The sturdy cedar tables were installed recently at the park that is dedicated to all those who have served, and are serving, in the U.S. military. The park is located at 34th Street South and 24th Avenue.
The tabletops are extra long, extending beyond the length of the benches, to allow the wheelchair to pull in under each end, “so anyone in a wheelchair can sit side-by-side” with others, said Tjellesen, a Grand Forks native and Red River High School Class of ‘20 graduate.
Not only does the project fulfill a requirement to earn the Eagle Scout designation, it also “meant a whole lot to me because it is benefitting some of these vets, especially disabled vets, who served for the nation, and anyone who might be left out without this sort of accommodation – that was really important to me,” he said.
Inspiration for the tables came from veterans who are “close to my family,” said Tjellesen, who designed and built them during his senior year in high school. He attends NDSU, where he is double-majoring in computer science and philosophy.
When he was first considering the project, Tjellesen said a family friend and Veterans Memorial Park board member, Bobby Beauchamp, suggested he meet with the VMP board, which ultimately approved the idea.
“I was in charge of ordering materials,” he said, estimating that the total cost amounted to “a few thousand dollars.”
It took a couple of months to plan the project, get the design approved and then, because of COVID and other scheduling demands, it took a while to finish it.
The tables have been in storage until installation.
Input and support
Tjellesen worked with Veterans Memorial Park board members to refine his plans for the picnic tables, meeting frequently with the group for ideas and support. The VMP board covered the cost of materials, lumber and wood stain, he said.
In designing and building the tables, Tjellesen drew from knowledge and skills gained as a member of the theater department’s technical crew at Red River High School.
Tjellesen credits fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 13, through Holy Family Church, for help on the project.
“I got some of my friends from the Boy Scouts along the way to help me out, and I got a lot of mentoring from various leaders from our group,” he said, including Scoutmaster Bobby Dusso.
“I couldn’t have really done all that I did without them – the members helped me with the building (of the tables) and, of course, the scoutmaster and adult leaders all are great people.”
Veterans Memorial Park will be officially dedicated in a ceremony Sept. 11, when it will be formally turned over to the Grand Forks Park District.
John Hanson, a co-founder of Veterans Memorial Park, and other park project leaders say they are pleased with the addition of the tables at the park.
“(Tjellesen) has made it possible for everyone to enjoy a picnic with family and friends,” said Hanson, commander of Grand Forks VFW Post 1874 and a past VFW state commander. “Because of his efforts, everyone can come and enjoy the park while relaxing at a picnic, then go to the (memorial) wall and see the history of veterans from the beginning of our nation …
“Alex has made this possible for the community and for anyone who stops by one of the shelters,” Hanson said. “This is proof of a young man paying forward, and his commitment to the community.”
The project for the Eagle Scout designation is meant not only to serve the community, but also to demonstrate leadership, said Tjellesen, whose experience in Scouting started early. He joined Cub Scouts in first grade – the earliest possible age to join – and Boy Scouts in sixth grade. That year he earned his first merit badge, in woodcarving.
“The Eagle Scout rank is only earned by the smallest percent of people who go through the Boys Scout organization, and so that distinction alone really goes to show the kind of dedication that it takes to earn the rank,” Tjellesen said.
“I really appreciate what the organization stands for and what it means to be an Eagle,” he said.
“During my Eagle Scout board review on my way to earn my rank, one of the board members said, ‘This is really just the beginning. Your Eagle Scout journey lasts throughout your lifetime.’
“Living by the code and the Scout law and Scout oath, it really helped shape me into what I am today.”
As he looked around Wednesday, July 7, at the tables he built, now awaiting visitors in shelters throughout the park, he said, “it means quite a lot to be part of this. There are a lot of vets in wheelchairs – and it’ll also be nice for others who are not wheelchair-bound.
“… I’m happy how they turned out.”