Former Crailsheim exchange student commissions sculpture; encourages Worthington to complete the bridge
WORTHINGTON — A sculpture unveiled before hundreds of onlookers — including dozens of Worthington visitors to Crailsheim, Germany — two weeks ago today came with a friendly challenge from the man who commissioned it.
Axel Huss, a 1986-87 exchange student to Worthington through the long-standing sister city relationship, along with Martha Cashel McCarthy — the former Worthington woman credited with connecting the Minnesota and German communities — pulled tandemly on a cloth covering the sculpture outside the new McKee Company in Crailsheim. Once revealed, Huss explained that the sculpture symbolizes part of a bridge connecting Crailsheim to Worthington. His hope is that Worthington will build the counterpart sculpture here to symbolize the connection between the two communities since the end of World War II.
Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, who was among nearly 40 local residents to travel to Crailsheim, is hopeful the city will meet Huss’ challenge and complete the matching sculpture here.
“I see absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t do the other half of it,” Oberloh said. “The only thing I asked Axel was to make sure (he) tell us what direction it’s facing so we can face ours towards it instead of away from it.”
Oberloh said he’s already spoken with Councilman Mike Kuhle, who was also present for the sculpture’s unveiling, as well as Councilman Scott Nelson and City Administrator Craig Clark about the project. Kuhle is the council’s representative on the newly formed Worthington Public Arts Commission.
“Him seeing it firsthand, he can take the information back to the arts commission and (we will) have them decide where it should go and figure out what the next steps are to get it constructed,” Oberhloh said.
That said, Oberloh added that he’d like to see the sculpture built on Sailboard Beach on the shoreline of Lake Okabena.
“I think that’s where it would be a great place for it,” he said. “Just about everybody who lives here travels around the lake at least once a week.”
Crafted of raw steel, the Crailsheim sculpture is accompanied by a stone with a plaque and small seating area. Oberloh envisions that a sculpture in Worthington should also be accompanied by, at the very least, a plaque about the sculpture and Worthington’s sister city relationship with Crailsheim.
“We need to put something on there to talk about the relationship … and about the impact the American troops had in the community of Crailsheim immediately after the war,” he said.
Financing for the sculpture will be discussed at a Worthington City Council meeting within the next month. Meanwhile, Oberloh plans to talk to some local individuals who might be able to build it.
“It doesn’t look like it’s a terribly difficult piece,” he said. “Once we get the sizes from Axel, then we can get someone commissioned to do it and get some cost estimates.”
Oberloh said it would be nice to have the sculpture completed prior to next June’s Windsurfing Regatta and Unvarnished Music Festival.
“One of the things that I’m probably the most excited about doing this for is, first off, he issued the challenge, but the fact that you go over there, and there are still people that were children in Crailsheim that come up to you and thank you yet for what Worthington did 70-plus years ago,” Oberloh said. “We have to do whatever we can on our side over here to acknowledge what American people did for devastated villages in Germany.”
Crailsheim’s bridge leg sculpture was unveiled during a ribbon cutting celebration for the McKee Company, developed by Huss, now a real estate manager, on the former site of the McKee Barracks.
The barracks served as an aviation and pilot training school for German soldiers during World War II. A portion of the field was destroyed in the Allied bombing in March 1945, and American troops took occupation of the area a month later. By 1952 the McKee Barracks was constructed, with a recreation center and gym added later. The barracks was named after Mjr. John McKee Jr, a member of the 901st Field Artillery Battalion, who was killed in 1945.
Due to the U.S. Army in Europe drawdown, the McKee Barracks was closed July 30, 1993.
“I remember my visits at the McKee barracks, the gymnasium there and the workouts in the fitness room with the G.I.’s,” Huss told the crowd gathered for the McKee Company’s dedication. “I can also remember the maneuvers of the American soldiers. Military columns with tanks, trucks and jeeps drove through the city. When the children asked the GI’s, they were willingly supplied with chewing gum, peanut butter and other foods.”
When Huss was looking for property to build his vision of an American-like shopping mall, he set his sight on the former McKee Barracks in part because of its location on the Burgermeister Demuth Allee (named after former Worthington Mayor Bob Demuth Sr.). Huss had to sell his idea to the Crailsheim city council and administration, as well as the bank and potential tenants.
The first floor of the McKee Company was completed last December, with the penthouse finished by mid-January.
“It is a personal wish of mine to give our partnership/city friendship a long-lasting expression of solidarity with the choice of the name ‘McKee Company,’” Huss said. “The name stands for the former McKee Barracks and Company stands for the firms, businesses and means also to be in ‘good company’.”
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.