A member of Gov. Bill Lee's staff has confirmed to Cleveland Daily Banner sources that the governor will attend next week's historic groundbreaking ceremonies for the Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home.
The long-awaited event will begin at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the construction site on Westland Drive in South Cleveland.
A huge crowd, with a swarm of local, state and federal dignitaries, is expected.
Cleveland businessman Jonathan Cantrell, who chaired Lee's gubernatorial campaign in Bradley and McMinn counties, told the Banner on Thursday that staff member Alex Martin confirmed the governor's plans to appear at the groundbreaking. Since last year's election, Lee and Cantrell have become close associates.
Contacted by the Banner, the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services — which is coordinating much of the planning for the groundbreaking — could not verify Lee's plans because the governor's official week-to-week itinerary is not released until late in the afternoon on Fridays.
Veterans Services Public Information Officer Rachel Fogg on Thursday did confirm that four of Bradley County's surviving World War II veterans will have a place of honor for next Wednesday's ceremony.
Local veterans Jack Murphy, Pinky Blackburn, Carl Zucker and Ralph Painter will be seated on the front row as a recognition for their service to America.
Rumors are also circulating that former governor Bill Haslam might also attend the groundbreaking. Haslam's administration, which preceded Lee, was integral in landing federal support for the veterans home construction after appropriating $10 million in state funding for the local facility. Shortly after Haslam upped the state contribution from $7 million to $10 million, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed a $30 million grant to go toward construction of Tennessee's fifth veterans home.
The Banner has been unable to independently confirm Haslam's attendance.
Also to be on hand in Cleveland for the groundbreaking will be Tennessee Veterans Services Commissioner Courtney Rogers and her predecessor, former commissioner Many-Bears Grinder. Like Haslam, Grinder played a significant role in getting the veterans home approved for Bradley County.
Grinder, who retired from state government after serving in Haslam's cabinet for eight years, spent much of her time and energy in helping to plan, and in securing, the 108-bed facility.
Both Rogers and Grinder are U.S. military veterans.
Local excitement continues to grow as Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremonies get closer, including the two local mayors who have supported the veterans home since the idea originally surfaced.
"Wednesday morning will be one of the biggest days in Bradley County history," said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. "Honored with the presence of Gov. Bill Lee, and the many, many other federal, state and local officials will be the icing on the cake of celebration for our veterans home."
Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks, who advocated for the veterans home in Bradley County in the early years as a state legislator representing the 24th Legislative District, echoed his county counterpart's enthusiasm.
"As I have said before, and as I will say many more times, Wednesday, Aug 21, will be a historic moment for our community," Brooks, who was elected city mayor a year ago, stated. "We welcome our special guests to Cleveland and Bradley County, and we are honored to be hosting Gov. Bill Lee, a man who we know supports this veterans home."
James Amundsen, who serves as chief of staff for Rogers, was scheduled to return to the Cleveland construction site today, as strategic planning continues for the groundbreaking. This will be the third consecutive week Amundsen has visited the veterans home location.
A Cleveland Recreation Department crew has been busy this week working on the entrance road to the construction site, and tidying up the surrounding property.
There will be on-site parking, VIP parking and additional parking across Westland Drive at West Cleveland Baptist Church. A shuttle will carry attendees from the church to the program location.
In addition to Lee, there will be a number of other local, state and federal digniitaries present. Many others who have been closely involved with the veterans home effort over the past 16 years have received formal invitations.
In a related development Thursday at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce, the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Home Council met in what can be described as the start of a reorganization effort.
The longstanding Council has reorganized in order to be prepared for assisting in any capacity with the start of the veterans home construction, and with any subsequent support and planning.
A major item on the agenda was amending the by-laws, but only a portion was completed in the time allowed. A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, Sept 28, at 3 p.m.
New officers were approved for the remainder of the year. "Cid" Heidel, who is battling serious health issues, will remain chairman.
The other officers include Vice Chairman Kim Dees, Secretary Joe Davis, Treasurer Betsy Trimble, and board members Janet Allen, Mary Baier and Sgt. Jacqueline Hogan. John Thomason was nominated to the board, but withdrew his name when Hogan, a local military recruiter, expressed an interest in serving.
In another selection, Dave Hall was named to head the Council's Nominating Committee for the November election.
In other action, Council members decided membership applicants should represent military and veterans organizations in seven Southeast Tennessee counties: Bradley, Polk, Hamilton, McMinn, Monroe, Meigs and Rhea.
Others attending the Council meeting, in addition to those listed above, included David Jinks, Herb Stafford, Jimmy Kibler, recruiter Jon Rexrode, Alvin Howard and state Rep. Mark Hall. Hall is a former co-chair with Heidel, but stepped down in favor of Dees after he was elected last November to the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Stopping by, but unable to remain for the meeting, was veteran Marilyn Nagle.
In a brief address to the Council, Hall emphasized his pride in serving on the Council in its effort to get the veterans home here.
The former Bradley County commissioner also expressed his pride in the community.
"You don't have to be here long to realize this is a special place," he said. "It's also important for the Council to stay the course."
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