VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) — The road to completion of a $1 million Veterans Memorial on the Range has been paved with the best of intentions.
But that road has also been littered with many bumps and potholes and an unexpected economic detour that have delayed and delayed a finished product and its delivery to its planned home at the Veterans Memorial Park site alongside Bailey's Lake in Virginia.
The project to honor Iron Range veterans is now 13 years old — far eclipsing the time of any war for which veterans in the region served, many of them giving the ultimate sacrifice.
And the bronze statue — Shoulder to Shoulder Even the Fallen Stand Tall — is all paid for, much of it with public state, county, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board and local government funds.
Yet a date for transport of a final product to the Iron Range is elusive. While it's "75 to 80 percent" complete, a lot of finishing work remains at The Crucible foundry in Norman, Okla., a business that has been badly buffeted in recent years by economic winds that have been gales of misfortune, not comforting breezes.
However, the owner of The Crucible Foundry, Mark Palmerton, is passionate about finishing the statue.
"I will do this to my dying breath," Palmerton said in a recent telephone interview.
Meanwhile, the frustrations of the veterans who have worked the project now for well more than a decade are growing much faster than the statue work is proceeding.
"We recently lost two longtime veterans committee members (Chuck Pottsmith and Jim Lustig). We couldn't get this done so it would be here before their passing. That hurts me deeply," said Tom Berrigan, chairman of the Iron Range Veterans Memorial Committee.
And concerns of Virginia city officials are also on the rise because if the statue is not installed by the fall of 2012, the city will be on the hook for a $100,000 grant already paid by the state that has been passed on to the veterans committee for the project. City councilors recently talked about possible legal action to protect its financial interest.
But, as has been the case from time to time with the project, good intentions trumped good judgment when no contract with the foundry for performance was drafted and signed.
"In retrospect, I wish there was a written contract," said Berrigan. "From the start the sculptor (Gareth Andrews) was running the show. That's what him and the foundry wanted."
"To the people of Minnesota, I apologize. But at the same time, I'm not going to stiff the State of Minnesota or the veterans," Palmerton said.
Andrews said Palmerton is fully committed to completing the statue that will reflect in larger than life size his artist's conception.
"He has not raised the price of the project," even though material and labor costs have grown considerably during the work, Andrews said.
And, Andrews pointed out, the project is very important to Mark Palmerton. His brother Steve, who is also involved in the business, lost a son, Jason, in the war in Afghanistan in 2006. "He's buried in Arlington (National Cemetery). This is very personal," Mark Palmerton said.
The scale model of the statue done by Andrews has been proudly displayed publicly for several years now. In a portfolio book on the project, Andrews, of Zim, writes about how it came together.
"Some veterans groups from the Iron Range of Minnesota approached me with the task of sculpting a monument in bronze for a memorial park. The design was to bring together life-size figures of varied ethnic heritages represented in all five branches of the United States armed forces and their women's corps (Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Marines, Air Force) and the Merchant Marine ... spanning the five major wars of the 20th century in which the U.S.A. played a significant role (WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf extending to the present time)...and incorporating the unifying symbols of the American bald eagle and Old Glory, our Stars and Stripes.
"Out of that grew Shoulder to Shoulder Even the Fallen Stand Tall. In this sculpture, each of the services finds its representative in a different one of the five conflicts, thus becoming something of a human time capsule. What would have been grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons (and their female siblings) over an eighty or more year period are here caught agelessly together, united in a moment of time, space and action."
From the outset, the nearly $1 million needed for such an expansive statue on the Iron Range seemed a goal that would be extremely difficult to meet. But the dogged persistence and passion of the veterans made it an objective that has been reached.
Here's a financial breakdown of the project:
— Total cost: $844,250.
— Commission paid to Andrews: $160,000.
— Money paid for work at the foundry: $674,250.
— Public Money Received According to Veterans Committee:
— Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board: $250,000.
— State bonding money contingent on statue's installation within five years (fall 2012): $100,000. Virginia will be responsible for the $100,000 if payback to state is required.
— St. Louis County: $20,000.
— City of Virginia: $10,000.
— City of Mountain Iron: $1,000.
— City of Gilbert: $500.
Another $10,000 will be needed for the final installation. But Berrigan said that half of that is already pledged from the Virginia Community Foundation and the other $5,000 has been secured through in-kind donations.
The New Mexico National Guard will transport, free of charge, the completed statue from Oklahoma to Virginia
When the global meltdown hit the economy three years ago, the foundry in Oklahoma fought to just pay its bills, keep the doors open and furnaces running and ward off bankruptcy, Palmerton said.
"I will blame 85 percent on the economy. It took us by surprise," he said.
The Crucible seems to be recovering, ever so slowly. Palmerton currently has about 75 percent of his 14-person workforce on the job four days a week; 25 percent for three days.
"It's well over 75 percent done. Now it's the labor that is needed, and that's considerable."
All the materials have been purchased for the project, which Palmerton said is quite a relief.
"Thank goodness the materials are behind us. Some of the materials needed were one-dollar a pound when we started, now they are six dollars," Palmerton said.
But Palmerton did not increase the project's cost, even though there was no contract.
"I stand by my number. I just thought that was the honorable thing to do," he said.
Palmerton said there are about 150 foundries in the country that do large statue artwork, but only about 10 "worthy of putting a project like this together."
"We are a strong commune of artists here. We are just trying to do justice to these men and women who let me play my music and do my art. We say, 'Let's get this done for the people who count.'"
Is bankruptcy for the company a possibility?
"I don't want to burn this country any more than what people are already doing to it. That's not an option," Palmerton said.
Palmerton said he could not say whether the project would be finished yet this year.
"There is no consistency in our business. Everything is always interrupted. But we will get this done. It may be a major miracle, but I'm confident it will be done. We will not lose," he said.
But for Berrigan, who is carrying the weight of aging World War II veterans, with so many dying each day, including friends on the Iron Range, that is not enough. He wants to be told, face-to-face, of a more specific timetable.
Berrigan is leaving for the foundry the first week in January. The City Council recently authorized expenses for Councilor Larry Cuffe Jr. to travel with Berrigan on the trip.
"I think they have turned a corner to get this thing done. I think our project was the only thing going for a long time and that literally kept their doors open. Maybe that was a good thing. Otherwise they could have shut down altogether.
"I'm hoping to pin down a delivery date. We can't wait another year," Berrigan said.
Information from: Mesabi Daily News, http://www.virginiamn.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.