SHALIMAR — About this time next year, a contract to establish a monument at Veterans Park on Okaloosa Island to honor women who serve or have served in various military branches and service groups could be ready for the Okaloosa County Commission’s consideration.
The monument, suggested by District 2 Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, received the board’s unanimous support Tuesday.
“We have an opportunity to do something very special in Okaloosa County,” Ketchel said. “Florida is home to the second-largest population of women veterans after Washington, D.C.”
The monument will feature eight to 10 bronze, life-size statues of women, with the honorees to be recommended by a committee. One conceptual proposal calls for the statues to be set up at intervals along the park’s boardwalks.
The 17-acre park adjacent to the Emerald Coast Convention Center contains a great blue heron rookery and is home to other wildlife.
County officials plan to use county bed tax money and private donations to pay for the monument, estimated to cost up to $717,000. The memorial could be established at the same time several other big changes are made to the park.
The other changes include construction of a large dock with boat slips on Choctawhatchee Bay, construction of upland, elevated boardwalks, stabilization of the bay’s shoreline and installation of educational signs about the park’s plants and animals. A mix of local, state and federal funds could pay for those changes, which have an estimated cost of $4.5 million to $8 million.
The monument for women who serve or have served the nation was the focus of attention at Tuesday’s commission meeting in Shalimar.
“It’s just a no-brainer,” Air Force veteran Lisa Jo Spencer of Mary Esther told commissioners. “It’s going to draw more folks here. Why not honor the women whose shoulders I am proud to stand on?”
County Tax Collector Ben Anderson said the monument will serve as a tourist attraction to active-duty military members and military veterans from around the world. County School Board member Diane Kelley said it “will leave a legacy we can be proud of.”
There is nothing like the monument anywhere in the United States, said a member of DAG Architects, which is working with the county on the overall park upgrades.
Commissioner Nathan Boyles said the monument should include recognition of the “underappreciated” and “uncompensated role of military spouses.” After he suggested the county seek private funding to help pay for the monument, a self-described military spouse stood up and pledged $1,000 to the cause.