CASSIAN – The opening of the new national cemetery in Cassian is now slated for late summer, according to an official with the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).
The six-acre national cemetery is part of the NCA’s Rural Initiative to provide access to VA burial benefits for veterans who reside in rural areas and who have not previously had reasonable access to a national or state veterans cemetery, says a VA fact sheet about the cemetery.
NCA officials were hoping to open Northwoods National Cemetery last fall, or more likely, this spring. But wet weather last year caused delays in the construction schedule, according to Robert Roeser, supervisory program and management analyst for Fort Snelling National Cemetery. “We haven’t accepted the cemetery from the contractor yet,” he said of the $3.4 million project. “We are all excited to get it open, but we want to make sure we get it right to maintain the honor and dignity for our veterans and their families. We only get one chance to do it right.” The turf still needs to be placed and established.
Once that’s complete, NCA officials will do a final walk-through on the property, according to Kimberly Wright, executive cemetery director for Fort Snelling, Fargo, and Northwoods national cemeteries. She made the comment in an interview last fall with WXPR Public Radio.
Any “punch list” items that need to be repaired or fixed will have to be done before the property is turned over to the government. A website (govtribe.com) that tracks government contracts, lists the project as about 90 percent complete. Consequently, officials haven’t set a date for the official dedication of the cemetery, which is located at 4520 Lakewood Road opposite from Union Grove Cemetery, township of Cassian.
Cemetery manager being trained
They do have a full time employee training at Fort Snelling to take over the duties of the Northwoods National Cemetery. The cemetery manager will determine eligibility of veterans, spouses and dependents to be interred and to oversee care of the grounds, including stone setting and lawn maintenance. Roeser held off providing the individual’s name pending completion of his training. The manager will have an office in the area where people can contact him in regards to burial requests. Roeser said they have been getting a few calls each month from funeral directors and the public inquiring as to when the cemetery will open. Roeser said the cemetery manager is also expected to build relationships with area veteran’s organizations, as well as with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies providing services to veterans. “We are really excited to establish our partnership with them, to be a part of the veterans’ organizations,” Roeser said. “With only one full-time employee we really depend on those partnerships, and we do try to make it a community.”
He pointed to the good reception they received from groups in Fargo, N.D. where they opened a similar national cemetery last October. “We hope to mirror (the Fargo response) in the Northwoods,” he said.
About the cemetery
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs purchased the property from the town of Cassian for $24,712 on Sept. 24, 2015. The design-build contract was awarded on Aug. 31, 2017 to Decatur Construction, New Braunfels, TX. FourFront Design, located in Rapid City, SD, is the design consultant. Construction started last summer. Phase 1 design will offer more than 3,380 casket and cremation spaces to accommodate burials for the next 10 years.
The cemetery will include casket burials, in-ground cremation burials, columbarium niches for cremation burials, and a memorial wall. There’s also a shelter and flagpoles, including a large U.S. Flag and MIA flag. The potential value of the contract is over $7.2 million, which would include phase 2 work of expanding the cemetery for more internment sites.
Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee is the only other VA national cemetery in the state and is currently closed to first interments. There are three state-run veterans cemeteries in Wisconsin: Southern, Northern, and Central Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemeteries. Central Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery, in King, is the closest of these, located 114 miles from Harshaw.