A new memorial honoring Ernest McFarland, former Arizona governor and “Father of the GI Bill,” will be unveiled on Arizona Statehood Day.
The “Earnest W. McFarland and the American Dream” Memorial will be uncovered on Saturday, Feb. 14 from 2 to 3 p.m. in Wesley Bolin Plaza, 1700 W. Washington St. in Phoenix.
McFarland, a Democrat, served as governor, senator and chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Also known as “Mac,” McFarland lobbied to provide benefits for veterans and is considered to be the “Father of the GI Bill,” which funds education and provides low-interest home loans to veterans.
In both his personal life and public service, McFarland was persistent and diligent in focusing on what he was working on, John D. Lewis, McFarland’s grandson, remembered.
Even after losing his Senate seat to Barry Goldwater in 1952, McFarland continued to fight for water rights at a local level as the governor of Arizona, Lewis said. As governor, McFarland advanced Arizona’s education system and put in place tax policies that attracted high-tech companies to the state. He also supported the creation of the Arizona State Parks system and Arizona State University in getting its university status.
“There are still many people who remember McFarland, and from all accounts, he was a very unassuming man and very well-liked by both Democrats and Republicans,” said Suzanne Jameson, the media contact for the project. “(He) even got them to work together — what a concept.”
Lewis recalled a time when he took a group of Arizona State University agribusiness students to Yuma.
“I will never forget how a local Yuma farmer came up and asked if Ernest McFarland was my grandfather. This older man continued to tell me, ‘I am a staunch Republican, but when your grandfather was in office, we sure got a lot done.’ Mac had the respect of people from both parties because he believed in working with others to find solutions,” he said.
Regardless of party affiliation, McFarland was able to “get beyond (the) philosophical differences and focus on solutions,” which he conveyed to his fellow elected officials, said Vincent Murray, historian for the project.
In 2009, the Ernest W. McFarland Memorial’s autobiographical passages and photos were in need of repairs, as some pictures were missing or loose. Repairs were estimated to cost $250,000, according to the Arizona Department of Administration, which oversees Wesley Bolin Plaza.
When asked to look into the problem, Lewis realized that the amount of money needed for repairs was about what the original monument cost.
“In other words, the old memorial was totaled,” he said.
To fund the project, Lewis and his siblings put together a 501(c)(3), as well as a trust fund amount for future repairs.
There were many attempts to handle the salvation of the original memorial. Lewis worked with Don Ryden, a historical architect, to construct and design the new tribute. The two first planned a new Salute to the Fallen Memorial, which was to be built adjacent to the old memorial. However, the added battleship guns interfered with the entrance to the original memorial and had to be scrapped.
The message of the memorial was also changed. While the original McFarland Memorial concentrated on the GI Bill, the new McFarland Memorial covers the high points of McFarland’s life in order to tell a more holistic version of his grandfather’s life, Lewis said.
The new design by Ryden Architects features a 24-foot-tall spire that represents the “doorway to opportunity” for all Americans.
McFarland’s family hopes that the new memorial will gain the attention of veterans and introduce younger people to his works as a public servant, said Jameson.
Since McFarland “refused political showmanship” and preferred to focus on what needed to be done, McFarland is not very well known, said Lewis.
“Mac really was the kind of person who would not want a memorial built in his honor, but he is so inspirational there really should be one. My family and I hope that this memorial will serve as a starting point to help reintroduce Mac and his ethics and hard work to a 20th century audience,” Lewis said.
McFarland passed away in 1984, at the age of 89.
The Earnest W. McFarland and the American Dream Memorial is open to the public and will include a ceremony to transfer the memorial to the state of Arizona.
For more information on the McFarland Memorial project, call (602) 466-3333.
• Jenny Ung is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is interning this semester for the AFN.