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(Sparks, Nevada) – The year was 2014. While working on the South East Connector bridge in Sparks, NV, City Councilman Ron E. Smith had the idea of adding flags along the regional roadway to honor U.S. military veterans. The six-lane connector would intersect Veterans Parkway on the south, and it seemed a fitting addition to the project.
Smith spoke to a fellow Naval veteran and member of Rotary International, Bill De Carbonel, and the idea began to grow into creating something special that would memorialize the names of fallen soldiers in a more dynamic way. As fate would have it, Kristopher Dahir was running for a seat in the five-member council for the first time. He would become great friends with Councilman Smith (who would later be elected the Mayor of Sparks in 2018). Dahir would be vital in the formation of the non-profit organization that would develop a Veterans Memorial Plaza to not only honor and serve the many Nevada veterans who sacrificed for our country but also educate coming generations on why it is important to remember them.
The two men were alike in many ways, and Councilman Smith was eager to mentor Kristopher. They began to share life stories and quickly discovered their similarities. Both were dedicated family men, married to their wives for decades and were prone to doting on their children.
When it came to fulfilling their civic responsibilities, both men were avidly committed to serving others. Dahir had followed a calling on his life that started at the early age of eight and began pastoring at the age of nineteen. He still remains a pastor thirty years later. In addition to this vocation, Kristopher is a professor, a Rotarian, and the president of a local Bible college, amongst many other service-related positions. Smith served on many local boards and commissions, as well, and continually pushed for better transportation and infrastructure within the city of Sparks to better the lives of the citizens there.
Another common strength between the two men was the ability to enthusiastically raise funds for worthy causes. The pair would travel all over their region to speak and present the need for funding to complete the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza (NVMP).
“Ron was so passionate about getting the Plaza built. He was a United States Navy Veteran that served in Vietnam. When we would present, he would get choked up and start crying. I would always end up finishing the conversation.” Councilman Dahir remembers fondly. “We laughed about that. Here I am, the sensitive and caring pastor, and he’s the one crying all the time. It just meant that much to him.”
Although both men were skilled in fundraising, there were many hills to climb in garnering the money to construct the plaza the way the team of board members envisioned it. Over the next eight years, they would experience a roller coaster of emotions. At one point, they were under the impression that they had a large donation from a foundation, only to be disappointed when told later that they decided ‘not to get into the memorial business’.
After the architectural plans had been drawn up, prior to them starting construction, a major flood occurred revealing that the site was in a flood zone. Mitigating the issues that would arise in that location would cost millions of additional dollars. The director of parks of the City of Sparks approached the foundation with an idea to move the plaza to the Sparks Marina. This offer was incredible, as they now had a new long term lease in an ideal, highly-trafficked area, however they would have to restart the process and repay their architects. By this time, many people had already donated and even bought bricks to contribute to the project. The pressure to deliver was monumental.
Once they commenced construction at Sparks Marina Park all efforts were intensified. The park boasts a 77 acre Helms Lake, which is one of the best public swimming holes in the area. Fishing is permitted along the pier, and comfortable picnic areas are plentiful. Boating and scuba diving are just a couple of the recreational activities enjoyed by visitors to the area.
Just as it seemed that things were beginning to fall into place and move forward, Mayor Ron E. Smith was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. Although he was facing the biggest fight of his life, Smith never stopped working. While undergoing chemotherapy, Mayor Smith never missed a beat, according to his daughter, Jennifer Carvalho. In fact, he only missed one Sparks City Council meeting throughout his two-year battle with cancer. Remaining steadfast in his determination to see his vision through, Mayor Ron Smith continued to help and work to fundraise for the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza.
In the meantime, the world came to an unimaginable standstill in March of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic struck. This meant no more fundraising presentations. No more meetings. People were in shock and struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy. Donations ground to a halt for months on end.
Mayor Ronald E. Smith succumbed to pancreatic cancer on August 19, 2020 after a lifetime of service to others. He passed peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family.
“I often say that I am carrying another man’s flag. The NVMP was truly the heart and mind of Ron and so many of the people on our team. I will do all that I can to assure that it is completed correctly,” Councilman Kristopher Dahir states emotionally.
Kristopher and the board members knew that they were at a place that they could not stop. They were focused on honoring the promises that had made to the community, and Dahir refused to allow Mayor Smith’s intentions to be tainted in any way. It was going to happen, one way or another.
Q&D Construction, a multi-faceted general contractor with exceptional experience in all areas of commercial building since their inception in 1964, reached out to the NVMP team. They told Councilman Dahir that they wanted to take the project on, and they would do so whether the foundation had the money yet or not. This was the miracle everyone had been waiting on.
Councilman Dahir and the team forged forward with three major goals in mind. The first was to honor Nevada’s fallen service men and women from all branches of military since 1864. The second goal was to use the NVMP to educate future generations on what it means to sacrifice for the freedoms we all currently enjoy as American citizens. Thirdly, the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza is created to be a gift to veteran groups and provide a safe place to gather for ceremonies, awards, simple reflection and enjoyment. These honored groups will never be required to pay to use the facility.
In honor of Mayor Ronald E. Smith, the plaza will include the Ron E. Smith Education Path. This is an essential part of the building plan and sets the NVMP apart from many existing veteran memorial structures. It will be a walking path that will surround the plaza, featuring several kiosks that will highlight Americas involvement in wars and the journey of Nevada becoming a state up until preset day. This education path will be a fantastic learning tool for generations to come.
The Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza has been a true labor of love for all involved. Every person who works for NVMP is a volunteer, with only one part-time paid employee. The donors have been the backbone of the entire project, with one family donating $250,000 as a matching gift this past December 2021. $700,000 has already been spent to get the memorial to its current state, and the ultimate goal is to raise another $500,000 before its completion.
On June 23rd, 2022 the 6th annual fundraising dinner will be held at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, NV. The purpose of the dinner is to celebrate the completion of the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza, honor the memorials that are already functioning throughout Nevada, and show how the NVMP will be joining in their legacy of honor. There are expected to be 400-500 people in attendance, including veterans, community supporters, elected officials, business owners and concerned citizens. Many dynamic speakers will take the stage, and there will be live entertainment throughout the night. A silent auction will also be held. Everyone is invited to attend the event with the costs of tickets starting at $150 for an individual or $1000 for a sponsored table of eight people.
If you would like to purchase tickets for the dinner or sponsor a table, there is still plenty of time to do so. NVMP is also requesting donation gifts to be offered during the silent auction. There are many ways to support the foundation. For more information on different levels of sponsorship, how to be included on the donor wall, and further details regarding the Nevada Veterans Memorial Plaza, please visit http://nvmp.us or call (775) 235-6885.