Windermere’s Military Memorial
by Karen Nimetz
Ninety-two-year-old former U.S. Navy Seabee and World War II veteran Bill Criswell has spent the past five years working toward erecting a military monument in downtown Windermere.
(L. to r.) Stephen Withers, Bill Criswell, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn, and Stephen Fasen stand at the future site of the Windermere Veterans Memorial.
“I have long envisioned a memorial that would honor both the veterans and the active duty service men and women of all five branches of the military,” he said.
Criswell’s vision has become a reality with the help of architect Stephen Withers and designer Stephen Fasen. All three men are longtime Windermere residents, and all have served as past presidents of the Rotary Club of Windermere. The three men donated countless hours to creating the impressive installation that will be located on the outer edge of Town Flag Plaza, in front of Windermere Town Hall.
“Bill Criswell is a gentleman whom Stephen Withers and I both mutually respect,“ Fasen said. “Bill has organized and participated in countless projects that have benefited our community, including Home At Last, a program that builds homes for combat-wounded, permanently disabled veterans of the Iraq-Afghanistan wars. Stephen and I knew this memorial project was a dream of Bill’s for many years, so we were determined to come up with a way to get it done.”
Together, the three men came up with the idea of a monument made up of six pedestals, each 3 feet tall. Atop each of the first five pedestals will be a plaque representing a branch of the military. Atop the sixth pedestal will be a plaque with the Great Seal of the United States honoring all of the men and women who have served and continue to serve the U.S.
In order for Windermere Council members to truly visualize the concept, Withers built a 3-D model of the monument and plaques.
“Initially, it was not easy to get the memorial approved,” Withers said. “It took a couple of months longer than we hoped. In the end, we were able to partner with the town of Windermere and the [Rotary Club of Windermere] to achieve our goal.”
Even with all the pro bono efforts of Fasen and Withers, the cost for the project was estimated to be around $25,000. Through fundraising efforts and generous donations, the team exceeded its financial goal.
“The [Rotary Club of Windermere] is in charge of the funds,” Fasen said. “Any remaining money will be allocated by the Rotary club to various veterans charities.”
“This monument will not cost the residents anything,” Criswell said. “It is a gift to the town of Windermere.”
The official unveiling of the Windermere Veterans Memorial will take place on West Main Street in front of town hall on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. The dedication ceremony will be at 11 a.m., in accordance with the Armistice. Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. George A. Landis will be the special guest speaker, and patriotic music will be provided by the 45-member Orlando Concert Ceremonial Band. The Rotary club will provide coffee and doughnuts at 8:30 a.m., and there will be a community walk starting at 9:30 a.m. Military vehicles will be on display, and there will be a variety of activities taking place throughout most of the day.
“We will have all five branches of the military represented,” Criswell said about the dedication. “There will be a service man/woman of each branch standing in front of one of the monuments. [Windermere] Mayor [Gary] Bruhn will talk about Veterans Day and will speak about each branch of military service as each monument is unveiled.”
All three men acknowledged Mayor Bruhn as an integral part of the memorial project.
Withers said the mayor “worked on the design, helped raise funds, worked with the council and town staff, and is a major contributor himself.”
Mayor Bruhn said the memorial “will be a wonderful addition to our town. It is an honor to recognize all the men and women who have served and continue to serve our country with honor.” ♥