If you run into Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch, you’d better have $35 in your hand.

That’s the cost of a fundraiser for the William R. Gaines Jr. Veterans Memorial Park scheduled Saturday. Deutsch, who has championed the park from an idea born to him three years ago, wants everyone in Charlotte County to attend.

“This park will have national significance,” Deutsch said.

Before I tell you about the fundraiser, which will have live music and food and is scheduled for the American Legion Post 103 on Taylor Road in Punta Gorda, let me tell you more about the park.

The park is formerly Sunrise Park and is located on Edgewater Drive in Port Charlotte. It honors Gaines, a U.S. Marine who died in the 1983 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Beirut, and all veterans and first responders.

The park is a work in progress, but when it is done it could/should be a major attraction. Hopes and dreams include a 50-foot monument called the Beirut Peacekeeper Memorial Tower. I was able to see a rendering of it that should be available to the public later this month. It is pretty impressive.

The county has invested $1.55 million from 2009 sales tax revenues that were never spent. That will cover road work, trails and a family pavilion with more work on the park planned in the future.

That work will include the tower — made up of 241 rods for each of those killed in 1983 plus six others for previously killed in action. There will be floating panels that represent the Marine headquarters that was bombed. The main support column represents the Marine position overlooking headquarters. You will be able to look up through the monument for an unusual view of light through the rods.

Besides the tower, Deutsch has hopes for a first responders museum that will be just a few hundred feet away. When that could be built depends almost entirely on fundraising.

Deutsch realizes he can’t saddle the county with the whole bill. That is why he is passing the hat to everyone he knows. He has already collected donations of more than $1,000 from each of his fellow county commissioners. He has also been able to get checks from several major businesses in Charlotte County. He also hopes for money from the state Legislature and the federal government.

Saturday’s fundraiser is the first step toward raising the needed money.

It sounds like a good time. There will be food catered and donated by Stackes Comfortable Food and Beef O’ Brady’s, live music by the BoogieMen, who are jamming for free as they often do for charitable events. It all starts at 3 p.m.

I’m sure Stephen R. will dance for you even with his new, still-swollen knee if you give a nice donation to the park.

Deutsch has high hopes for what the park will mean to Charlotte County, veterans and first responders.

“I want this to be an education for kids and tie it all in to the first responders museum so kids can see the sacrifice others have made for our way of life,” he said.

Pulitzer Prize winner John Hackworth is commentary editor of the Sun newspapers. You may contact him at jhackworth@sun-herald.com.


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