Celebration of freedom rocks on in George, Iowa
GEORGE, Iowa -- The community of George stretched out holiday festivities by turning its annual Fourth of July celebration into a weekend affair called Freedom Days.
"We've always had a Fourth celebration, and we've talked for years about trying to get it on the weekend for flexibility and scheduling and to allow families to travel here for the weekend," explained Scott Heibult, the George Chamber of Commerce president.
Calling the celebration Freedom Days also coincided with a special project the community has undertaken: being part of the statewide Freedom Rock Tour.
The Freedom Rock was conceived by Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II of Greenfield, Iowa. Inspired by the movie "Saving Private Ryan," Sorensen envisioned turning a large boulder that sits on Iowa 25 near Greenfield into a Memorial Day tribute to veterans. Dug out of the nearby limestone quarry sometime in the late 1960s, the rock had become a magnet for graffiti.
After getting permission from the quarry owners, Sorensen first painted the rock in 1999 and has created a new tribute on the Freedom Rock each year since.
Sorensen began to travel around the country, painting murals for American Legions, and eventually came up with the idea of placing a uniquely painted Freedom Rock in each of the 99 Iowa counties.
"They contacted us," explained Heibult. "They sent out information to each town in Iowa, with the condition that one town would be selected in each county. Several of the directors of the Chamber here had seen the Freedom Rock and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity."
Since George was the first community to respond in Lyon County, it got first dibs on the rock project.
"It ties so many things together," noted Heibult. "It's a tourist attraction. It's a tribute to veterans. It's a cultural draw for your community."
The boulder itself arrived in time for Freedom Days and is placed outside the recently relocated George Railroad Depot in Locker Park on the north side of the community. The rock is seven feet tall and about six feet in diameter.
"It's made out of Sioux quartzite and came out of the quarry on the west side of Sioux Falls," detailed Heibult.
But it will be a few weeks before the stone gets its patriotic adornments. Sorensen is scheduled to paint the rock sometime in August. The exact design is still up in the air.
"I'm waiting to hear back from our American Legion group," Heibult said. "I'm hoping they have some ideas of what they'd like to see on it. He actually encourages (such input), but if we don't come up with something specific, he'll come up with the design. ... He won't sketch it until he comes."
Each of the participating Freedom Rock communities covers the cost of its own project, which in this case is approximately $8,000. The main fundraiser -- a waffle feed -- was Sunday in conjunction with Freedom Days.
"So far, people have been very generous," said Heibult.
George isn't the only northwest Iowa committee that has committed to the Freedom Rock project. Lake Park will be the locale for Dickinson County.
In Lake Park, however, the Freedom Rock will be part of a much larger veterans memorial constructed out of fieldstone.
"The middle of July we'll start construction on that," said Jim Kessler, commander of Lake Park's American Legion Post 371 and chairman of the memorial committee.
The Lake Park contingent has already come up with a design for its tribute.
"We're going to put five people on it from various areas of Dickinson County," Kessler described. "Two of them are POWs who returned home; two who were killed in action; and then we'll have a lady who was a surgical nurse during World War II and also went into the POW camps and attended to the prisoners."
The fundraising goal for the Lake Park veterans memorial is $85,000. It will be located east of the Community Building, just north of the high school.
For more information on the Freedom Rock Tour, go to www.thefreedomrock.com.
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers can be reached at 376-7327.