Camp Courageous supporters honor veterans, family, COVID heroes


Mainliner Memorial Park at Camp Courageous honors all six branches of the military with a limestone monument and service flag. On the opposite end of the memorial, a tribute to COVID-19 frontline workers. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

The scene of Mainliner Memorial Park at night is a sight to behold.

The centerpiece of Mainliner Park is a bronze statue of a female camper in a wheelchair with her hand on her heart. Every morning at Camp Courageous, campers gather at the flag to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
By: 
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     There is a new addition to Camp Courageous that takes your breath away day and night.

     Construction of Mainliner Memorial Park was recently just completed next to the Durgin Pavilion.

     This was a joint effort and team project from the start.

     Teri and Brian Connell of Lake Delhi wanted to find a way to honor their fathers who both served in the military, as well as their mothers who stood by them while serving their country. They also wanted to honor the COVID-19 frontline workers, many of whom risk their own lives to save others.

     That’s when the Connells found out about Camp Courageous and formed a bond that would help them not only showcase their family history while honoring so many, but educate the campers and children in the process.

     The Connells came to Camp several years ago with the idea of giving back. They truly brought Mainliner Memorial Park to life through their ideas and financial support.

     “We grew up watching our parents give back to their communities and pay it forward to people who would one day be inspired to do the same,” shared Connell. “After they passed away, we wanted a means to honor their memories and a place to memorialize their legacy in a way that would make a difference.”

     Each piece of the park holds special meaning to the Connells’ family. Let’s start with the branches of the service.

     “Our fathers served during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam Conflict,” noted Connell. “And many of our family members and friends have served as well.

     “Building a memorial park that would honor U.S. men and women across all branches of service was important to us.”

     The park honors all six branches of the U.S. Armed Forces: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Space Force. Each branch is featured on a limestone monument with that branch’s flag flying high above.

     “Different veterans groups have been long-time supporters of Camp,” noted Camp Courageous CEO Charlie Becker.

     Then you have the plaque that honors those who served during COVID-19. Connell said she knew she wanted a way to honor civilian heroes, “as we saw family and friends across the nation giving similar service and sacrifice” as to their military counterparts.

     “I’m very proud to celebrate essential works,” added Connell. “Never in our nation’s history have so many Americans done such remarkable things to defend our country. Campers and children can learn great lessons from these extraordinary people.”

     “People in their day-to-day life have made sacrifices as a whole,” Becker said of the COVID essential workers. “They pulled together to help others. Everyone is essential; it takes everybody.”

     The new memorial park is called “Mainliner.” Connell’s family (father, grandfather, and uncles) has a strong history in the railroad industry, specifically the Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (CRIP), aka. The Rock.

     Connell grew up in a small town in Illinois (Silvis) with a rail yard that was on the main railroad line (main line) from Chicago to Colorado Springs, and Davenport to Kansas City. The Silvis yard was a turn-around layover (loop) location for crews from Eldon, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids.

     “Main lines went faster, had more cars, and moved more freight,” explained Connell.

     Her parents are from Eldon, Iowa, where the original Rock Island Line Depot sits, now a museum.

     “The train that went between those two towns was a main liner and kept our family connected,” continued Connell. “Every other week, my grandfather would come to town on that train.”

     After her father retired from the railroad, he operated an establishment that many of the rail workers would frequent, called “The Mainliner.”

     “It was a place they would all get together, share stories, and hang out with friends,” noted Connell.

     Knowing Camp Courageous already had a train that traveled through the camp, adding the Mainliner was the perfect fit.

     “Having the Mainliner Memorial Park in the Camp Courageous train loop and next to the little depot really pulls the whole thing together,” Connell said.

     There is also a 15,300-pound giant rock that was brought to Camp Courageous from Cedar Rapids. That rock symbolizes another large rock that sat at Connell’s grandparents’ farm.

     “It’s just a great big field rock that once upon a time Grandma asked Grandpa to bring to the house as a centerpiece for her flower garden,” Connell recalled. “‘The Rock’ has been a symbol of faith, family, and freedom. It became a focal point of family photos over the years.”

     And Connell hopes “The Rock” at Camp Courageous will hold those same sentiments for other as well, for years to come.

     “I hope this rock becomes a centerpiece for some of your life lessons as well,” she offered.

     For Camp Courageous, the pinnacle of the memorial park is the bronze sculpture in the center. This image depicts a young female camper in a wheelchair with her hand over her heart. Ahead of her is a plaque with the Pledge of Allegiance.

     “Every morning campers say the pledge and then go have breakfast,” shared Becker.

     Camp supporter and volunteer Jeff Pitlik said the team who worked on this project, including Facilities Director James Kurth, struggled to bring the veterans and COVID memorial around to Camp Courageous. He said the girl in the wheelchair topped it off.

     “That brought the whole thing together,” marveled Pitlik. “So we added the pledge of allegiance.”

     “The camper really sets it off,” added Becker.

     Having a veterans’ memorial is something that Camp Courageous has always talked about doing. It’s all about the right timing…

     “We saw what other communities did and we wanted something unique,” Becker said of trips to Anamosa and Dubuque.

     Throughout construction of Mainliner Park, Connell would drive to Monticello to get a peak of the progress.

     “As each piece came together, I was more and more impressed,” she marveled. “Everything fits together just perfectly.”

     “You really have to see it to feel it,” Connell said of the emotion the park ignites. “And at night when the lights are on and the stars are out, it’s so peaceful. I feel a sense of joy and happiness that I can’t describe.”

     Pitlik said this project was truly a team effort and several years of planning.

     Since its completion, Camp has showcased photos of Mainliner Park in social media; those have been met with nothing but positive comments.

     “It’s heartwarming,” remarked Becker. “This project is at a whole different level than anything we’ve ever done before.”

     Kurth added, “This is one of the coolest projects we’ve done.”

     While the Connells have greatly supported the establishment of Mainliner Memorial Park, there are still ways to donate to help contribute toward the ongoing maintenance and beautification. The pavers sell for $1,000 each, and can be engraved and personalized. There are also granite benches and more ranging in donation price of $5,000 to $30,000.

     Gifts of any amount for the park can be directed to cbecker@campcourageous.org. Visit https://campcourageous.org/mainliner-memorial-park/ for more information.

     A dedication of Mainliner Park is tentatively planned for Saturday, Nov. 7, at noon.

Those who had a hand in the construction and contributions to Mainliner Memorial Park include:

     • Weber Stone Co.

     • Eilertson Inc.

     • Wild Designs Landscaping

     • Ace Concrete

     • Monticello Plumbing & Electric

     • Schilling Masonry

     • Strauss Architectural Systems LLC

     • Luna Lighting

     • Skogman Construction

     • Coonrod Crane Service

     • Mainliner Construction

     • Key West Metal Industries Inc.

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