Just enough time in between heavy rain showers, members of the Kasson Legion avoided getting wet and dedicated Minnesota’s first Freedom Rock Monday afternoon to a gathering of several hundred people next to the iconic boulder along Main Street.
The rock’s artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorsensen II took the heavy downpour just before the dedication in stride. “Our troops have to fight in rain so we’ll have to do our dedication in the rain,” Sorensen said. “We’re blessed to be in this country.”
Sorensen took time to explain the various scenes he painted on the boulder over a two-week period in July. The most prominent feature across the front facing Main Street depicts the nearby Wasioja Recruiting Station that helped recruit 200 men into the Union at the onset of the Civil War. The building, which is still around today, was built in 1855 by Col. James George who later led those recruits into the Battle of Chickamauga. Also on this side is a nod to the first Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.
Another scene on the boulder pays tribute to Hormel’s Spam, which contributed to keeping allied troops fed during World War II. There were 100 million pounds of Spam luncheon meat shipped to troops during this time.
“Why wouldn’t we pay tribute to the Spam can?” Sorensen asked the crowd.
The back side depicts Air Force Chaplain, Col. Russell Blaisdell of Hayfield. He was involved in Operation Kiddy Car and is credited with saving hundreds of Korean kids. Sorensen called Blaisdell’s contributions a “lesser known story” of the war for most people. However, Blaisdell had enormous impact. “If he ignored it, a lot of kids would have been causalities,” Sorensen said.
A highlight of the dedication was ashes of Carl Mergen of Dodge Center being presented to Sorensen. He mixed the ashes into a bucket of black paint and then turned around and painted the ashes onto a portion of the rock. Gabby Thomas sang “America the Beautiful” during the painting of the ashes.
Legion Chaplain Dick Denny presented Mergen’s family with an American flag.
“For them to pay tribute (to my father) is mind blowing,” said Calvin Mergen. “I’m at a loss for words.”
The ceremony concluded with “God Bless the USA” performed by the band Branded of Rochester.
Sorensen plans to paint his second Minnesota Freedom Rock in Lakeville next year. He just completed his 76thcounty rock in Iowa. His goal is to have one in all 99 counties of Iowa and at least one in every state.