116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CENTRAL CITY — After eight years and 98 counties, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen’s Freedom Rock Tour has come to an end in the 99th — Linn County.
The artist and Republican state legislator from Greenfield launched his rock-painting tour in 2013 in Pocahontas County. Since then, he has been commissioned to paint a different rock in each county across the state, telling the stories of Iowa veterans along the way.
He just finished his last rock over the weekend in Linn County. A small reveal took place Sunday, but a dedication will be held at the 2022 Linn County Fair, fairgrounds Marketing Manager Heidi Steffen told The Gazette.
“It’s melancholy. It’s also a relief,” Sorensen, 42, said of the last installation. “I enjoy traveling the state and this has sustained my family. My knowledge of the branches (of the military) and the state’s history is wildly different than when I started. There’s a rush of feelings, but it’ll be nice to put a bow on it.”
Sorensen’s rock for Linn County includes an image of Robert Naughton, a Cedar Rapids native and Navy captain who spent six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Naughton died in February at his home in Texas.
Sorensen was inspired to pursue the Freedom Rock project by his uncle, who served as a Navy Seabee in Vietnam. He said the project has been his way of saying thank you to veterans who have served across the state.
“I didn’t serve,” he said. “I do this to pay my debts and say thank you. When I started the actual tour, the goals were to thank our vets, promote Iowa tourism and feed my family.”
Since before the tour, which is part of Sorensen’s mural painting business, Sorensen has been repainting the original Freedom Rock as a volunteer every May since 1999. The original rock is along Highway 25 in rural Adair County.
Each rock has taken Sorensen about a week to 10 days to paint.
“I stay on site and work every day of the week,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work and travel.”
Though he’s now painted a rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, he is not done. On one hand, he will be painting a 100th Freedom Rock in Iowa to be auctioned off with a portion of the proceeds going to a veterans’ charity to be announced later.
“There were a lot of towns upset they didn’t get a rock, so this is kind of their chance to get one,” he said. “So one county in the state will have two rocks.”
Sorensen’s next goal is to put a Freedom Rock in each of the 50 states. He already has been painting multiple rocks in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri. He’s also done work in Nebraska, Illinois, Washington and North Dakota.
“I’ve got three small children at home I’d like to see eventually,” Sorensen joked. “I’d like more space between the states to spend time with them. But I do hope to sprinkle in different murals all around the country.”
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