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Veteran coordinating efforts to bring Freedom Rock to Linn County

What They're Thinking: Rock honoring local veterans expected to be in Linn County by 2020

(Gazette archive photo) The Freedom Rock for 2007 features the image of a U.S. soldier in Fallujah dubbed the Marlboro Man for his rough looks, the blood on his nose and the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Surrounding him are images of war that could be going through his mind as he contemplates the war says artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, right, who works on another side of the rock. Photo was taken Friday, May 11, 2007.
(Gazette archive photo) The Freedom Rock for 2007 features the image of a U.S. soldier in Fallujah dubbed the Marlboro Man for his rough looks, the blood on his nose and the cigarette dangling from his mouth. Surrounding him are images of war that could be going through his mind as he contemplates the war says artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, right, who works on another side of the rock. Photo was taken Friday, May 11, 2007.
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A boulder painted to honor local veterans is anticipated to eventually make its way to Linn County.

The artist behind the Freedom Rock, Ray “Bubba” Sorenson II, painted the first rock in 1999 and has been working since then to fill each of Iowa’s 99 counties with a rock.

So far, such rocks have been painted in more than 70 of the state’s 99 counties.

The Gazette spoke with John Mikelson, co-chair of the Linn County Freedom Rock Foundation, about his efforts to get a Freedom Rock in place in Linn County.

“I have a strong interest,” he said, “and I did 26 years of service in the Army and the Army National Guard, so it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Q: Can you tell me the story behind the freedom rock?

A: The rock itself started up in Greenfield, Iowa, about 20 years ago with an artist named Bubba Sorenson. Every year, he was changing the motif on the rock for Memorial Day and got the idea that he wanted to put the Freedom Rock in all 99 counties in Iowa and has done some in some of the surrounding states as well. …

Q: What is the process to change the motif?

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A: These are very large rocks. I’m going to say somewhere between 5 and 15 tons. The rock, once it’s in place, pretty much stays there. The counties other than the one in Greenfield, I think once they’re painted, they’re painted. ...

Q: So there currently is not one in Linn County, and you’re working to get one there by when?

A: We’re working to have one installed by 2020.

Q: Do you have any ideas for where that might be?

A: We’re looking at the Veterans Memorial Stadium in southwest Cedar Rapids. In working with the Veterans Memorial Commission and the Metro Veterans Council, we think we want to put it down by … what’s there at the bottom of the hill. We’re in the process of measuring a couple rocks and looking at getting them transferred because the new director for the Memorial Commission will have to do some grading and put in some sidewalks after it’s placed and things like that, so we want to make sure it’s done right the first time.

Q: Why are you looking into getting it placed at that location?

A: Because it is a Veterans Memorial Park there. There are bricks to individual veterans, the Memorial Stadium, the Purple Heart Memorial is out there. … Also, the Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island was built as a World War I memorial and has a two-story Grant Wood stained glass window in the second entryway. The memorial commission was the first group we approached to partner with.

Q: What does it take to actually get the rock here in terms of fundraising?

A: We still have probably another $7,000 to go in our fundraising efforts. We have a couple of rocks that have been volunteered. Again, I have to get out and measure them and make sure they will fit in the space provided. We’re working with Coonrod (Wrecker & Crane Services) to actually move the rock to its location.

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Q: How much money have you been able to raise so far?

A: About $2,000.

Q: Do you have any preferences for what the rock should depict once you do get to that point?

A: A lot of that is left to the artist, Bubba Sorenson. … He tries to incorporate a lot of local history to be respectful to the communities he’s working in. ...

l Comments: (319) 398-8332; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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