November 27, 2020

Never Forget: Kossuth County Freedom Rock Honors Veterans

20150727_maxyield_136 (1024x681)It’s all too easy to take for granted the people who most deserve our gratitude. That’s why Whittemore residents enlisted support throughout the community to create a Freedom Rock to honor military veterans.

“Many men and women have died for this country,” said Stu Simonson, senior vice president of Farmers State Bank in Whittemore and member of the American Legion’s Seely Walsh Post #425. “We wanted Kossuth County’s Freedom Rock to tell a story of sacrifice.”

This story is told through patriotic images ranging from the bald eagle to the American flag being raised at Iwo Jima, all painted by Iowa artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield. While Sorensen completed the artwork just in time for the Fourth of July this summer, the process began two years earlier with the late Kathy Fraser, a former Whittemore deputy city clerk and city council member.

“Kathy was very passionate about Whittemore,” Simonson said. “When she heard about the plan to put a Freedom Rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, she said we had to have a Freedom Rock here.”

Timing was everything, since the Kossuth County town that sent its application first would receive a Freedom Rock. Whittemore community leaders submitted their request just in time in 2013, along with the $1,000 application fee. “From the application process to the final stages of the Freedom Rock project, this community has gone all out,” said Simonson, a Vietnam War combat veteran.

20150727_maxyield_144 (1024x681)Telling a story in stone
The community made plans to move a boulder into town after they were notified that Whittemore would be the home of the 30th Freedom Rock in Iowa. The perfect stone turned up on the Wirtz brothers’ farm near Rodman.

After the 6-foot-tall boulder was dragged from the field to the edge of the road, Tom Mader with Heartland Building Moving of West Bend worked with Aletha King of Cylinder and her son to haul the rock to Whittemore in August 2014. The 10-foot-diameter boulder was set on a concrete slab poured west of the Seely Walsh Post #425 American Legion Hall.

Next, Legion members and community leaders brainstormed concepts for the Freedom Rock’s artwork. “We had a list of about 24 ideas—way too many,” Simonson said. “We sent the list and a photo of the rock to Bubba, who helped us select which scenes would work best.”

Scenes that made the cut included:
• Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima for the front of the Freedom Rock.

• A bald eagle with the American flag in his beak, with the flag draped over both sides of the Freedom Rock.

• A Gold Star mother being presented with an American flag at a cemetery to grace the back of the Freedom Rock.

It took Sorensen four and a half days to paint the Freedom Rock, which was completed on July 3. He conveyed the emotion of these touching scenes perfectly, Simonson said. “Bubba is terrific. He’s knowledgeable, patriotic, and professional, plus he’s easy to work with.”

Sorensen appreciated the opportunity to work in Whittemore. “They are such a welcoming community and have such a strong American Legion,” he said. “It was great to visit with these folks after a long day of painting.”

20150727_maxyield_160 (1024x681)Designed to last
Just as freedom isn’t free, neither are Freedom Rocks. Sorensen uses a high-quality, all-natural paint that offers exceptional durability. Blue is the most expensive color at $500 per gallon.

It will cost nearly $20,000 to complete the Kossuth County project, which includes a new fence, a sidewalk to the Freedom Rock, and additional artwork. Mark Lentch, a talented airbrush painter from Whittemore, will paint scenes that didn’t make it on the Freedom Rock onto panels that will be mounted around the stone.

By June 2015, the local American Legion had raised more than $7,000 to help pay for the Freedom Rock. The community is also grateful that an anonymous donor stepped forward and contributed another $5,000 to the project. The Legion is now sponsoring a fundraiser where people can guess the weight of the rock for $10 a chance.

Simonson is thankful so many people have supported the project, which is meaningful to so many veterans. “I get such a feeling of tranquility at the Freedom Rock,” he said. “It’s soothing there.”

Honoring America’s heroes motivates Sorensen, who is now painting his 31st Freedom Rock. “It all starts with conversations about veterans and their stories, which have almost been forgotten sometimes. Each Freedom Rock will help tell these stories for years to come.”

For more information about Iowa’s Freedom Rock project, visit www.TheFreedomRock.com.

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