PORTLAND — Jacob Cousins was the first Jewish veteran from Portland to die in World War I, and Diane Davison wants more people to be aware of him.
“The current memorial is almost invisible; we want to provide a more dignified and appropriate setting,” she said March 22.
As executive director of the Friends of the Eastern Promenade, Davison is leading the effort to raise $85,000 to renovate the space around the memorial to Cousins, near the intersection of Eastern Promenade and Cutter Street.
Cousins was serving in Company C of the Army’s 328th Infantry Division when he was killed Oct. 14, 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in northern France. He died less than a month before the Armistice essentially ended combat, and was one of 1,032 Mainers and 67 Portlanders to die in the war from 1914-1919.
Dedicated in September 1935 by Jacob Cousins Post No. 99 of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, the memorial was expanded later to include seven other Jewish veterans killed in World War II.
The two plaques on a boulder sit between two shrubs and are easily overlooked, said Davison and Richard Bornstein, another supporter of the renovation.
Bornstein never got to know his uncle, Louis Lane, who was killed in May 1945 in the first rush of Marines invading the Pacific Ocean island of Iwo Jima.
Bornstein said his mother, Beatrice Bornstein (Lane’s sister), liked to visit the memorial. Ultimately, the site became inaccessible as she aged.
“It is a place everyone can go and appreciate; it is underserved,” Bornstein said March 22.
Now he and his family are the first to contribute $5,000 to name a bench, one of seven to be added to the area. The renovation plan also adds rhododendrons to a semi-circular viewing area envisioned as a place of reflection and contemplation.
“We wanted to be a lead sponsor and just get the ball rolling,” Bornstein said.
Davison said the Friends are about halfway to the funding goal, including a $10,000 donation from the Davis Family Foundation. More information and online, tax-deductible donations can be made at www.easternpromenade.org.
The memorial renovation is part of the master plan for the Eastern Promenade, for which the site plan was created by landscape architect Martha Lyon, Davison said. Lyon created the renovation plan for nearby Fort Allen Park, so the memorial site will have continuity with the fort.
Davison said the goal is to complete fundraising by early summer and complete the renovations this year. The renovation plan has already been vetted by the city Historic Preservation Board.
Bornstein approves of Lyon’s plans.
“It is a beautiful open concept that meets all historic guidelines, I’d just like to give someone like my mother the ability go there and reflect,” he said.
The Jacob Cousins Memorial, seen March 22, was dedicated in 1935, then a second plaque was added for Jewish veterans who died in World War II. Friends of the Eastern Promenade want the memorial to be more visible and accessible to visitors.
Plans to improve the area around the Jacob Cousins Memorial on the Eastern Promenade include better visibility, benches and improved accessibility for visitors.