Organization will raise money for Heroes Way program

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Carrie Skelton, right, dabs at her eyes while standing with her husband Charlie at the grave of their nephew Bradley Skelton Friday afternoon, February 6, 2009, at Christ Lutheran Church cemetery in Gordonville. More than 70 people attended the memorial service for Skelton, who died when hit by an IED while serving in Iraq one year beforehand. Skelton's cousins Bryan Skelton, left, and his father Keith Skelton. (Kit Doyle)

A not-for-profit organization committed to raising money to erect signs for fallen soldiers throughout the state is close to becoming reality.

When that happens, Ross Gartman, a Delta businessman and former member of the National Guard in Cape Girardeau, believes more than 105 servicemen and women will have signs erected in their honor by 2012 Heroes Way Interstate Designation Program.

"There's no doubt in my mind we will get this non-profit set up," Gartman said. "There's no doubt in my mind that we'll get these fundraisers started throughout the state. Within two years I'm confident we'll have these signs paid for and up."

Signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, the Heroes Way Interstate Designation Program allows relatives of those who died in military service in Afghanistan or Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, to request a sign bearing the soldier's name to be placed along an interstate interchange. A fee of $2,200 covers the cost of maintenance and two signs placed alongside an exit near the fallen soldier's hometown.

Nearly $13,000 has been donated so far.

The first fundraiser was Feb. 6, when Gordonville Grill donated a portion of its sales to the program. Donations of $700 from customers at Gordonville Grill and an anonymous gift of $2,200 were among the $5,700 raised that day. Eight car dealerships in the area soon donated $275.

On March 13 and 14 the Grill Sergeants and Christ Lutheran Church of Gordonville raised $4,000 from sales of 300 pork butts and shoulders.

Four Southeast Missouri fallen soldiers will be honored with signs at various Interstate 55 interchanges by Memorial Day, Gartman said. They are Staff Sgt. Brad Skelton of Gordonville, whose sign will be placed alongside exit 96; Cpl. Jeremy Shank of Jackson, whose sign will be near Center Junction, exit 99; Sgt. Robert Davis of Jackson, whose sign will be near Fruitland, exit 105; and Spc. Blake Hall of East Prairie, Mo., whose sign will be at exit 58, near Charleston, Mo.

The next step is raising funds for other qualifying soldiers in Missouri. Gartman said money already raised will be placed in a fund that will be managed through the not-for-profit organization.

Until the organization is formed, Gartman said, future fundraisers are on hold. But Gartman said all that remains for the organization to be created is for a lawyer to finalize paperwork.

At that point Gartman and others will meet with county officials and businessmen to raise awareness of the program.

"Hopefully we can get this done quickly," Gartman said. "It's a worthy cause to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

243-6635

Pertinent address:

2626 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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