Meet Edina's Hometown Heroes

Edina is made up of people who pride themselves with making the city a great place for living, learning, raising families and doing business.

Justin Kieffer

It may not have seemed so at the time, but in hindsight, Maj. Justin Kieffer views 2006 as a seminal point in his life. The year is anchored in his memory by two important events.

In August, he moved his growing family to Edina. Before this juncture, Kieffer, a Brainerd native, had seen his fair share of America while attending school and on assignment. When it came to settling down his family, though, Minnesota – and Edina in particular – held a special appeal.

As he explains it, it is not for nothing that Edina enjoys a great regional reputation. The City deserves every accolade. “We live in a wonderful neighborhood where all the families interact and the children can play together in a safe environment. The schools are first class, and parental involvement is encouraged by the administration.” Also, more generally, “there is a great sense of pride in the community which, in turn, encourages participation in civic duties.”

Few are as well suited to speak on the topic of civic duty as is Kieffer. Since 2002, he has been serving our country as a Traditional Reservist with the 934th Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, based out of Minneapolis-St. Paul. At present, he serves as an Evaluator Pilot (EP) for the C-130, a common military transport model. In this capacity, he both trains and appraises the skills of pilots advancing through the ranks.

Since leaving the Air Force Academy in 1999, Kieffer has served in a number of other roles as well. Some were quite unique. For instance, right after graduating, he was assigned to the Air Force Academy Hockey Team as Graduate Assistant.

In 2004, after attending a special pilot training program at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Kieffer received his first overseas deployment orders. He served that first tour of duty in Southeast Asia, in support of operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan. Subsequent, he put in two additional tours in that theatre, the second of which began in 2006 – the same year he moved his family to Edina.

Two years ago, Kieffer came across an Edina Sun-Current article about the formation of a Veterans Memorial Committee and a push to build a new monument to Edina’s servicemen and women at Utley Park, at 50th Street and Wooddale Avenue. Given his history with both Edina and the Armed Forces, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Kieffer immediately submitted an application. 

“I believe it is highly important for Edina to honor all of its veterans,” Kieffer explained. That goes double for those killed in the line of duty. “They gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country – as well as to their local community.”

Over the past two years, Kieffer and his committee peers have worked tirelessly to see a memorial erected to honor the City’s 32 native and adopted sons who lost their lives in foreign conflicts ranging from World War I to the Vietnam period.

While the project might seem straightforward enough on its surface, Kieffer notes that it is one with many pieces. In the early stages, the Edina Park Board tasked the Veterans Memorial Committee with researching the history of Edina’s men at arms, soliciting contractor designs and making recommendations.

Now, with a plan in place, the Committee is working closely with architectural firm Short Elliot Hendrickson on the approved plan and – most importantly of all – taking the lead on fundraising. (The City will contribute $30,000 toward design expenses, but construction cannot begin at the Utley Park site until $450,000, the entire cost of construction, is secured.) Fundraising is where Kieffer is focusing the majority of his efforts.

He is confident it is just a matter of time before the Committee hits its mark and the construction phase can begin. “Only in a strong community will residents take care of one another, but Edina is the epitome of that ideal.” 

While the groundbreaking is certainly something to look forward to, Kieffer sees many more immediate advantages to his participation on the Veterans Memorial Committee. He is glad to contribute in his own small way to Edina’s rich history, and thrilled to continue his trend of national service by promoting patriotism and civic engagement in this new and different way.

But “…the most rewarding part, thus far, has been working with the other members. We have a deeply committed group of individuals who have come together with one focus: to honor our veterans, their families, and the community. The astonishing research and time some of the members have put into this is truly unbelievable and just goes to show you how strong a sense of community is present in Edina.”

15 of 29 Heroes

© 2014 City Of Edina, Minnesota