It's fitting that a new tree – a Celebration Maple – planted near the William J. Radigan Fire and EMS Center in Vermillion on Arbor Day will sport leaves that will turn fire engine red every fall.
Last Thursday, with the help of the Vermillion Parks and Recreation Department, and with members of the city staff and the Radigan family watching, Vermillion's second-graders planted the tree in memory of the fire hall's namesake, who served as mayor from 1994 until his death in 2001.
"This is the 15th year that the second-graders have assisted the Vermillion Garden Club in planting a tree," Nila Fostvedt, a Garden Club member, told the students who sat in the grass near the site where the new tree was planted Thursday. "This year, the (city) parks department, just like they have for several years, will be helping us. We're glad that we can all be together once more for the Arbor Day tree planting."
"I never knew Bill Radigan," Jessica Kennedy of the Vermillion Parks Department, told the students during Thursday's tree-planting ceremony. "But when I talk to others about him, I have come to find out that he was not just an ordinary man. He was the type of man who served the public in every way he could."
Radigan's lifetime accomplishments are impressive and too long to list, she said.
"Bill fought for our freedom in World War II when he served with the Army Air Corps," Kennedy told the students. "When Bill returned home from the war, he and his wife Susie started a loving family of 11 children. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years, and coordinated the Vermillion school bus system."
He was also very active with the American Legion and the VFW, she noted.
After serving on the Vermillion City Council, Radigan was elected mayor in 1994, and was re-elected in 1998. He was active in that office until his death in March 2001.
"He served proudly, and was recognized as someone who was fair and cared deeply for his community," Kennedy told the students. "Bill Radigan was a great man and was one of a kind. That is why I am proud to dedicate this tree in memory of such a wonderful person."
One thing, besides his love for family and his desire to see Vermillion prosper, seemed to dominate his life – his dedication to the Vermillion Volunteer Fire Department. Radigan joined the Vermillion Fire Department in July of 1946, retiring as an active member in July of 1997. He had been an associate member of the department since retiring, and had served for over 40 years as secretary-treasurer of the Vermillion Firefighters Association.
With the help of Aaron Baedke of the city parks department, second-graders took turns shoveling dirt around the roots of the newly planted tree.
The last scoop of soil was placed by Bill Radigan's daughter, Suzanne, who has retired from teaching in the English Department at the University of South Dakota. She still resides in Vermillion.
"To think that almost exactly nine years after Dad died, that the community remembers him, is dear to us and would have been dear to him," she said. "He would have loved that this is a children's event, and the fact that he is being remembered with the planting of a tree.
"We miss him dearly," Suzanne said. "That others remember him as well is consolation, and has become now a joy for us."