National Guard breaks ground on readiness center at Luverne
New training facility should be completed by June 2023.
LUVERNE — Members of the Minnesota National Guard were joined by dignitaries to break ground Tuesday afternoon on a new National Guard Readiness Center in the Luverne Industrial Park.
The $17.5 million training and community center, funded by federal and state dollars and a generous donation by the K.A.H.R. Foundation, will be home to Luverne and Pipestone National Guard members in the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery Regiment.
Luverne native Warren Herreid II, who established the K.A.H.R Foundation with his wife, Jeannine Rivet, spoke during the groundbreaking ceremony. He said the foundation’s contribution came about after he learned from now-retired Gen. Richard Nash that the National Guard planned to upgrade many of its readiness centers, and would construct one center for the combined Luverne and Pipestone unit. A building project was on the Guard’s schedule for construction in either 2030 or 2035.
“I said, ‘What if we donated some money? Would it speed up that process?’” Herreid shared. “He said he didn’t know — no one has ever done it before.”
Herreid told Nash a general amount of what they could fund, but made one condition — the readiness center would have to be built in Luverne.
“Sorry Pipestone people,” Herreid said, adding that Luverne and Pipestone “have been rivals for many, many years.”
The readiness center, at 46,293 square feet, will include an assembly hall, work bays, unit storage area, classrooms, fitness and learning center, and men’s and women’s latrines with showers. It will also include geothermal heating and cooling, with future potential to add a solar array. Mankato-based Brennan Construction was hired to build the facility, which will be located at the intersection of Koehn Avenue and Mayes Drive, west of Papik Motors. The facility is targeted for completion in June 2023.
The center will replace the existing Luverne Armory, which was built in 1922 on Freeman Avenue, between the downtown shopping district and the railroad.
While it isn’t known what will happen to the Armory building, retired Guardsman John Schiefelbein of Flandreau, South Dakota, said there is a lot of history within its walls.
“I came here in 1964 as a unit administrator,” said Schiefelbein, who retired from the National Guard in 1990 after 28 years of service. He told of how the armory came to be in Luverne.
“It happened in World War I — called the Great War back then,” he said. President Woodrow Wilson didn’t want any part of the war, Schiefelbein said, adding that the U.S. remained neutral. Then, in 1915, an American submarine containing 114 seamen was sunk.
“The Germans knew the sub was full of ammo bound for Europe,” Schiefelbein said.
Two years later, President Wilson became infuriated and declared war on Germany after hearing that if Mexico joined Germany in a war against the U.S., Mexico would be promised several southern U.S. states.
“Back then, New Ulm had a National Guard unit and Luverne did not,” Schiefelbein said. “New Ulm is full of what nationality? Germans. We can’t have Germans fighting Germans, so the National Guard decided to take away the unit designation in New Ulm and give it to whatever community was interested.
“Luverne wanted to have a National Guard unit,” Schiefelbein said. “On July 2, 1917, all the interested men met in the basement of the Manitou Hotel, and that’s where they joined the Luverne National Guard.”
The Rock County Fairgrounds exhibit halls and livestock barns housed the Guardsmen, and their mess hall was the old opera house downtown, Schiefelbein said, adding that they joined Company K in Worthington and went on for training at Camp Cody, New Mexico, before leaving for Europe and landing in France.
“They had been replacements for the 42nd, which had been badly mauled,” Schiefelbein said, noting that the 42nd Brigade Commander was Douglas McArthur.
The Luverne National Guard fought in many battles, he added.
Schiefelbein self-published a pamphlet with more details about the National Guard unit in Luverne, which he donated Tuesday for inclusion in the unit’s library.
Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian also spoke during the program, saying the community is indebted to the Herreids and the K.A.H.R. Foundation.
“Our National Guard has been called upon so many times,” Baustian said. “To have that local National Guard presence in your community goes a long ways.”
Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) said he was also happy to see the National Guard retain a presence in the community.
“Whether talking about international or local use of the National Guard, certainly the National Guard is important to our communities,” Weber said. “We look forward to the new facility and a ribbon cutting ceremony some day down the road.”