Volunteers place LED lights in mason jars Tuesday at Freedom Memorial. Rick Crandall, founder and organizer for the Freedom Memorial, organized this event to place 6,023 candles to signify all of the names on the memorial. Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

Outside of powdery slopes, compelling gridiron bouts and dusky brews, there are few diversions that stir Coloradans to confront winter’s icy bite.

But Rick Crandall is vying to expand that abbreviated, hackneyed list.

Crandall — who for more than a decade led the organization, funding and construction efforts behind the Colorado Freedom Memorial — launched a new event at the monument this week to honor more than 6,000 former state residents.

On three consecutive evenings this week, Crandall and a rotating group of nearly 100 volunteers lit 6,023 LED luminarias on the lawn surrounding the memorial, one for each name printed on the monument’s several glass panes.

“With the panes looming above, the structure is almost overwhelming,” said Scott Andersen, a Golden resident who made his first visit to the memorial on Monday to observe the luminaria event. “As it should be — it’s a reminder of all of those people who gave their lives. It’s humbling.”

Deemed “Light Their Way Home,” the event is evidence of Crandall’s ongoing efforts to incentivize people to visit the memorial year round.

“We’ve thought for a couple years now: How do you celebrate this time of year at the memorial?” Crandall said. “It’s kind of one of those interesting things to want to celebrate the holiday season and be mindful that (the people honored on the memorial) are no longer with us…to light a candle seemed to just make sense.”

The LED luminarias were spread across the four acres of lawns and pathways surrounding the monument at Springhill Park.

First opened to the public on Memorial Day 2013, the monument conceived by artist Kristoffer Kenton displays the name of every Colorado resident killed in action or gone missing in action since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

“We know without hesitance that this is the most complete list out there,” Crandall said.

But the official record of U.S. servicemen and women who hailed from Colorado is constantly in flux, according to Crandall, who said that more than 200 new names have been discovered since the memorial was first dedicated two-and-a-half years ago. Most of the newer names, about 60 of which are etched into a “transition stone” beside the actual glass monument on Telluride Street, have been uncovered by Richard Gardner, a preservationist and state historian with the Jefferson County Historical Commission who frequently combs through yellowed archives and online databases in order to identify Colorado veterans.   

“They gave everything for us and this is a small thing I can do to help repay them,” Gardner said. “And, more importantly, (I want to) make sure other people know about them. Sometimes this information is all the evidence that exists that they were even here. It’s really important to make sure that they’re remembered and they’re known.”

Gardner added that the majority of the newer names he’s discovered have been servicemen and women from World War I. He said that the record keeping of casualties in that era is poor because the majority of the original federal records were burned in a fire in the 1970s.

The stories and pictures behind some of Gardner’s research could become more public later next year, when Crandall said he plans on beginning a fundraising effort to erect a visitors center across the street from the monument.

“We’d like to add a visitors center where people could stop, and we could answer questions and have some displays,” Crandall said. “It would give people an entrance point and give us a chance to be out there on more of a regular basis.”

Crandall said that plans for the project and others, including possible public art installations on the site, have already been set in motion. The American Legion recently acquired a vacant land parcel immediately across the street from the memorial for a new outpost, and has already agreed to reserve a corner for a new memorial-specific structure, according to Crandall.

“It certainly is not a finished project,” Crandall said of the memorial site. “It’s a special place and we’re always striving to find ways to honor those who are remembered here.”