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Central Point to pay lasting tribute to Richardson

Terrain Landscape Architecture illustration The memorial to the late Dennis Richardson will feature a picturesque water fountain, meandering sitting wall, wide pathways and landscaped areas and trees.
Project will be constructed next to Fallen War Heroes Memorial

Central Point has approved plans to honor the legacy of one of its most renowned citizens.

The city will pay tribute to Dennis Richardson, who was Oregon’s Secretary of State at the time of his death at age 69, with a memorial adjacent to the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial, itself a project with which he was deeply involved.

City Council approved a $552,000 bid last week from Knife River Corporation for the project. Construction at Don Jones Memorial Park is expected to begin as soon as the weather allows.

Richardson was a former member of Central Point City Council, and was a six-term legislator in the Oregon House of Representatives, representing Jackson and Josephine counties.

Richardson, who raised eight daughters and one son with Cathy, his wife of 42 years, passed away Feb. 26, 2019, after a long battle with a rare form of brain cancer.

An Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Richardson spearheaded the ‘Heroes’ memorial, which was completed in 2008, helping navigate funding, design and myriad red tape.

Having a tribute alongside the landmark he helped create, city officials said, seemed fitting.

The new space will feature a picturesque water fountain, meandering sitting wall, wide pathways and landscaped areas and trees.

Central Point Parks and Public Works Director Matt Samitore, who worked alongside Richardson on the Fallen Heroes memorial, recalled how passionate Richardson was about the memorial being located in Southern Oregon.

“Dennis and I had a great rapport, and he was definitely one of my mentors,” Samitore said.

“I remember he called me one day, shortly after I had become the city’s parks and recreation manager. He said, ‘Hey! I have an idea and I’d like to meet with you. Do you have a minute?’ He had me come over to his office and laid out this vision and said, ‘How do we make this happen?’”

Samitore said a movement to memorialize Richardson’s life had been growing since his passing, but delays during the pandemic and rising costs for materials made for a cumbersome process.

Of the $552,000 cost, $280,000 was provided through federal coffers.

“We bid the project back in February as a combined project. The war memorial, as could be expected after more than a decade, needed about $100,000 worth of work done. It worked out to combine it with the memorial for Dennis,” Samitore said.

“We were initially hoping to have it all done by Memorial Day, but the bids all came in well over our budget. We decided to work with Knife River, who was the low bidder, and to redo parts of the project to get our costs down. We’re expecting it to be done by Halloween, so it’s ready in time for Veterans Day.”

Samitore added, “The original plan had granite in it and some other things we just can’t afford right now with cost of materials being so crazy. We swapped some of the materials and there were some concrete benches and extra sitting boulders … which we can always order when prices become more reasonable.”

An added plus, the historic Central Point Masonic Cemetery, behind the memorial, was taken under city ownership in recent months and will soon see repairs and ongoing cleanup efforts.

Richardson had long urged community members and the city to care for the old graveyard, final resting place of many early Central Point pioneers and a neighboring property to the war memorial.

Mayor Hank Williams was pleased there would soon be a permanent remembrance of his longtime friend.

“Dennis really loved Central Point and he always stuck up for us, any chance he got. He worked hard for our little city,” Williams said.

“This has been in the works since he passed. It took longer, because of the pandemic, to get things planned out. I think he would just be really honored to know this memorial was going in. He really cared for Central Point.”

Richardson’s daughter Jennifer Vranes said the family was touched by the tribute.

“I think he would be very happy that the city decided to honor him with a memorial. He was such a humble guy that he would also probably be a little embarrassed but, as his family, we are delighted because he really did work very, very hard for this community and on that war memorial,” Vranes said, noting that earlier discussions of a possible statue of her dad would have “embarrassed him.”

As a nod to her father’s patriotism, Vranes said family members had been solicited for feedback by the city and suggested flower plantings be done in patriotic colors and an area be set up for family photos.

“We thought it would be very fitting to make the flowers red, white and blue, because no one was more patriotic than my dad. And I know my dad would have loved the idea of local families coming to that spot to take a family photo,” she said.

“I just think it’s really special that the city wants to honor my dad, because he was an amazing hero to so many. He dedicated his life for his country. Until the day that he died, he was serving his country as Oregon Secretary of State. It’s really amazing all the things he was able to accomplish in his life, so it’s kind of cool for our small town to honor him in this way.”

Learn more

For details about the project, contact city park planner Dave Jacob, 541-423-1012, email dave.jacob@centralpointoregon.gov, visit online at centralpointoregon.gov/parksrec/page/dennis-richardson-memorial-project

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.