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Lake Park breaks ground on Freedom Rock Veteran's Memorial

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Saturday morning for the new Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial near the community building in Lake Park. The featured rock is shown in the background, at left. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)1 / 3
Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Saturday morning for the new Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial near the community building in Lake Park. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)2 / 3
James Kessler (in cowboy hat), chair of the Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial Committee, accepts a $3,000 donation from Ernie Cupp on behalf of the Veterans Foundation of Dickinson County. Surrounding the two are members of the Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial Committee, with the feature rock for the memorial in the background. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)3 / 3

LAKE PARK, Iowa -- Dozens of people gathered in Lake Park Saturday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony for a Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial. Construction will begin in earnest this week, with nationally-known Freedom Rock painter, Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II, of Greenville, Iowa, slated to be in the community to paint the feature rock in early September.

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A dedication ceremony for the memorial, being built east of the Lake Park Community Center in Veterans Park, is tentatively planned for Nov. 8.

James Kessler, chairman of the six-member planning committee and commander of the American Legion Post 371 and Ninth District, said, "It's going to be a unique design."

The memorial will be comprised of a 13¾-ton feature rock, surrounded by five slightly smaller rocks to represent each branch of the military. The feature rock came from Sanborn, Minn., three additional rocks came from Minnesota and two came from the Lake Park area.

The use of rocks is quite different from other veterans memorials, which often are comprised of granite monuments.

"We want to have something that is different and unique," Kessler said in his opening comments Saturday morning. "Black granite really shines, it looks pretty, but the people who served our country were never always shaven or shiny -- they were just ordinary people from every walk of life there was. They proved their ruggedness.

"That's what our rocks signify -- the ruggedness of our country. They're solid, they're firm, they're not fancy -- they just do their job. They stood tall when the call came."

Pavers to recognize and honor veterans from Dickinson County are being sold now, and will create a path through the memorial.

"Outside of the Freedom Rock, the greatest thing we'll have standing is a United States flag flying 35 feet above the ground," Kessler said. "Without that flying, we wouldn't have this possibility today."

The feature rock will include the painted likeness of five veterans of Dickinson County -- individuals who served their country in time of need. Among them are Spirit Lake native Bill Ahart, a prisoner of war in World War II who was in the Bataan Death March; Milford native Lawrence Lambert, a prisoner of war in World War II; Lake Park native Ed Gath, killed in action in the Korean War; Terrill native Milton Simpson, killed in action in World War II; and Lake Park native Rachel Wunder, who served as a surgical nurse in World War II and ended up caring for individuals rescued from the concentration camps.

Kessler said they "put out feelers" in Dickinson County to seek suggestions on who to feature on the rock. All five of the veterans are deceased.

"The public gave us names and we contacted the families for approval," he said. "We got their pictures so we have something for the artist to paint from.

"The balance of the rock is kind of up to Bubba -- it's up to him on what to incorporate," Kessler said. "We gave him some ideas."

Sorensen, on a quest to paint a Freedom Rock in each of Iowa's 99 counties, will spend about a week to 10 days in Lake Park to paint the rock. He painted the first Freedom Rock in Adair County, which he repaints every year in time for Memorial Day.

"We're really excited," Kessler said. "I think now we've turned it up a notch since we broke ground. We'll get people excited. To all the veterans before me, we can't say thank you enough."

Sales of pavers has been progressing slowly, and donors have already stepped up to sponsor four benches and the American Flag pole. Kessler said the fundraising goal is $85,000 to complete the memorial and establish a fund to maintain it.

In addition to the rocks, there will be a special area in the memorial to honor the families of veterans -- those who "kept the home fires burning" and made sure kids got an education, Kessler said.

"They became therapists, psychiatrists -- they had to help these veterans deal with the casualties of war, not only physically, but mentally," he added. "Our people served to liberate those from depression and dictatorship, they tried to give people around the world the opportunity to have the right to choose, the same as us, and some of them paid an awful price."

John Engel, Mayor of Lake Park, said the community is "very proud of its veterans, past and present," and always will be.

"This is a dedication to them -- the ones that gave their lives and served their country to make our land free," Engel said.

"I think this Freedom Rock will be a good thing and I hope a lot of veterans get a lot of recognition from it," added Milford Mayor Don Lamb.

Dickinson County Supervisor Paul Johnson, of Spirit Lake, was also on hand for the groundbreaking.

"Dickinson County may be the smallest of the 99, but today we're demonstrating that it's one of the biggest in the state of Iowa with this Freedom Rock," Johnson said. "Each generation is called upon to make a commitment, to preserve the God-given rights that were granted to us and for the future generations coming. That rock will stand there as a veterans memorial to us all. We will not forget."

To donate to the Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial in Lake Park, individuals may make a tax-deductible contribution to Freedom Rock Veterans Memorial, P.O. Box 121, Lake Park, Iowa 51347. For more information about ordering pavers, call Kessler at (712) 330-1738 or email

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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