Roseville dedicates memorial to fallen first responders

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published October 11, 2013

 Members of the Roseville Police Honor Guard unveil Roseville’s Fallen Heroes Monument Oct. 6 at City Hall.

Members of the Roseville Police Honor Guard unveil Roseville’s Fallen Heroes Monument Oct. 6 at City Hall.

Photo by Sean Work

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ROSEVILLE — City officials and volunteers unveiled the Roseville Fallen Heroes Memorial Oct. 6 on the north side of City Hall.

The event featured an honor guard of police and firefighters, a bagpiper and appearances from Mayor John Chirkun, Police Chief James Berlin and Fire Chief Mike Holland.

Bob Woonton, a firefighter with Roseville and the man who spearheaded the project, said that though construction started in June, the ball started rolling on the memorial about two and a half years ago, when he had finished work on the Macomb County Fallen Heroes memorial.

“I was one of the founders of that one, and I was working at the (Roseville) Fire Department and said ‘Roseville needs one,’” Woonton said.

Along with his young son Bobby, Woonton said he started working with the leaders of the Police and Fire departments, along with former City Manager Steve Truman, in order to get a spot for the memorial set up.

City Manager Scott Adkins said Woonton had really spearheaded the project with limited involvement from Roseville’s city government.

“The city’s involvement was primarily allowing for the memorial to be placed on the municipal complex,” Adkins said. “We also helped facilitate some of the planning and engineering for the site, as far as site placement.”

Adkins said the city also served as the third-party clearinghouse for donations going to the memorial project. Other than that, he said it has largely been the responsibility of Woonton and the Roseville Fallen Heroes Committee. The committee included firefighters Woonton, Will Ciner and Mike Junga, and police Sgt. Kevin Witherspoon, among others.

Woonton said the memorial was designed by Frank Blowers and features the names of the four police officers — Lawrence Cooney, who died in 1937; William Oliver, who died in 1937; Albert DeSmet, who died in 1987; and Robert Young, who died in 1978 — and three firefighters — Edwin Harris Sr., who died in 1964; James Mitchell, who died in 1968; and Joseph Riesterer Jr., who died in 1977 — who have died in the line of duty while serving the city.

The firefighter side of the memorial features Woonton’s son holding his fire helmet while surrounded by two other firefighters.

“I wanted to show that it affects family members, not just the department,” Woonton said. “That’s what I was going for with the memorial. To get a personal side to it, if you will.”

Woonton, his son, contractor Harold Burgett, Steve Haudek and others worked on the memorial itself, and Woonton’s daughter, Katie, designed the memorial flag for it.

Woonton said that the committee originally wanted the memorial to be complete for Sept. 11, but the committee found that it did not have enough money raised to complete it. One more fundraising push secured the money, but with work starting in June, the timetable was simply too short.

Since the city had a Fire Department open house planned for Oct. 6, Woonton said the committee believed it would be a good idea for an alternative date to try and get some of the crowd from there.

Fire Chief Mike Holland said the firefighters were happy and excited to see the memorial in place.

“It reminds us of our responsibilities to our firefighters, and making sure they don’t end up on that wall,” Holland said.

Police Chief James Berlin said his department was quite pleased with how the memorial turned out, recognizing those “who have gone before.” He said that the support from the community was gratifying and surprising to the staff, adding that often they feel like there is animosity between the police and the general public, and the memorial reminded them that people do not wish ill on officers.

Adkins said that the committee had done “a great job” getting the memorial in place.

“I think it’s a great project. It’s a great way to symbolize the sacrifices that were made by our public safety civil servants,” Adkins said. “It was a long time in the making, and maybe longer than we’d like to see, but in the end, it was great to see this project come to fruition, and it’s a great way to honor those who have served.”

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