Restorer finds family surprise inside iconic Butler County monument

The restored Butler County landmark will re-open July 4.

World War II Navy veteran Robert E. Sackenheim has been deceased three decades, but that didn’t stop the good-natured sailor with the wry smile from being part of a happy surprise for his son.

Hamilton native Dave Sackenheim, owner of GDS general contracting services, one of the companies restoring the county’s iconic Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneers monument, was sizing up the interior before the restoration started, “and I looked around, and saw his picture. I was like, ‘Wow.’”

Sackenheim told a Butler County maintenance official: "That's my Dad. That's my Dad!"

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“I was stunned,” said the 54-year-old son, who like his parents is a Hamilton native.

“The place has always meant a great deal to me. A long, long time ago I was in it, when I was a child,” he said.

Sackenheim knows precisely what his father would say about his surprise discovery: “He would say, ‘How do you like them apples, boy?’”

Sackenheim’s company did interior plaster work and painting, as well as restoration on the severely damaged, hand-carved mammoth front doors, each weighing about 400 pounds.

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“I love what I do, so I’m going to do it to the level that I do it, but it changed how I felt about it, knowing that my Dad’s picture was in there,” he said. “I don’t think it was the work that I did, necessarily, as much as the feeling I got that some of him was there, and the guys were there.”

“I love my military guys, I do. Their memory is really, really important to me, and it was an honor to do this building,” he said.

As a child, “It was the first thing I saw when I came across the bridge, when I got lucky enough to come into Hamilton, where my Dad grew up, and my Mom,” he said. “I actually thought those buildings out there were made out of wood. I thought they were part of the original Fort (Hamilton).”

As a boy, “I was amazed at the soldier on the top,” he said. “I had to strain myself to look out the window to see him.”

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Sackenheim and his crew were expected to be working on the monument possibly through Sunday so it will be ready for its reopening to the public for July 4. It will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day, but not open the rest of the week, according to the Butler County commissioners’ office.

Sackenheim had been told long ago that his World War II Army veteran uncle, Bill Sackenheim, had a uniform and other items in the monument, but when his mother, Anna, donated his father’s photo about 15 years ago, for some reason, she didn’t tell him or his sister, Virginia Collier. Anna Sackenheim passed away about a decade ago.

“Mom slid that in without me knowing about it, which, I’m pretty aware of stuff,” he said. “She didn’t tell me, and she told me everything.”

“He was a Navy man, and a Baptist song-leader in my church and a Baptist deacon,” Dave Sackenheim said of his father. “He was pretty stout on everything.”

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He fought in the South Pacific on a destroyer after serving on a couple of transport ships in the Atlantic. After the Navy, he worked 38 years at the Diebold safe company, fixing boilers, building safes, talented at fabricating and repairing things.

Renovation costs have brought some controversy to the project, despite the monument’s status as an icon for both the city and county, and even though recent cost changes bring costs to $425,870, which is beneath early estimates above $1 million and still below the $500,000 budget.

“Unfortunately, those historic-type monuments and structures are costly to rehab, and I know there’s a bit of sticker shock with the taxpayers, but that structure’s over 100 years old, and I think it hasn’t had a major restoration in quite a few years,” said David Fehr, the county’s development director.

“I think, overall, we’re very happy with how it turned out,” Fehr said. “Certainly, walking by, you can see all the improvements that were made. The new copper roof should last another 100 years. You want to keep things historic. We could have put a roofing material, or a rubber roof on there. It just would have destroyed the historic nature of the structure.”

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