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Wellstone memorial dedicated

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People came from as far away as Washington D.C. for the dedication. (MPR Photo/Stephanie Hemphill)
About 400 people gathered in the woods outside Eveleth on Sunday. They came to dedicate a memorial to Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone, his wife Sheila, his daughter Marcia Markuson, and three staff members were killed in a plane crash nearby, nearly three years ago.

Eveleth, Minn. — The memorial is less than half a mile from where the plane slammed into the trees, that cold and drizzly October day. It's nothing more than a series of paths, with a slab of polished stone for each of the crash victims -- a few plaques describing the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone -- and a place to sit.

It was created by a task force of former Wellstone staffers, family members, and supporters. The land was donated by St. Louis County.

Designers deliberately kept the site as natural as they could.

Dave Foster was an official in the steelworkers union for many years before retiring recently. He said the materials used to build the memorial came from the Erie mine, which closed four years ago.

"And so, fittingly, this memorial was constructed with chunks of taconite and from the overburden of the mines," Foster said. "The paths were paved with taconite tailings, all of them more than two billion years old, drilled and blasted from the earth by those who Paul fought for every day of his life."

People who worked on the site imagined a place of contemplation. Paul and Sheila's son, Mark Wellstone, said the place has a strong emotional pull for people who lost family members in the plane crash, but everyone needs to remember the people who've been important in their lives.

"I hope for everybody it's a place where you can come, spend some alone time, find some peace with yourself, and think about your loved ones," he said. "I think that's what everybody that we know and love would want."

Several speakers showed Paul Wellstone's belief in citizen action is still alive. Judy McLaughlin, the mother of Will McLaughlin, a Wellstone staffer killed in the crash, urged people to visit the site to find inspiration.

"A place to think not about what was, but what can be," she said. "Come here to revitalize yourself. Come here to think about your role in society. Come here to remember, and then -- most importantly -- to act."

Back in 1990, Paul Wellstone came to the Iron Range to begin his first run for the United States Senate. He announced his candidacy in the home of Gabriel Brisbois. Brisbois was on the task force that built the monument, and he says the architects built it just the way the group envisioned.

"I think it fits right into nature, the way Paul would have wanted it," he says. "You walk through there, and there's no feeling that this is artificial. It's real."

People came from as far away as Washington D.C. for the dedication. Some of Wellstone's staffers gathered for dinner the night before in St. Paul, and some volunteered at the VA hospital to serve food to the families of disabled vets.

Carlos Perez, who worked for Wellstone in his last campaign, came from Chicago for the event.

"It's an emotional site -- this is his last moments, and the family's last moments," he says. "This is as close as we can possibly be to them, and this is why I think it's well done that way."

Organizers say they've raised nearly all of the $250,000 needed to pay for the memorial.