Wilmont firefighter remembered at memorial dedication
WORTHINGTON -- A new memorial on the Minnesota Capitol's south grounds in St. Paul pays tribute to 207 of the state's firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1881. Among the names etched on the 100 steel pipes forming the 6,000-square-foot Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial is former Wilmont firefighter Marvin Huisman.
In a dedication ceremony conducted Sunday, Huisman's family was recognized for the heroics of a husband and father who voluntarily gave of his time to serve his community. His wife, Vonnie, three children, two sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren, as well as a sister and brother-in-law, were among more than 4,000 family members of fallen firefighters to take part in the event.
Huisman served on the Wilmont Fire Department for 30 years, and was assistant fire chief at the time of his death. The 56-year-old had responded to a rural Wilmont blaze when he suffered a heart attack and died.
"It was sudden and it changed our lives forever," said Vonnie Huisman, who now resides in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sunday marks the 13th anniversary of her husband's death.
The Sunday ceremony, she said, was filled with honor and respect. Families of fallen firefighters were invited to walk down a two-block-long path lined by Honor Guard (uniformed firefighters) before taking their seat on the Capitol lawn.
Bagpipes played, the Color Guard marched, bells tolled and white doves were released as part of the memorial dedication, which also included comments from Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Minnesota Fire Marshal Jerry Rosendahl, among others. Minnesota State flags once flown over the Capitol were given to a representative of each of the 207 fallen firefighters.
"For my grandchildren, I was so happy they could all be a part of this grand ceremony and dedication -- just the honor given to the firemen," said Vonnie, who accepted the Minnesota flag and a single rose on behalf of the Huisman family during the ceremony.
The Minnesota Fallen Firefighters Memorial had actually been on display at the baggage claim area of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. According to the Minnesota State Fire Department Association website, a campaign began in 2011 to raise the money needed to move the memorial to a more visible location.
"The new memorial will give families, friends, co-workers and community members a permanent location to pay tribute to these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice," the website states.
In a span of about a year, the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation raised $600,000 to fund the move and added features of the memorial. In addition to the display of 100 steel pipes, the memorial features a sculpture of a firefighter carrying a young child.
That sculpture completed a tour through 11 Minnesota communities before arriving at the Capitol grounds.
The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation continues to seek donations to cover the remaining $25,000 for the move and the dedication ceremony. Financial contributions may be sent to Minnesota Fire Service Foundation c/o Flagship Bank, 7525 Office Ridge Road, Eden Prairie 55344-3644. Online contributions can be made at www.MNFireServiceFoundation.org. All contributions are tax deductible, and donations exceeding the goal will fund educational scholarships for children of active, retired or deceased firefighters.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.