Stillwater celebrates long-awaited armory

Members of the National Guard return to their positions after presenting colors for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the new Stillwater Readiness Center. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Members of the National Guard return to their positions after presenting colors for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the new Stillwater Readiness Center. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

When Minnesota Adjutant Gen. Rick Nash arrived at the armory in downtown Stillwater as a brand new 2nd lieutenant in 1976, there was already talk of replacing it.

“In 1976 they said, Lt. Nash, we’re going to build a new facility,” Nash said.

Four decades later, nearing the end of his career, Nash helped cut the ribbon at the National Guard’s newly opened Stillwater Readiness Center, a roughly $18 million facility finally replacing the 95-year-old downtown armory. Under a sunny sky on Friday, April 7, Nash addressed the crowd of National Guard members, community members and politicians at a ceremony celebrating the project’s completion.

“I’m looking forward to what can be accomplished in this state-of-the-art facility,” Nash said.

Crews broke ground on the  facility in 2014, and it was finished in February 2017. The approximately 80,000 square-foot building on Maryknoll Drive adjoins the new Stillwater Fire Station and will serve as an administrative and training center for the 34th Military Police Company and the 334th Engineer Battalion. It also has the ability to function as a city emergency management center for multiple agencies in the event of a natural disaster.

The building includes classroom space and a gymnasium that will be available for use by the fire department and community. The city of Stillwater is paying $42,500 for a sport court to be installed in the gym.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum honors Jean DeCurtins, of Stillwater, the last surviving member of the A&D Last Man’s Club formed by WWII veterans from the area. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
Congresswoman Betty McCollum honors Jean DeCurtins, of Stillwater, the last surviving member of the A&D Last Man’s Club formed by WWII veterans from the area. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

Congresswoman Betty McCollum told the crowd the project was only possible because various levels of government worked together.

“It was because of the teamwork … that we were able to do something that many communities are envious of,” she said.

The project was funded jointly by the state and federal governments, with the federal government providing $17 million. Stillwater purchased the site for the joint facility.

McCollum called the facility “an investment in today for our safety, and tomorrow for our security.”

Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski welcomed the Guard members to their new home, sharing some Stillwater history, as well as stories of Washington County residents’ military service dating back to the Civil War.

“Whenever this country has a tough job to do, they call on Minnesotans to get it done,” Kozlowski said.

From left, Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Maj. Gen. Rick Nash prepare to cut the ribbon marking the complation of the Stillwater Readiness Center April 7. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
From left, Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Maj. Gen. Rick Nash prepare to cut the ribbon marking the complation of the Stillwater Readiness Center April 7. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, McCollum, as well as state Rep. Kathy Lohmer and Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel, honored Jean DeCurtins, of Stillwater, a World War II veteran and the last surviving member of the A&D Last Man’s Club in Stillwater. The club was formed after area residents who served in World War II returned home. The idea was that members would meet until only one remained, and he was charged with toasting his comrades.

Inside the building, a historical display honors the history of military service in Stillwater. A number of large signs form a timeline telling the story of the National Guard in Stillwater, from militia companies formed in 1858 through the involvement of area Guard members in the Iraq war in the 2000s. Alongside the large signs are smaller ones featuring individuals from the St. Croix Valley. The small signs can be replaced periodically to highlight other individuals.

“It makes you so proud of the service members we have had over the years … and how pour community has served our country,” said Stillwater Councilmember Mike Polehna, who was a member of the committee that planned the display.

Members of the public got their first look at the display and the rest of the building during tours after the ribbon-cutting.

Dean Shepersky, of Woodbury, was among those who toured the facility. A retired lieutenant colonel, he served in the Marines and Army, and received the Bronze Star for valor during combat in the Korean War.

“I’m thrilled for our country, I’m thrilled for our state, and I’m thrilled for Stillwater that we have a place where young men and women can come learn to serve their country,” Shepersky said.

Staff Sgt. Ericka Frickson, who is currently a member of the National Guard, was also excited. She said it was a little sad to leave the history of the downtown building, but she agreed the new facility brings positive changes.

“It’s a beautiful building,” she said. “It’s a great place to work.”

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]

This story his been updated to reflect an updated quote for the sport court cost.