Florida park to be renamed to honor WWII Navy veteran
By EMILY SULLIVAN | The Palm Beach Post | Published: November 6, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — A Boynton Beach, Florida, park studded with dozens of granite tributes to veterans will adopt the name of a 92-year-old World War II vet who poured life into its foundation.
City Commission members agreed Tuesday to incorporate into Veterans Memorial Park the name of Tom Kaiser, a Navy man who has toiled for veterans' recognition, notably in the semicircles of monuments in the small remembrance park off Federal Highway.
Mayor Steven Grant on Tuesday called the opportunity to salute Kaiser's work an honor and added, "I think we should take it."
The decision came despite Recreation and Parks Advisory Board members' unanimous Oct. 28 recommendation that the city keep the park's name intact and instead "create a living memorial" to honor Kaiser's contributions, according to draft minutes.
A few residents endorsed that suggestion Tuesday, worried renaming the park could strip recognition from others who served.
Meanwhile, a handful of vets lined up and encouraged the city to stamp on Kaiser's name.
Former Boynton Mayor Jerry Taylor, a veteran who served 26 years in the U.S. Air Force, was one such supporter.
"Veterans got behind this 100 percent," Taylor said of the park, "but he was the catalyst."
Commissioners have not finalized a name for the park, which sits on city property. Their ideas Tuesday ranged from "Thomas Kaiser Veterans Memorial Park" to "Boynton Beach Veterans Park in Honor of Tom Kaiser" and "Veterans Memorial Park in Honor of Tom Kaiser."
They plan to consider recommendations brought by staff during their Dec. 3 meeting.
Kaiser, who said he was first in line to sign up for the Navy on his 17th birthday, said Monday that such a park renaming would be "the reward of a lifetime" and "a dream ... because it would be there forever."
He said after the meeting that "whatever it is, I'm gonna accept what's there."
Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, first proposed in a July letter to City Manager Lori LaVerriere that the park add Kaiser's name into its own in a nod to his "tireless dedication."
In May, the city's American Legion 164, which Kaiser calls his "home," named its meeting room for him.
Casello said when Kaiser first learned of the recommended park renaming, "it brought him to tears."
It's a place Kaiser dotes on and holds as part of him. The park exhibits in total 12 benches, 24 monuments and another 20-ton monument.
The tributes, Kaiser's "babies," as he fondly calls them, recognize a multitude of vets such as WWII women, black veterans and service members including Kaiser's brother, Robert, who was among 81 aboard the USS Trout when the submarine went missing in action in February 1944.
Still more dedications are etched into granite and in-ground brick.
"What a better fitting thing to do than name a park where he brought it from, you know, nothing, to where it is today," said Casello, who himself served in the Air Force in the early '70s and whose father was a WWII Navy vet.
Casello said regardless, Kaiser's legacy will endure "in the hearts and minds of people like myself."
Staff writer Jorge Milian contributed to this report.