza's northeast corner honors area homesteaders. The stone face features a dramatic rendition of the Terry Redlin painting "Amber Waves of Grain." The homesteaders' monument was unveiled by Ollie Hanten whose great-uncle John Hanten platted the town of White Lake in 1881.
A memorial garden in the northwest corner depicts a carved angel and the sentiment "Time passes, memories stay; loved and remembered every day."
Kieffer said families paid $50 to have memorial pavers carved with the names of loved ones and donations dedications are still coming in.
The southwest corner is dedicated to the area's veterans.
"We have all our veterans in there who are deceased, and as well as the majority of living veterans," Gillen said.
He declined to put a price tag on the plaza.
"I won't tell you that," Gillen said. "But I will say it's not the biggest, or most expensive, but it's pretty special to us."
John Kieffer was emcee for the event, and White Lake Mayor Russ Ehlers and others took part in the official ribbon cutting.
The southwest monument, dedicated to the area veterans, was unveiled by World War II vets Don Reeves, 85; Howard Morrison, 90, and Donald Headley, 98.
Headley, who served as an artillery spotter with the Army during WWII, summarized the appreciation of the veterans groups who attended.
"This is a wonderful thing," he said. "I was just telling the man beside me that it's a good thing we have more people like this in our country, or we wouldn't have much."