Sign marking location of Paul J. Cochran Veterans Memorial Park
A sign on the corner of North 16th and College marks the location of the future park. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

A veterans memorial park planned for the corner of North 16th and College streets that will carry the name of a Philomath High graduate killed in Vietnam took a step closer to reality last week with the city receiving official word that it had been awarded a $50,500 grant.

The money comes from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department through the Veteran and War Memorials grant program. The money must go toward the cost of creating a memorial, which could be a statue or sculpture, and includes any ground or concrete work in that specific area of the park.

“I’m excited for Philomath to see this project move forward and for the family,” said Chelsea Starner, assistant to the Philomath city manager. “I know it’s been a long wait for them and I think it’s going to be a really great addition to the adjacent downtown area.”

The site of the future park, which is approximately one-eighth of an acre in size, was donated to the city by Beverly Durham, who died in August 2018. The gift did come with conditions, including that it would serve as a memorial to Paul Jefferey Cochran, the son that she lost in Vietnam in 1968.

Former mayor Eric Niemann, who has been involved with the project since its inception, said he talked to Shane Fritz, Cochran’s sister, on Monday afternoon.

“She admittingly said she became teary-eyed at the news that her brother would be remembered in this way and this grant meant a lot to her and the whole Cochran family,” Niemann said.

Niemann initiated the idea of a veterans memorial in town before the Durham property donation even occurred. The city first applied for the 2021 grant cycle but the pandemic intervened and no awards were given.

“I’m happy that some of the in-kind donations and other donors who stepped forward at that time refreshed their commitments towards this followup grant application that we ultimately won,” he said.

Niemann believes an important component of the successful grant application came down to community involvement.

“In this case, certainly with the property and some of the other in-kind donations available, I think it clearly showed them that Philomath was certainly going to meet them halfway,” he said.

In all, the state awarded four grants totaling $169,671 to create or preserve memorials to veterans or wars. The awards range from $12,552 to $57,919. The city submitted its grant application on Dec. 8.

Besides the Philomath project, others receiving funding included a City Hall memorial in Aumsville, Phase 2 of a memorial in Happy Valley and adding a memorial to a flag site in a Prairie City cemetery.

The design of the Philomath veterans memorial has not yet been determined but there have been conversations about the possibilities. Both Niemann and Starner connected with a local artist who has done other work in town. During a park board meeting, Starner described a proposal from the artist as unique with a sculpture of an eagle in a nest with a pillar where memorial plaques could be placed. The suggestion will likely be among those under consideration.

“In April, I plan to have the Park Advisory Board discuss the grant portion and what they would like to see or how they would like the process to go to come up with a design for the statue/sculpture,” Starner said.

The grant comes with a deadline of Dec. 31, 2023.

“Eric Niemann has been kind of a champion of this part going in and so I’ve reached out to him so that he can make some contacts about the next step of moving forward with the sculpture or statue that will go in the park,” Starner said. “We want to involve the groups that have been providing input and offered volunteer time, and will be consulting with them as well.”

The park’s construction as a whole is included in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan and identified as a priority project in the Parks and Trails Master Plan that was recently adopted. At a Jan. 13 meeting, the Park Advisory Board during a Strategic Plan discussion finalized its suggestions for priority projects, which included completion of the park’s design and construction.

A draft Capital Improvement Plan, which will be among the discussion points for the Public Works Committee on Tuesday, shows the cost of the park in its entirety at $248,000 with that money coming out of park funds raised through system development charges. The veterans memorial grant requires a 50% match.

A preliminary park design had been done, although it did not include any real specifics on features. The city recently completed a neighborhood survey to collect feedback from area residents.

Starner said that based on those results, the park design will be updated.

“We’re reworking that based on a couple of things that the neighborhood said they’d like to see, particularly more seating areas and maybe a little more landscaping,” Starner said. “So we’re going to be working on getting that worked up and a plan drafted so we’ll be able to go out to bid to have the park built.”

Past conversations have taken place with a local member of the Timber Framers Guild about the possibility of helping with the construction of a gazebo. A few other elements could also be included in the park’s overall final design. For example, Park Advisory Board member Lindy Young mentioned at a recent meeting that the Philomath Rotary Club expressed interest in putting up a “peace pole.”

The city hopes to see a groundbreaking for the new park during the 2022-23 fiscal year.

“I don’t know if it will be this calendar year or not but it is the intention in the next fiscal year to get going on that, particularly because we will have a deadline to get the statue in and there needs to be work done around that to have a place for that to be,” Starner said.

Cochran, who preferred to be called by his middle name, moved to Philomath during the summer of 1964. He spent his junior and senior years at Philomath High School and was among 72 graduates in the Class of 1966. Cochran lived in the home at North 16th and College with his grandparents.

In November 1966, Cochran enlisted in the U.S. Army and 18 months later, he was killed in action at age 20 while serving with the 101st Airborne Division. Cochran’s mother, Beverly Durham, later came into possession of the home.

“We’ve waited quite a while and these things don’t come easy,” Niemann said. “From my point of view, this is a love story between a mother and a son and Beverly Durham wants to honor her son, Jeff Cochran, in this way and so I think it’s incumbent on us to see it through.”

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.