A Summerville High School senior has raised more than $71,000 for a 9/11 Memorial in Tuolumne from private donations and a barbecue and silent auction held at the Sonora Opera Hall on Feb. 22.

Candace Olsen, 17, a Summerville High School student who organized the fundraiser for her senior project, announced the total at the Sonora Area Foundation (SAF) office on South Stewart Street on Tuesday.

“I’m honestly still in shock on the amount of money we raised. I'm just kind of speechless,” Olsen said.

The total $71,527.57 will be held in a foundation account and provided to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post 4748 in Tuolumne for the construction of a 9/11 memorial outside of the Tuolumne Veterans Memorial Hall.

Aaron Rasmussen, post commander for VFW post 4748, said when he learned of Olsen’s total contribution Tuesday afternoon, his “jaw dropped.”

“This is community money, raised by the community, businesses and people. It's definitely something the county should be proud of,” he said.

Rasmussen said construction crews will break ground on the project in June. The main framing (complete with engraved ceremonial bricks) will be done in a few days, with electrical wiring and beautification completed in the next months, he said.

The VFW post 4748 plans to host an unveiling of the memorial on Sept. 11 and is considering inviting students from area schools, Rasmussen said.

“That was kind of one of the root passions for me. This memorial is not just another stone in a park, this is something that would touch these generations who didn't know what time was like before 9/11,” he said.

The estimated cost of the project is approximately $85,000. The VFW post 4748 raised about $4,000 selling bricks and secured around $25,000 in funding from the Sonora Area Foundation, The Black Hat Foundation, and a private donor, Rasmussen said on Jan. 30.

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors approved the memorial, which will also honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, in February 2016, but it languished without full funding.

Olsen said she did not have any family members associated with the Sept. 11 attacks on North and South World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, on the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters in Virginia (the Pentagon), or the plane crash at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Her grandfather was a Navy pilot who survived the Korean War and she had two great-uncles who served in World War II. Her dad’s first cousin, a Marine who served in Vietnam in the early 1970s, died in the war.

“I feel really fortunate to live in Tuolumne County where everyone is so passionate about their veterans and vets groups and everyone is very patriotic,” she said.

The Feb. 22 fundraiser featured a gun raffle, which raised about $2,000, and a live auction, which raised about $12,000, Olsen said. Drink sales, brick sales, the silent auction, and at least $36,000 raised before the event accounted for the rest.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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