Groundbreaking ceremony marks beginning of construction on veterans cemetery in Ardmore

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com
Members of the 180th Cavalry Regiment observe the plans for the new Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery during a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 11.

State and local officials took their shovels in hand Friday morning to break ground on a new state veterans cemetery near the Ardmore Veterans Center. 

The ceremony marked the beginning of construction on phase one of the project, which Joel Kinstel, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, said is expected to be complete within 18 months. 

“It’s a phased project that will play out probably over the next 50 years, but we’re starting with the first phase,” Kinstel said. “It’ll be beautifully landscaped and befitting of a veterans cemetery.” 

The Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration awarded a $7.3 million grant to the state of Oklahoma in October in order for the state to begin construction on the first phase of the project. 

“It’s a federal project in terms of the funding, there’s no state match requirement, which that’s good because right now the budget situation is tight,” Kinstel said. “So we’re grateful to be able to do this, even in a year where the economic situation is challenging.”

Phase one will have accommodations for around 2,100 veterans, and will include the construction of the main entrance, a memorial walkway, assembly area, administration building, maintenance facility and other infrastructure needed for the cemetery to expand. 

Once complete, the cemetery will provide space for more than 25,000 burial accommodations for veterans and their eligible family members. The cemetery will also be the first veterans cemetery to be operated by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“I think it is going to be something that is beautiful and honors the veterans of Oklahoma in the 75 mile radius. That’s kind of how it’s designed, it's based on 75 miles,” Kinstel said. “That’s a reasonable distance families can travel to visit a loved one buried here.”

Ceremonial groundbreaking participants dig into dirt on the plot of land that will become the Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery, located in Ardmore. The participants included officials from various veterans organizations, state representatives and Ardmore city officials.

Oklahoma Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs Ben Robinson said the cemetery will be a place to honor veterans long after their passing, but also a special place for their families and their friends. 

“Today is not just about honoring that veteran, it is about honoring the family of that veteran so they will have a place of peace and quiet and comfort," Robinson said. "They will be able to come and honor that veteran for as many decades as that family wants to."

State Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, and former Rep. Pat Ownbey authored the legislation to create the cemetery and joined many others in celebrating the beginning of construction on Friday. 

“This is very, very special to me. Pat Ownbey and I worked hard with the local community,” Simpson said. “This is going to be a place where families can come and honor their loved ones, remember their loved ones, pay tribute to their loved ones, and I’m so proud that the Ardmore community has committed themselves to ensuring that this project is a success.” 

Simpson commended Ardmore city officials’ collaboration on the project, many of which helped break ground on the new cemetery. Ardmore Mayor Doug Pfau said he is very excited for the project and is proud that it is taking place in the local community. 

“As someone who grew up here and was raised here, and knows what the veterans center has meant in this community and how Oklahoma feels about their veterans — I’m just excited that this is happening here in our neighborhood and we get to house this wonderful place,” Pfau said. 

After years of preparatory work, Kintsel said it felt good to finally get to break ground on the project and expressed his gratitude for everyone who has contributed to making the project happen. 

“Everything we do is a team effort and it’s my privilege to get to come out and talk about it and lead the ceremony, but really there is a whole team of people that have worked very hard to get this to this point today,” Kintsel said. 

Joel Kintsel, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, addresses the crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Oklahoma Veterans Cemetery on Dec. 11.