NewsArizona News


Coolidge military park torn down; veteran searching for new home

Posted at 10:27 PM, Feb 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-08 00:34:48-05

COOLIDGE, AZ — Oscar Rodriguez has dedicated his life outside of service to honoring others.

The Army Veteran served in Vietnam, and lost a good friend just after returning home.

That loss, inspiring him to create a memorial unlike any other in the small town of Coolidge, Arizona.

"When I started it was just for family members and friends," said Rodriguez. "People passing by would ask me what I was doing, and I would tell them and they said they had family members in the service. So, I told them bring their information down and I would put them on the wall too.”

Slowly but surely, the wall grew to display almost 500 names of service men and women from all branches, living all across the U.S.

"A lady from the city asked me what was going to happen to the wall when I passed, and I told her I didn't know," said Rodriguez.

That question sparked the initial offer to move his memorial to a public place. The city of Coolidge offering up a space in San Carlos Park. Later, the foundation behind the Artisan Village of Coolidge stepped up, offering Rodriguez a section of their property to build an entire park to honor veterans and active military personnel.

"I used to go there every day, he added. "It took me 4 months. 12 hours a day to build that park out there.”

Rodriguez not only re-locating the wall displaying names and photos of honorable veterans, but building out a surrounding area where the community could gather and remember.

"That park was a healing place," said Michael Rodriguez, Oscars' son. "It helped my dad with PTSD. I heard people say it was the only place they felt they could truly remember their loved ones."

In 2018, the Coolidge Performing Arts Center Foundation, who operates the Artisan Village, argued it had rights to the park. Rodriguez said they'd only keep it open during business hours, and closed on major holidays like Veterans and Memorial day.

ABC15 spoke to Mike Henry, president of the non-profit foundation over the phone, who says they asked for 30% of any donations made to be paid for upkeep of the park, disagreeing with Rodriguez's statement that they were demanding rent.

"When you have a park a military park for something to honor veterans, you don’t think of it to be making money," said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said he chose to take the foundation to court, arguing the park was not real property, but personal property, and therefore allowing him to move the park to another location to avoid any pressure regarding funds.

"I did it to honor the veterans and the family members and all that, this organization just wanted to destroy everything we did.”

A judge ruled it personal property, allowing Rodriguez to move pavers, and all other memorabilia within the newly built park back to his home, but forcing the destruction of the concrete area Rodriguez built to enclose the park.

Bulldozers arrived January 28 to tear down the outlying structure, a demolition Rodriguez says he couldn't bear to witness.

“I didn’t wanna see it come down. It was hard for me, after four and a half months of putting it up to have to see it come down."

Now, he's worked on rebuilding the memorial in his front yard, but hopes it's a temporary home until he can find a new location.

"Hopefully it’ll be a lot bigger, a lot more that people can enjoy and people to go there just to reminisce," said Rodriguez. "We've already been getting calls from people who say they can hardly wait to see the new one, so I cannot let them down. Before I die I have to do it.”