Patriotic seeds planted by veteran and community leader John Deal Taylor have blossomed at the Regional Veterans Park even though Taylor died shortly after the groundbreaking and never saw his dream meet reality.
Area veterans, supporters and patriots gathered Nov. 12 for the annual Veterans Day flag-raising ceremony to honor living and deceased veterans in the region.
Zachary High bugler Mac Cunningham played taps at the center of a memorial plaque dedicated to Taylor and the effort that developed the Regional Veterans Association and the Veterans Park.
Taylor, a National Guard and U.S. Army veteran, had a vision to provide a place to remember the courage and sacrifice of those who served or were serving in the armed forces.
Taylor’s civic contributions were felt in many organizations and he served as a BREC commissioner taking an active role in both the golf and human resources committees. He championed a BREC Memorial Day event and was the driving force behind a flag-raising ceremony at BREC's administrative offices.
Taylor, an Arkansas native, lived in Zachary for 44 years and taught Sunday school at First Baptist Church, participated in mission trips and was active in charitable causes including the Zachary Sausage Festival, Foundation to Assist Zachary Education and Z-Fest.
Taylor formed a committee of like-minded supporters who planned for more than two years before ground was broken near the end of 2015 on the campus of Lane Regional Medical Center. Frank Ragsdale was one of the original veterans supporters and addressed the crowd gathered on Veterans Day. Ragsdale and Greg McDougall are co-chairmen of the association and were joined by the group’s secretary Laura Steen.
Taylor felt reaching out beyond just the city of Zachary was crucial to the effort. “The Regional Veterans Park will honor the courage and sacrifice of those who served or are still serving in the U.S. armed forces,” he said in a 2015 interview. “Residents from Baton Rouge, Baker, Central, Pride, Zachary, and East and West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and St. Helena parishes are invited to come to the park to remember and thank the veterans who have committed themselves to protecting the rights and freedoms of Americans.”
Taylor died at 81 on Feb. 17, 2016, just weeks before construction started on the park. Ragsdale said it is still being developed with plans to extend the wall holding the inscribed bricks, adding a water fountain and placing brass emblems on the park benches.
The walls at the entrance of the park are lined with bricks that honor both living and deceased veterans. “They can be from anywhere,” McDougall said. “We even have some here from the Revolutionary War.”
Heather Prejean, marketing director for the Bank of Zachary, said the bank started the program that’s in its 10th year. The flag-raising ceremony was held in front of the Bank of Zachary before moving to the Veterans Park when it was built. “This is also the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day so it’s a neat tie-in to today’s ceremony,” Prejean said.
For information on the Zachary Regional Veterans Park or to make a donation, visit www.regionalveteranspark.org/donate-now/.