Ray “Bubba” Sorensen finished painting his Dallas County Freedom Rock on a sweltering day last July. On Saturday, Oct. 18, it was commemorated in Minburn on a cold, rainy morning. But inclement weather dampened neither the artist’s passion nor the audience’s warmth. More than 200 people attended the event, sponsored by the Minburn American Legion Osborne Post 99, which commissioned the art.
Members of the Des Moines children’s choir The Young Patriots, directed by Julie Dneker, led the audience in the national anthem and sang the official songs of military branches as veterans were recognized.
Sorensen, the creator of the unique, multiple-piece mural and also member of the Iowa House of Representatives, District 20, was unable to speak as planned, because he was attending his grandfather’s funeral. He began his Freedom Rock art in 1999 when he was a teenager by painting the 80-ton rock that rests near Menlo in Adair County. Inspired by the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” he replaced the graffiti that had decorated the rock for years with scenes that honored America’s veterans, changing the art every year in time for Memorial Day.
Since then, Sorensen’s vision has expanded to include a rock mural in every county. Dallas County’s Freedom Rock is the 82nd rock completed and Sorensen hopes to complete the remaining 17 of Iowa’s 99 counties by 2023. The project has also expanded across the United States, and to date a rock has been created in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri and Washington.
“Bubba Sorensen is a treasure,” said speaker Joy Neal Kidney.
Kidney, an historian and author, is the niece of the five Wilson brothers, whose images appear on one side of the rock. The Wilson family, from Dexter, lost five of its sons to World War II. “As a child, I remember Memorial Day (we called it ‘Decoration Day’ back then) as a mostly happy time filled with peonies and iris,” said Kidney. “ But I remember seeing my grandmother cry at the cemetery. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I learned that three of my uncles never came back from World War II and all five had died in service.
“I learned to write so that I could tell their story.”
The Wilson family veterans are Delbert G. Wilson, Donald W. Wilson, Dale R. Wilson, Daniel S. Wilson, and C. Junior Wilson. Also included in the mural are Nile Kinnick of Adel and Bob Feller of Van Meter. The exhibit’s permanent story board also includes additional historic veterans representing Dallas County: Joe Dew, Redfield, WWI; James Redfield, Civil War; Francis Love, Dexter; and George Soumas, WWII, Perry.
Also on Saturday’s program was Simon Conway, WHO radio talk show host and on the board of the Des Moines nonprofit Puppy Jake Foundation, which trains service dogs for veterans. Pointing to a reference to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) on the rock, Conway said, “PTSD is invisible but real, leading to a suicide crisis with our veterans.
“The dogs change our veterans’ lives. No veteran who has received a dog from Puppy Jake has committed suicide. One recipient tried, but his dog stopped him,” Conway said.
Minburn American Legion Post 99 Commander Mark Golightly thanked many donors from Minburn and Dallas County for the gifts that made the $20,000 Dallas County Freedom Rock project possible. At the conclusion of the dedication, the Legion presented the Puppy Jake Foundation with a check for $1,500.