Freedom Rock Turns Five
Wed, 11/09/2022 - 5:16pm admin
Beki Groenwald TPD Staff
CRESCO - The Howard County Freedom Rock Memorial Park turned five in October, but those who created it remember the process like it was yesterday.
Marv Praska was the first step on a long road when he brought the Freedom Rock project to the attention of the American Legion and Howard County Business and Tourism (HCBT) in May of 2016. A quick decision was made to lock in Howard County’s bid for the rock’s location and secure a place in a long waiting list of other Freedom Rock hopefuls.
Once the application was approved and a painting time-frame of October 2017 was set, a committee was formed and plans were afoot. “This committee represented the entirety of Howard County,” Jim Perry, U.S. Navy Seabees veteran and chairman of the Freedom Rock committee said. “Everybody in Howard County – all the other posts, the VFW, the other American Legions – all were a part of my committee that put this together. There were 20 plus people on this committee. Every place was represented.”
Hosted and facilitated by HCBT in the Cresco Welcome Center, the newly-formed committee began to discuss what kind of park to create and how to go about developing it.
One early step was to gather data from Iowa DOT on traffic patterns for the whole of Howard County to determine the best site for the rock’s location. “We wanted to maximize our exposure,” Spiff Slifka of HCBT said. So each town was asked to submit a proposed site for consideration, and the committee examined each of them in the context of a number of qualifying factors that included traffic patterns, security issues and the cost of purchasing the location for the park.
After much scrutiny and careful consideration, the options were winnowed down to a single site, the corner of 2nd Ave. West and Hwy. 9 in Cresco, that topped the list in all categories. The proposed site offered a central town location with great security features, and the DOT data confirmed it was among the most traveled areas of the county. Both were primary considerations, but the real cherry on top was that, when approached about the park, the City of Cresco donated the land to the veterans and agreed to provide electricity for the light on the American Flag and water for the small fountain.
With the site decided and a rough sketch by Ed Fontes in hand, the committee asked Chris Reicks of Reicks Landscapes to design the park so fund-raising could begin.
And whoo boy, did fund-raising begin!
With a goal of $150,000, the veterans decided on a highly-personalized approach. Armed with a leave-behind letter outlining the project and its importance to Howard County veterans, members of the committee set out to make their case, in person, to a wide variety of local businesses.
“We went face-to-face, handshake-to-handshake for all our fund-raising,” Perry said. “It was more personal, and it made more sense because we weren’t wasting money on postage. You got face-to-face with somebody, and I think that’s what made it successful.”
The fund-raising started in May of 2017. By the end of June, they met their goal and more.
Things moved pretty quickly from there. A gazebo was built to showcase the Freedom Rock and protect it from the weather. The artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, arrived in late October to paint the rock. It was cold, so a temporary shelter with heat was built around the rock for the artist to use. The rock was finished on Oct. 31, 2017 and unveiled on Nov. 11, Veterans Day. There was a dedication ceremony the following June.
All in all, there are 99 Freedom Rock sites in Iowa – one for each county – with a 100th being planned for Ankeny to round out the set. Each rock is painted with an American flag draped over the rock and several scenes illustrating the local veteran history in the rock’s location.
Howard County’s Freedom Rock features the five admirals from Cresco; WWI Medal of Honor Recipient Edouard Izac; Navy pilot, nurse and world’s first flight attendant Ellen Church; one of the oldest, intact Civil War flags handmade by the women of Howard County for their loved ones in the 38th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry; and two ships – the USS Medusa and the USS Hornet – that represent, respectively, a local Pearl Harbor survivor’s story and 13 soldiers from Elma who perished in WWII, seven of whom were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, three of whom died there.
In addition to the Freedom Rock, the beautiful Howard County Freedom Rock Memorial Park features a lovely fountain and several granite benches for sitting and contemplation. There are also nine granite slabs lining a paved walkway that offer up information about each war from the War of 1812 to the current War on Terrorism. Each provides a brief synopsis of the conflict as well as inventions and innovations on both the military and home fronts to give the time period a deeper historical context.
“For example, we got our right shoes during the war of 1812.” Spiff Slifka of HCBT said. “Before that, regular people wore two left shoes. But a shoemaker got drafted in the war and he realized, the troops can’t walk very long or very far. So he designed a right shoe to outfit the troops, and they did much better. And that’s how we got our right shoe – something we take for granted now.”
“The Howard County Freedom Rock Memorial Park is a place to honor veterans that have served this country,” Perry said. “Something they can look at. It’s nice to look at; it’s quiet; it’s interesting.”
And the Freedom Rock committee is still on the job. Meeting once or twice a year, the committee manages the upkeep of the park and decides when new features are warranted.
In the last couple of years, telescoping flag poles that were prone to freezing up were converted to flag poles that use rope instead, and a small metal podium was added with a guest book and a place for free-will donations.
In the future, the committee plans to add a QR code to the podium that will link visitors to the stories represented on the rock and other pertinent information. HCBT is also developing a brochure that speaks specifically to the Freedom Rock stories, gathering them all together in one place for visitors to read and take with them.
When asked what the Freedom Rock means to him, personally, Jim Perry said, “A project that came together because people worked together. That’s what it means to me. We all came together. Everybody said let’s do this. Let’s enjoy it. So it means to me that communities can come together if they want to, to get something done.”
Five years ago, the Howard County community came together to build a beautiful memorial park that benefits us all. Go and visit, and think of a veteran while you are there.