By Cheryl Conway
After 17 years of her hard work, dedication and effort, the founder and creator of the All Veterans Memorial in Budd Lake has been graciously honored and recognized.
Charlie Uhrmann, formerly of Hackettstown, received the 2022 Patriot of the Year award by Musconetcong Lodge #42 Free & Accepted Masons of the State of New Jersey. In fact, the Musconetcong Lodge dedicated its Citizen’s Award Night, held Wednesday, Oct. 26, to Uhrmann to recognize the decades of work she has given to Mt. Olive and American veterans.
The Musconetcong Lodge #42 F&A.M. holds the Citizen Award Night annually “to recognize those in our community who make the conscious effort to go above and beyond that what is normally expected of them.”
Uhrmann was selected for her “dedicated decades of services and high-spirited energy and creation of the All Veterans Memorial at Turkey Brook Park,” reads MW Robert V. Monacelli, grand master of Masons for the State of N.J. as he presents Uhrmann with the award. “She has culminated more than just a series of monuments. Her leadership, teamwork, vision and efforts to design and promote public awareness, involvement and support for all U.S. service members goes above and beyond reasonable limits and is held by us in the most highest ascend.”
Before he presented Uhrmann with her plaque, Monacelli speaks of her “vitality and brilliance. She is an amazing person,” he says.
“What she has accomplished at Turkey Brook Park is phenomenal,” he says. Just that past Saturday, he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. and says, ‘what a moment.’ Visiting the AVM at Turkey Brook Park “is a moment I will never forget.”
Monacelli says, “We can’t forget our veterans. We are here today because what they’ve done and the sacrifices they’ve made. Charlie took the time, effort and energy to remember them.”
During his introduction of the award, Timothy O’Connor, secretary of the Musconetcong Lodge, compared Uhrmann to Milton Hershey, who built the city of Hershey, Pa. “He followed his heart even though he knew finally it wasn’t going to work; he made it work,” O’Connor says about Hershey. “He followed his conscience; he followed his heart. This God driven spirit that drives people,” says O’Connor, that’s the “same spirit that drives Charlie.
“She’s inspired hundreds of people to help bring her vision to honor these soldiers and to build a beautiful holy ground to display respect and dignity to them,” says O’Connor. “Our freedom should never be taken for granted. They [soldiers] should never be forgotten. The fruits of her labor are explicit and deservedly recognized. One can only wish to have the spirit that she has.”
O’Connor provides some background.
In 2000, Uhrmann and her committee moved the War Memorial Monument that was off of Rt. 46 in Budd Lake, to Turkey Brook Park. The AVM is “dedicated to all Veterans,” and the displays which Uhrmann has created since represent the various wars and soldiers who fought in them, he explains.
“There’s even a portion for war horse and war dogs,” says O’Connor.
Humbled and unwilling to take all the credit for her hard work and dedication, Uhrmann spoke about her creation of the AVM.
“It is truly an honor to be here,” says Uhrmann. “I am tremendously blessed. God has given me too many gifts probably too many for one person, but I do feel blessed.” In tears, she continues, “it’s not about me. A nation that does not honor its heroes will no longer endure. I’m honored and humbled that I’ve inspired at least one person.”
Her project, all along, has been about “impact,” says Uhrmann. For the past 17 years, “So many people had the opportunity to honor their loved one,” whether a fallen husband or child. “Every time I worked on a project, I prayed. Everything in the All Veterans Memorial came from God.”
Uhrmann says she “was inspired and motivated and dedicated to these Gold Star Mothers and Gold Star Families and wonderful people who sacrificed. It overwhelmed me to meet these parents,” who lost a child who gave his or her ultimate sacrifice to protect the nation. “Most precious thing are the loved ones.”
She summarizes the development of the AVM over the years.
Her initiative began shortly after 911, September 11, 2001, right at the “front end of the Global War on Terror. “We had to do something,” she says.
At the same time, her son was working on his Eagle Scout project and the Mt. Olive War Monument needed to be relocated.
“The township was looking for the perfect place,” says Uhrmann, who did not want the monument to be hidden behind some building. So she worked with Thea Dunkle from the Mt. Olive Historical Society and Linda Sohl. Their obstacle was they needed a “change of use” at Turkey Brook Park which was supposed to be all soccer and sports fields, she explains.
The township “provided us with 1.3 acres of property,” says Uhrmann. “We were so excited to have it, but we had to make a promise that we wouldn’t use taxpayers’ money.”
Uhrmann kept her promise; the AVM is a nonprofit 501©3 organization.
It took 18 months to raise enough donations to fund the first part of the AVM memorial, she explains.
“I knew politically we need a stamp of approval,” says Uhrmann, so she went to N.J. Senator Anthony Bucco “for his stamp of approval. He said, ‘let’s get this started.’ Everybody worked together, it wasn’t just me. I might have had an idea, but I couldn’t do this myself.”
After the war monument was moved to the site, Uhrmann said she was done, but that only lasted after she realized a sidewalk or path was needed to get to the site. So, she created the Path to Enduring Freedom, which was supported by 115 donations from corporations and community sponsors.
“We had people waiting in line to sponsor,” says Uhrmann, wanting to pave with names and ranks of loved ones who served in various wars.
Since then, the AVM has honored 1,750 service men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, she says.
She even created a War Dog Memorial honoring dogs in five different wars, with war dog sculptures placed in different theaters representing where they served. Each with the “same dimensions and freckles of every dog served. We wanted to make it real.”