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The Freedom Rock that arrived at its new home next to the Shellsburg American Legion Hall on Saturday inspires special memories because of where it has been, and what it will represent.

“It’s personal, it’s special,” said Shellsburg American Legion Rider Dan Harris.
“It will honor all of the veterans of Benton County,” said Dan’s wife, Ramona.

They were among about a dozen members of the Riders who accompanied the rock from just west of Urbana to Shellsburg on Saturday morning. The organization needs to raise approximately $18,000 for the project, which will include lighting, materials, painting and the protective, anti-graffiti coating. Future meetings will include discussions about fund-raising, as well as brainstorming sessions as the members discuss specific ideas for what images they want on their rock. Iowa painter Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II is the artist.

Dozens of Freedom Rocks have been set up in many Iowa counties. Each is unique and includes a variety of tributes to those who have served in U.S. military units. A total of 27 Freedom Rocks have been completed; arrangements are in progress for 53 more of Iowa's 99 counties. See the Freedom Rock Virtual Photo Tour HERE.

Tri-State Crane and Rigging of Cedar Rapids donated its equipment and man-hours toward Saturday’s move.

Family memories and a unique, but unsuccessful idea

When rural Shellsburg resident Laurie Ortner saw the rock, she immediately recognized it from her childhood days.

“After looking at the first picture, I knew the location it came from,” says Ortner. “It was the farm of my grandparents, Lawrence and Phyllis Hess, where my mom and uncles grew up.”

Ortner’s mom, Teddi Newton, recalls watching her father plow around the rocks on the farm as he planted his crops.

“It was a nuisance,” she said.

Laurie's cousin, Dawnette Richards, has another memory of that rock and the challenges it presented her Grandpa Hess.

"It used to be a hazard in the field," said Richards. "My grandfather and a few friends got an idea to dig a big whole next to it. They tried to use dynamite to blow it into the hole. Well, needless to say it didn't work. Luckily, Grandpa is still here to celebrate his 93rd birthday today and the rock has survived to honor fellow veterans just like him who fought for the freedom we have today."

Ortner recalls how that only a portion of that rock (one of several large ones on that parcel of land) was visible, and the family did not know how big it was until it was unearthed.

The family made the difficult decision to sell that farm to the BECCA group in Urbana, when Phyllis had to make trips to Cedar Rapids every other day for dialysis.

Driving past the old farm place is still an emotional experience for the family, said Ortner.

“The farm had a red house, five buildings, silos, a cattle lot and all of the farmland,” she recalls.

Phyllis passed away in 1998; Lawrence celebrated his birthday April 19.

“I wish I would've seen this rock going passed my house today,” Ortner said. “But knowing I can see it every day, just in a different location, puts a smile in my face.”

Ortner’s mother shares those same feelings.

“Just knowing that it came from our farm has lots of meaning,” says Newton. “My dad turned 93 years old this week and the rock survived to honor vets like him and my brothers,” she says.

Public input welcome

A Freedom Rock committee is leading fund-raising efforts and discussing ideas for the specific design of the rock. That committee will sort through ideas and suggestions and submit them to The American Legion Riders for a decision. The public is more than welcome to submit ideas for possible fundraisers, ect to The American Legion Riders Chapter 166 PO Box 392 Shellsburg, IA 52332.

See more photos of the American Legion Riders escorting the Rock to Shellsburg HERE.

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