The $1 billion package of public infrastructure investments approved by state lawmakers earlier this year includes $250,000 for a mural and other improvements that will complete the Minnesota Workers Memorial Garden in St. Paul.
Construction of the memorial, located near the intersection of 12th and Cedar in the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds, wrapped up more than four years ago, and the structure was officially dedicated in August 2010.
But earlier appropriations from the Legislature, combined with more than $130,000 in contributions from individuals and unions, were not enough to adorn the flowing, wall-like structure with more than a pair of inscriptions.
Fortunately, supporters never stopped lobbying lawmakers to finish the job, most notably former Minnesota AFL-CIO President David Roe, who will turn 90 this fall.
“This wouldn’t have happened if David didn’t have the drive and tenacity to keep this in front of decision makers,” Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council President Harry Melander said. “It’s been 15 years of dedication to the cause.”
Roe, who served as a statewide labor leader until retiring in 1985, conceived the idea to build a workers memorial 15 years ago, along with the late Russ Fridley, former director of the Minnesota Historical Society.
The two men spearheaded private fundraising and lobbying efforts, and their work will be acknowledged with a plaque in front of the memorial. The plaque includes a favorite quote shared by Roe and Fridley: “They are not gone, we just do not see them.”
Melander will co-chair a committee charged with overseeing work on the mural with Roe’s daughter Judy Grudem and Louise Sundin, former president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
The guiding principle for the muralists will be simple. “This memorial remembers those people who went to work, but, unfortunately, didn’t make it home,” Melander said.
Since its dedication four years ago, the Workers Memorial Garden has served as the site of Building Trades unions’ ceremonies on Workers Memorial Day, and the memorial adds to an impressive array of previously dedicated memorials on the Capitol grounds.
“There’s no other state that has allocated as many areas as Minnesota has to memorials. It’s fantastic,” Roe said. “There isn’t anything like it in the United States, and, for goodness sake, there ought to be a memorial for those who have died building Minnesota.”
The memorial is not limited in scope to any trade or profession, but dedicated to any worker killed in the course of doing his or her job, Roe said. Donations poured in from unions and crafts of all kinds, including public employee units, teachers’ unions, industrial unions and labor councils.
Several other individuals, Roe said, had a hand in realizing the vision for a workers memorial, including former House Speaker Harry Sieben, lobbyist Harry Fleming and Dick Anfang, the former president of the state Building Trades Council.