CORCORAN — Before he passed away four months ago, Art Nolen, a Vietnam veteran from Corcoran, had a longtime dream of bringing a veterans memorial park to the city. That dream is finally going to become a reality thanks in part to Kings County Supervisor Richard Valle.
On Nov. 8, Valle presented a $1 million check to the city of Corcoran during the annual “Salute to Veterans” banquet.
The money is a portion of the $11 million that Kings County received in a settlement with High Speed Rail to mitigate the impacts of the rail alignment.
While Supervisor Doug Verboon spearheaded the settlement talks with the Rail Authority, Valle attended one of the meetings and took the opportunity to ask for the $1 million to beautify the northeast entrance of Corcoran.
Valle said the northeast area is closest to the alignment and has become blighted with boarded-up houses where people once lived but had to leave due to the high speed rail.
Pat Nolen, Art Nolen’s wife and vice mayor for the city of Corcoran, said a few days before her husband took a turn for the worse with his health, she told him about the money that was secured for the memorial.
“He was so happy, he was dancing around and very excited,” Nolen said.
Nolen said her husband always told her that if he won the lottery, he would build a veterans park and a shelter for the homeless veterans in Corcoran. She said he called them “my veterans” and they always fed the homeless veterans and made sure they were warm in the colder months.
Nolen said her husband was so dedicated to local veterans, he would wake her up in the middle of the night with ideas for how he could help them. Eventually she put a pen and paper next to his bed and one morning she found that he had scribbled “vets saluting vets dinner.”
That idea was 13 years ago, and the “Salute to Veterans” banquet has only grown since. With her husband gone, Nolen felt it was important to keep the tradition going.
“I had to do it,” she said.
Nolen asked Valle to be the keynote speaker, and he knew it would be the perfect time to unveil the check.
When the check was finally unveiled, Valle said the audience of 300 gasped and fell silent before the information sunk in and they began clapping.
“It was a really nice moment,” Valle said, adding the former chairman of the High Speed Rail and another board member were in attendance.
While it was bittersweet and sad that Art Nolen wasn’t at this year’s dinner to witness the unveiling of the check, his wife said they were able to honor him and she was happy that he did know about the money before he passed.
“I felt like he was with me,” Nolen said of the energy at the dinner.
Art Nolen had the idea of a veterans memorial park for several years, but there was never funding. Valle said Nolen wanted the community to have a place where they could gather and remember loved ones who served in the armed forces.
Valle, a six-year Marine veteran whose father, Ruben Flores, was a WWII veteran, said he knows that many veterans like to leave something behind so their families can remember their service.
“I feel good about doing this for my brothers and sisters in arms,” Valle said.
As it turns out, the city of Corcoran already owns a piece of land on the northeast side of the community with plans to build a park there. The city will donate part of that land to build the veterans memorial — which will be the first thing people see when they enter the city.
With that part of the plan in place, Valle hopes to move forward with building the best veteran memorial park in the entire state — something that will attract visitors from all over to the area and be the pride of Kings County.
Valle said he wants something that will be magnificent symbol of service that honors veterans and shows them how much the community appreciates them.
Plans for the memorial may start early next year and will include the establishment of an advisory committee to hammer out the details.
Nolen said she still has a whole list if ideas her husband wanted for the park. She said she hopes the memorial will honor vets from every war era, especially Vietnam, since there are around 300 Vietnam vets who reside in Corcoran.
“I’m just so excited about this park,” Nolen said.
Valle wanted to thank his fellow Kings County Supervisors for all they did during the settlement negotiations. Verboon, a leader in protecting the county during the High Speed Rail alignment, was also in attendance at the banquet and check unveiling.
Verboon, who has family from Corcoran dating back many years — 12 of which were veterans — said it was good to come to an agreement with the rail alignment and that he was glad to be a part of this exciting announcement for the community, especially after the rail displaced people in Corcoran.