Memorial honors fallen VS firefighter

Jill Meier/Journal Editor

A new garden memorial at Cassady Park in Valley Springs honors fallen firefighter Steve Ackerman, who died in 1995 fighting a house fire in Brandon. Jill Meier/BV Journal
A portion of the memorial was donated by Steve's classmates, the Brandon Valley High School class of 1995. Jill Meier/BV Journal
A new memorial is now in place in Valley Springs’ Cassady Park honoring one of its own.
The Steve Ackerman Memorial Garden was completed just in time for  Booster Days in July and welcomes park visitors.
The tribute honors the late Steve Ackerman, a Valley Springs volunteer firefighter who died April 12, 2015, while fighting a house fire in Brandon. The fatal fire also claimed the life of the homeowner, David Smith, 47.
Ackerman’s father, Marv, said the memorial symbolizes the type of community servant his son was.
“I was thinking about that this morning – how active he was in the community, no matter what,” Ackerman said, perched in the shaded comfort of the memorial. 
“A day like today (Booster Days), when they’re out having fun, things needed to be done, and Steve was always pitching in to help whatever he could. A few years ago, we had that ice storm go through all the trees and such go down. It was just nothing for him, he would drop everything to go help, that’s just the way he was.”
But the memorial, he adds, was not built to only honor his son. 
“This was for Steve, but it was designed – and hopefully this happens down the road – to be added onto and expanded, that’s why we picked this area,” he explains. “You see, it’s split into three different sections, and it was designed that way for a reason, like if the American Legion, for example, wanted to put in a memorial for fallen veterans, it can easily be expanded. Hopefully it will expand from here, and this is a start.”
Visitors to the memorial, which was placed on the east side of the park, are welcomed by a slate stone walkway that was constructed by Brandon landscape designer, Chris Myers of Earthscapes. The flowers in the planters, Marv adds, were supplied by Oakridge Nursery and Landscaping. Both companies, he said, have former ties to his son, Steve.
“We got ahold of Chris because my son Steven ran track with one of Chris’ brothers. We knew the family and knew he was in business,” Marv tells. “We had an idea of what we wanted, but we just needed somebody to fine tune it, and we had the flowers done by Oakridge Nursery – the boys out there – because Steve also ran track with them.”
Myers and Oakridge both went above and beyond of what was asked of them, Ackerman said. 
“The (walkway) wasn’t part of it, which is why I said he went above and beyond. He had this part (the circular memorial) done and I came home the night it was finished and I sat out on the street, and I thought, it’s really nice, but there’s something missing. It needed an entrance, so I called him and he came up with some ideas, and this was one of them.”
Myers said he simply wanted to help.
“We knew the family pretty well, both my brother and I, and we wanted to do our part to make it affordable and make it a place to sit and gather around,” Myers said. “And I wanted it to be something that everybody would be proud of and enjoy.”
While the memorial was the family’s vision, friends, classmates and the community also contributed in bringing the memorial to fruition.
Steve’s classmates - Brandon Valley High’s Class of 1995 – collected money for the memorial during their 2015 reunion, which funded the stone that’s positioned in the middle of the circle. Unused greenspace funding from the city and contributions from both the Valley Springs Fire Department and the town’s Community Club, along with memorial money, covered the cost.
“It cost us a lot of money but it was well worth it,” Marv says. “We were thinking about doing a memorial because the city had the greenspace project started and it just wasn’t going anywhere and there was a little money there that had been donated, so my wife and I and the family, we talked about it and this was something we decided we wanted to pursue. At that time, we thought it was going to be up on Main Street (Broadway Avenue) and the city had since decided against putting it there because they were going to sell the lot they were going to use, so I approached them about putting it here in the park and they were very favorable to that, and so we proceeded. About that time, it came up that they were going to have the stone done, so everything kind of fell into place.”
Valley Springs Mayor Carl Moss said he and his Commission peers were fully supportive of the memorial and placing it in Cassady Park.
“He basically made us all stop and think about putting a memorial up,” Moss said. “We had an idea of where we wanted it and we kind sat on it for a couple years and then finally Marv said, ‘Let’s get something done,’ and we made that final push to move it forward.”
A dedication is forthcoming for the memorial, however, that date has not yet been scheduled, Marv said.
“I kind of want the (Brandon Valley) Class of 1995 that donated the rock to have them take charge of it, so we’re kind of going by that right now,” he said.


The Brandon Valley Journal


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Brandon, SD 57005
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