Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Freedom Rock unveiled in Brighton

By Gretchen Teske and Andy Hallman, Golden Triangle News Service | Aug 24, 2018
Courtesy of: DARLENE VORHIES Washington County’s Freedom Rock prominently displays the county’s namesake, George Washington. Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II painted the 13-ton boulder that sits at the corner of East Fountain Street and North Benton Street in Brighton where a gas station once stood. Sorensen’s Freedom Rocks typically contain patriotic elements and veterans from the county.

BRIGHTON – Washington County became one of the latest county to debut a “Freedom Rock” when it was unveiled earlier this summer during Brighton’s Whoopee Days.

Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II spent a whole week in Brighton working on the Washington County Freedom Rock. The 13-ton rock honors members of the community, including Vietnam War veteran and Brighton native, Sgt. Craig Rich.

Rich’s brother Ron drove more than eight hours from Springdale, Arizona, to witness the unveiling.

“I wouldn’t have missed it,” he said. “I think it’s really wonderful what the community has done. They never forgot about him.”

Rich’s sister Barb Riepe, of Fairfield, also attended the special ceremony in June where a wreath was hung in his honor next to the rock. When Riepe first heard the news, she was happy to hear it would honor all veterans and pay a special tribute to her brother. She said it was “awesome” for Craig to be among those painted.

Sorensen has made a name for himself as a gifted artist with a passion for honoring veterans through paintings on murals and boulders. He began the practice in 1999 when he painted a 60-ton rock near his hometown of Greenfield as a way to thank veterans for their service.

Washington County Veteran Affairs Coordinator Sue Rich opened the ceremony with the pledge of allegiance before addressing the crowd.

“Regardless if they fought in the battles of World War II, Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of Afghanistan or Iraq, or if they never left the United States, they did what their country asked them to do, and we thank them.” she said.

The Freedom Rock features George Washington on the front, a tribute to Sgt. Rich on one side, a tribute to Jay “Ding” Darling on the other and the back features purple heart medals and Revolutionary War soldiers to compliment the patriotic history of Brighton. Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Des Moines Register and an important figure in the conservation movement. Lake Darling State Park just outside Brighton was dedicated in his honor in 1950.

Sorensen then addressed the crowd gathered at the dedication, explaining his motivation for choosing the murals.

“It being Washington County, I thought it would be a great way to honor our first president and one of our first veterans,” he explained.

Sorensen told the crowd he chose to paint Darling’s famous cartoon of President Teddy Roosevelt because of the artistic value, the value Darling has in Iowa and Roosevelt’s veteran status.

“I thought the way he portrayed Roosevelt was amazing, and also Teddy Roosevelt was a veteran,” he said.

The purple heart medal is a representation of the multiple purple heart recipients in the county. On the top of the rock is an American flag, which Sorensen painted as a tribute.

“For me, that represents not only all veterans, but all Americans, because we’re all in this together,” he said.

Jefferson County is making progress on its Freedom Rock, too. In June, Estle Construction of Fairfield transported a 17,000-pound boulder to the lawn of the Jefferson County Courthouse. A committee has made a down payment to Sorensen to paint the rock, but he still has others left to paint before he can start on Jefferson County’s.

In April, Van Buren County unveiled its Freedom Rock in Stockport. In July, Henry County became the 99th and final county in Iowa to commission a Freedom Rock.

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