Farmington teen cleans up vandalism at All Veterans Memorial Plaza
FARMINGTON — When 14-year-old Esther Rogge visited All Veterans Memorial Plaza with her family in Berg Park last month, she saw a military memorial defaced with smeared yellow paint.
Instead of assuming someone else would take care of it, the Hermosa Middle School eighth grader cleaned up the mess herself, dressing up the Operation Iraqi Freedom memorial with a pair of empty soldier's boots and flowers and draping the marker in purple and black, colors of mourning.
"All Esther said was that somebody has to care or nothing means anything," said Steve Rogge, of his daughter's efforts. "It's important for others to know that one person can make a difference, no matter how old they are or what the circumstance. Who did what and why aren't important. It's enough that our veterans and military families know that they are not alone."
The Rogges visit the memorial plaza often, Esther Rogge said. The Farmington family has three relatives on active duty in the military, and the memorials along the Animas River serve as a place to honor those veterans.
"We walk down to the river all the time as a family. It's the first time that we've ever found graffiti," Esther Rogge said. "These soldiers are going out of their way, leaving their families to fight a war many people have forgotten about, and I want them to be remembered."
After scrubbing off the offending paint and decorating the memorial, Esther Rogge handpainted a sign to let people know about the vandalism and posted it alongside the bronze monument.
The sign reads, "This monument to the bravery and sacrifice of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines was vandalized on Sept. 27. When cowardly acts go unpunished we as a community mourn."
The Rogge family often takes time to polish the memorials throughout the plaza and to call the city's parks department if there is something there that needs cleaning or care.
"We know of the Rogge family and their care and concern for (Veterans Plaza)," said Brian Bobeck, the city's parks superintendent. "They volunteer a lot of their time, and they are down here a lot. They help out."
Bobeck said most vandalism and graffiti is cleaned up within 24 hours after the department gets a call or finds defaced property.
To combat vandalism citywide, the parks department employs a "graffiti tech" to keep up with incidents like the one Esther Rogge took the initiative to resolve.
Lori Valdez, who has cleaned graffiti for the parks department since January, spends each week on patrol in the city's 58 parks, river trails and alleyways, armed with aerosol graffiti remover and a power washer to keep Farmington graffiti-free. Valdez said the city receives as many as 130 reports each month, and that number spikes each summer when warmer weather draws more people outdoors.
"Usually, it's the bathrooms that get hit the most. They love the bathrooms," Valdez said. "Walls, alleys, wherever. Most often, it's words, gang symbols, graphic imagery or some things I can't make any sense of. I try to stay on top of all of it."
Last week, Valdez removed an orange caterpillar spray-painted on an exterior wall at a Wells Fargo bank. A few months ago, she said she removed the words "Nobody listens to me" from a retaining wall near Cochiti Avenue.