Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery receives $1.4 million expansion grant

Dignitaries from Washington visit Little Falls to deliver the check

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor 

The Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls, was granted $1.4 million for expansion by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USDVA). Wednesday, dignitaries from the USDVA in Washington, D.C. visited the cemetery and presented the funds. Pictured are (from left): Deputy Commissioner of Programs and Services for the USDVA, Reggie Worlds; Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Larry Shellito; Director of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, David Swantek; Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs of the USDVA, Steve Muro; and Director, Veterans Cemetery Grants Service of the USDVA, Joshua de Leon.

It’s not often that dignitaries from Washington, D.C. travel to Little Falls. Far less often that they come bearing substantial gifts, such as a check for $1.4 million (and change).

David Swantek, director of the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery, and Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Larry Shellito, welcomed several such dignitaries to Little Falls, Wednesday.

Visiting from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs, Steve Muro; Director, Veterans Cemetery Grants Service, Joshua de Leon and Deputy Commissioner of Programs and Services, Reggie Worlds.

Swantek has known Muro since 1996, when he was director at Fort Snelling and sees him on an annual basis at conferences. But to have him at the cemetery in Little Falls, Swantek said, “Was fantastic to have someone of his stature out here.”

Muro, who was appointed to his post at the congressional and presidential level, Swantek said, started his career as an auto mechanic with the Cemetery Administration.

“To start out as an auto mechanic with the Cemetery Administration and get to the very highest level of the National Cemetery Administration is probably a story that will never be repeated,” Swantek said.

Swantek, who became director of the cemetery in 1996, just two years after it opened in 1994, applied for the grant for federal assistance in August. In early September, Shellito was notified of the grant award.

Shellito said the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls is a national model. He said Swantek was primarily responsible for the partnership with the United States Department of Veterans Administration.

A replica of the check issued for $1.4 million (plus change).

The funds will be used to construct 1,240 crypts, 347 standard burial gravesites and 737 in-ground cremains gravesites, landscaping and supporting infrastructure on three undeveloped acres at the cemetery.

Once the project is completed, the cemetery should be able to accommodate veterans and their spouses for the next 10 years, Swantek said.

The project will begin this fall, weather permitting. Once it’s started, it shouldn’t take long, said Swantek. It will likely be completed in summer 2013.

Receiving high praise for the “pristine” condition of the cemetery, Swantek attributed it to the dedication of the grounds staff.

“Steve thought it looked absolutely fantastic and couldn’t say enough about what it looks like,” Swantek said. “That’s a direct reflection of our grounds staff. They work very, very hard and are very dedicated to what they do. That’s what people see when they drive here.”

Although there wasn’t a lot of time to give the dignitaries a tour, Swantek said Muro instantly recognized the Veterans Art Project painting by Charles G. Kapsner in Committal Hall as a story of the history of the Army.

“That’s fairly easy to recognize in the painting,” said Swantek. “He definitely picked up on the historical component.”

The funding will be disbursed as the work is done. Swantek said that once the work is paid for, he will apply for a reimbursement for that amount.

“Because it’s a state cemetery, the state gets reimbursed as the pay requests are issued,” said Swantek.