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‘It helped brighten up the town’

Veterans assist in painting mural on Eagle Lake Legion building

The main road going through Eagle Lake is looking very patriotic these days now that a multigenerational mural featuring four soldiers has been painted with the help of veterans on the south exterior wall of the American Legion Post 617 building.

Led by a pair of artists who directed the veterans and other community volunteers, the mural depicts soldiers from four different eras of U.S. military conflicts over the past 75 years. The servicemen are from WW II, Korea and Vietnam to the recent Iraq and ongoing Afghanistan missions since the post 9-11 terrorist attacks.

They stand in front of a colorful red, white and blue background surrounded by numerous stars. Also included on the mural that covers the entire length of the wall are an eagle and the insignia of the American Legion.

The life-size mural was the idea of artists Michael Cimino and Leah Langdon, a graduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato and a five-year Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Langdon, a 2004 graduate of LeSueur-Henderson High School, wanted the mural to honor and bridge the generation gap between veterans.

After approaching Legion officials with their plan, the mural project design was approved. Through assistance with funding from the Minnesota State University Veterans Resource Center and Veterans Club in Mankato, the first half was painted last fall on Veterans Day 2015. The MSU Vets Club volunteers played an important part in assisting the artists as they had past experience in painting a veterans memorial on campus.

Painting was suspended over the winter months and resumed this past summer. It is nearly finished except for the future addition of the five emblems of the service branches to complete the final touches for the mural.

The mural artwork consists entirely of spray paint and stencils of four American soldiers. The design gave all participants who picked up a can a chance to paint no matter their skill level. Veterans who participated ranged in age from late teens to those in their 60s.

With Cimino’s and Langdon’s guidance, the first half of the wall was painted in about five hours. According to Post 617 Commander Dave Schulte, the mural became the talk of the town and a good addition to the community in several ways.

Commander Dave Schulte stands next to Eagle Lake’s American Legion intergenerational military mural painted on the exterior wall of its building by artists, veterans and volunteers.

Commander Dave Schulte stands next to Eagle Lake’s American Legion intergenerational military mural painted on the exterior wall of its building by artists, veterans and volunteers.

He said it was a way for veterans, artists and the public to leave their personal mark on the Legion building and the Eagle Lake community for years to come. “We’re very pleased at how it’s turned out to recognize those who have served in our country’s military,” he noted.

“The shared effort between veterans, club members and volunteers became a community event. We had a good response from the public with a lot of participants and numerous comments how it helped brighten up the town,” he added.

In addition, the mural served as an example of a community effort to help keep the Legion open at a time when many Legion clubs have followed the national trend of being forced to close their doors due to dwindling membership and finances.

“It’s just nice to see the community come together to support us and make the Legion a better place to gather,” said Schulte. “We put on a lot of events and have a group of volunteers helping maintain the building applying new paint and siding. We were at a point five years ago when we were open only on weekends, and we didn’t know what would happen next for us. But we have a lot of dedicated people who didn’t want to see us close the doors because I believe we’re an important part of the community,” he commented.

Schulte thinks the mural helps show the community they’re open and thriving. “We’ve recruited more membership plus we have a strong auxiliary group,” he stated. In addition, the Legion building also doubles as the community events center for the town of about 2,300 people located east of Mankato along Highway 14.

Schulte, in his third year as commander of the post, admits he wasn’t quite sure what to think of the mural once painting started. “It looked like graffiti at first until I was able to visualize the concept of the artists vision,” he recalled.

Schulte, who served in Korea from 1970-71, said the project was fun for the community to do and at a minimal cost for paint and materials. “The two dedicated artists’ actually funded some of the mural expenses with their own money before the donations started to come in to help reimburse them,” Schulte commented.

Cimino is proud of the project too for the way it generated community involvement between retired veterans, active military and the public who participated during various stages of painting the mural.

The success of the Eagle Lake project could lead to more mural paintings on other regional Legion club buildings as an artistic combination of supporting veterans and contributing to community pride and spirit.

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