AURORA, MO — Veterans Park Memorial was built by a man who served in the Army, but once he left the military, his work was far from over.
Kenneth Ackley spent 13 years, and thousands of dollars to honor his comarades.
“When I first started out, it was really tough. I worked from 7 o’ clock in the morning to 9 o’clock at night,” says Ackley.
For Ackley, that work started after seeing another veterans memorial in Lebanon, and he wanted to replicate that in Aurora.
“I come back and told my American Legion people, ‘We can build this down here,’ and they all said, ‘No you can’t.’ I said, ‘Well I’m going to go down here and build it myself anyway.’ I want to salute my buddies,” Ackley explains.
Ackley started the memorial from the ground up with help from many in the community.
“I started off with zero and I’ve raised every bit of the money through donations, grants, selling these bricks. I’ve got 1,134 bricks in here so far,” Ackley says.
Each one honoring veterans past and present, but those grants and donations only got him so far. He eventually had to dig into his own funds to make the memorial into what he thought veterans deserved.
“I’ve got $45,000 out of my own pocket invested in this project because I was scared it wasn’t going to get done,” says Ackley.
Sharon Groesbeck is an Aurora resident who has given the 83-year-old Army vet a hand with groundskeeping, and she says his dedication is incredible.
“This is his life. This is what he lives for is this memorial, and he puts his own money in the flags, and any veterans who do not have a headstone, he buys that out of his own pocket,” says Groesbeck.
No branch of the military is left out, and vets from every war are represented. Even police officers, firefighters, and EMT’s have their own memorial.
After pouring over a decade of work into the masterpiece of military memory, he proved those wrong who thought creating it was impossible.
“I showed them I could do it,” Ackley says.
For all her help with the memorial, Ackley even bought Groesbeck a brick commemorating her father who served in the Navy.
Groesbeck says the gesture moved her to tears, and that the community can’t repay him enough for his work.