FREEDOM ROCK TO SHINE
It may only be a rock, but then again it’s not just any ordinary rock.
It is a 9-foot boulder that carries an important message for all Americans. In addition, it is a thank you tribute to the nation’s veterans to honor their service. And it captures a history lesson of battles fought close to home and symbolizes Dodge County as well as other parts of Minnesota.
Minnesota’s first Freedom Rock located outside the Kasson American Legion will shine on Labor Day as Legion officials are set to officially dedicate it. And perhaps the person to be standing most proudly in the background will be Dave Wilcox of Mantorville.
Wilcox led the effort to bring the Freedom Rock to Kasson after he saw several of them scattered across the countryside in Iowa. He initially saw a Freedom Rock in Britt, Iowa in 2014 and began asking around about what it was. He quickly learned the story behind the rocks and knew it was something Kasson needed.
He contacted members of the Kasson Legion and soon got them hooked on the idea of bringing a Freedom Rock to the Legion Club on Main Street. Wilcox helped raise $12,000 for the project.
On July 4, Wilcox enlisted the help of Tom Paulson of Mantorville to move the gigantic boulder from a sand pit outside of Byron into Kasson. The 38,000-pound rock was all the front-end loader could handle, Wilcox said. But they made it, paving the way for Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II to come in and provide his artistic talent by painting a mural on it.
Wilcox said they actually had their eyes set on an even larger boulder—measuring in at 16 feet— but quickly determined there was no way to move that one.
Sorensen came in July when he spent two weeks in Kasson painting the rock. He tied several scenes into the mural, including St. Paul native Leroy Neiman, who was a famous painter and cook in World War II, Chaplain Lt. Col. Russell Balisdell of Hayfield, who was involved in Operation Kiddy Car that saved Korean orphans and the Civil War recruiting station at Wasioja. The rock also ties in Minnesota-made Spam, which was a popular food item with soldiers during the war.
“There is local history, Hayfield history and Minnesota history,” Wilcox pointed out. He noted a sixth grade class from Kasson-Mantorville is already planning to come to the rock for a history lesson this fall.
Wilcox estimates he’s seen eight of Sorensen’s Freedom Rocks, which are scattered throughout 75 counties in Iowa. Sorensen’s goal is to get them in all 99 counties as well as at least one in which of the 50 states. The state rocks are larger than the county rocks in Iowa. “His work is getting better and better,” Wilcox said.
Minnesota will eventually be home to three Freedom Rocks. The second one is planned for Lakeville next year. “I think it’s kind of cool,” Wilcox says. “It is not going to get diluted with only three of them in Minnesota,” he added.
“I think it can be a point of interest for a lot of Minnesota,” Wilcox said, noting Kasson will now become a part of the Freedom Rock motor rides touring the various rocks. “For a lot of veterans, it will be a destination.”
Asked for his impressions of the Kasson rock, Wilcox said, “I thought it turned out fantastic. The longer he painted on it, the cooler it got. I’m pretty impressed with it. It turned out beautiful. I don’t know how the guy does it.”
Through the whole project, Wilcox has had only one thing on his mind. “I wanted it to be a simple tribute to veterans,” Wilcox said. “I never served, but at least I know enough to say thank you,” he said.
He thought about it a little more. “This is the coolest thing I have ever done for a community,” Wilcox said. “This is going to be here a long time. Nobody is going to steal it.”