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Veterans Park drawing donors, community support

EDITOR'S NOTE: At the completion of Mitchell's veterans park construction, The Daily Republic will print a list of all the major donors that gave to the project so it does not omit anyone. The newspaper chose to feature this donation because it w...

Doug Fuerst, right, reads over the nomination form that resulted in his selection as the MTI Excellence in Instruction recipient for 2016. Josh Renken, left, received the Above and Beyond award. MTI will make a $500 donation to the Veteran’s Park project in Fuerst’s name. Fuerst is earmarking the donation in honor of his father who served in the Signal Corps. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Technical Institute)
Doug Fuerst, right, reads over the nomination form that resulted in his selection as the MTI Excellence in Instruction recipient for 2016. Josh Renken, left, received the Above and Beyond award. MTI will make a $500 donation to the Veteran’s Park project in Fuerst’s name. Fuerst is earmarking the donation in honor of his father who served in the Signal Corps. (Photo courtesy of Mitchell Technical Institute)

EDITOR'S NOTE: At the completion of Mitchell's veterans park construction, The Daily Republic will print a list of all the major donors that gave to the project so it does not omit anyone. The newspaper chose to feature this donation because it was in conjunction with Mitchell Technical Institute's annual staff awards.

An award-winning Mitchell Technical Institute instructor is donating his prize to honor local veterans - and his father.

On Aug. 16, Fuerst was one of two MTI faculty members to receive an annual service award from the school. But this year, the recipients will be honored with a $500 donation to an organization or fundraiser of their choice in lieu of a cash prize, and Fuerst has selected the city's new park project.

"I think it would be great to have something nice-looking on that corner, to dress it up down there," said Doug Fuerst, recipient of the 2016 Excellence in Instruction award. "I thought, 'That's a good cause,' and I want to help get the ball rolling on it."

Fuerst hasn't been "beating the drum" for the park, he said, nor is he a veteran, but he has developed a personal connection with the project by making the donation in honor of his father, Clinton Fuerst, a retired farmer from Tripp who served in the Army during the Korean War.

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Clinton Fuerst is a former commander of the American Legion in Tripp and served in the United States Army Signal Corps, which develops and manages communications and information systems, during his time in the military.

Clinton is now 89 and resides in a nursing home in Tripp. He has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

"I just wanted to do something for dad," Fuerst said. "A few years ago, he would have known it, and I think he would have been honored."

Clinton Fuerst's name will be engraved on a black granite donor wall in the park, alongside many others who have already donated.

According to Mitchell Chief fo Public Safety Lyndon Overweg, who is assisting fundraising for the project, the park has been attracting pledges for three or four weeks and has already brought in $130,000, plus the initial $35,000 promised by the city.

At a City Council meeting on Sept. 6, park officials were given approval to apply for grants from the Mitchell Area Charitable Foundation, South Dakota Community Foundation, Sam Weller Family Foundation, Larson Foundation, Wellmark Foundation, Central Electric Operation Round-Up and "any other grants that the park would qualify for," according to council documents.

The foundations may decide to give an amount of their choosing or nothing at all, Overweg said, but he praised community members for their support so far.
"A lot of people want to be a part of this," Overweg said. "They want to see it happen, they want to see it completed, and they want to see it done right."

The cost of the park, including a killed-in-action wall and an honor wall, is estimated at $195,000, but any donations above that point could be used for unexpected costs or maintenance over time, like possible resurfacing on the military logos or buying replacement flags, Overweg said.

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Once fundraising has drawn closer to the expected total cost, officials will begin taking quotes on various features, including concrete, brick work, a fountain, a flag pole and lights.

Round signs depicting logos of the five branches of the U.S. military have already been placed on the American Legion wall, and Overweg said more signage could be placed above and below the logos "hopefully within the next week." After that, he hopes to begin construction this fall with an expected completion date of Nov. 11, 2017 - Veteran's Day.

Donations of at least $500, like Fuerst's, will earn someone the right to include his or her name on the wall as a "donor," Overweg said. Further categories are set aside for gifts of $1,000, $2,500, $5,000, $7,500, and $10,000, with another potential designation if someone decides to donate a higher amount.

But donations are not about personal pride. They're about honoring the community's veterans.

"Any money that we get all goes to support our veterans," Overweg said. "I want to commend the community. They really want this for the right reason, and that's what it's all about."

Anyone wishing to donate can write a check to "City of Mitchell Veterans Park" and bring it to the city finance office or the Department of Public Safety. People may also contact Dan Allen, who serves on the fundraising committee, or Lance Carson.

Award-winning instructors

Fuerst was given the Excellence in Instruction award in recognition of his outstanding instructional technique, recruiting efforts, extraordinary student relationships, ties to his industry, volunteerism and status as a role model, according to a press release sent by MTI Director of Communications Julie Brookbank.

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Josh Renken, an instructor for the automation controls and supervisory control and data acquisition program at MTI, was given the Above and Beyond award and chose the Mitchell Robotics Club as the recipient of his $500 prize.

Renken helped the club "get off the ground" since he began working at MTI five years ago, and he said the money will help the young program buy equipment and pay for gas and registration fees for competitions.

The club is made up of 20 to 25 middle and high school students who have an interest in robotics, Renken said.

"The thought there is we get them hooked ... and get them interested in robotics and the engineering behind it and the programming behind it at the youngest age possible and keep that going through high school and, hopefully, onto here at MTI as students," Renken said. "And then they'll go out and get a career in that automation field."

Renken said the club is hoping to recruit grade school teams for the first time this year, as well.

Receiving the award was an honor, Renken said, particularly because he was selected by his coworkers.

"It kind of goes to show that people are watching and then looking out for each other and helping," Renken said.

Furthermore, he's fine with giving up a cash award for the good of another organization, and he said it's not surprising MTI made the change.

"We're a group within ourselves, and then we try to reach out and help others, too," Renken said.

Renken was nominated for the award for his work with the Mitchell Robotics Club, which has impacted "hundreds of young people statewide," according to the press release.

Brookbank said the two awards were founded by former MTI President Greg Von Wald in 2010, and the decision to make a donation instead of a cash prize was inspired by current President Mark Wilson, who "thought it would be a great way to honor our employees and give back to the community at the same time."

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