News Reporter

EMERSON – Emerson dedicated a new memorial for service members this weekend. 

The small town is now home to the Mills County Freedom Rock. The artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, is currently on a “Freedom Rock Tour” with a mission to have a rock in every county in Iowa. 

The boulder in Emerson took about five days for Sorensen to complete. Each county’s boulder is painted differently and has a local touch to it. Emerson is no exception. 

One side of the Mills County boulder depicts soldiers from the Civil War to the current conflict in the Middle East. On the opposite side are portraits of two local fallen soldiers, Sgt. James Skalberg and Army Spc. James Kearney III. 

The city hosted a dedication ceremony Saturday, where a crowd of more than 100 people attended, including family members of the fallen soldiers. 

Family members took photos with their loved ones’ portraits and were happy Sorensen chose to honor them this way. 

“Bubba, as usual, did an outstanding job,” said James Kearney, Jr., Kearney’s father. “When he says you have to be back at least 15 feet in order to catch it correctly, he’s right, because that’s our James. That looks like him.”

Skalberg’s family also attended the event and said they appreciate being able to see his face when they visit. 

“I just love seeing my baby’s face every time I drive by,” said Kelli Skalberg, Skalberg’s mother. “I think it’s a wonderful tribute. I think it’s beautiful.”

Emerson Mayor Rob Erickson was joined by mayors and council members of local towns, State Rep. David Sieck, State Sen. Mark Costello, U.S. Congressman David Young and a representative from U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s office for the ceremony. 

“This is a great thing that the city’s done, to get this rock,” said Sieck, who lives in Mills County. “It’s a tragic loss of kids from our area, but it’s a great [way] to honor all of our veterans and those that have served. This is a great thing for our county.”

Erickson said the Freedom Rock cost around $10,000 including Sorensen’s fees, the artist’s lodging, delivery of the boulder and a memorial area. However, the mayor estimates the costs will slightly increase once things such as park benches and chain fences have been added. 

“We’re still not done yet.” Erickson said. “We still haven’t paid all our bills, but we’re guessing it’ll be between $11,000-$11,500. And the reason we built this [walkway] outside is so the people wouldn’t be so close. Bubba told us the farther back you are from the rock, the better it is.”

To raise money, the town hosted several fundraisers including a pie auction, the auction of a donated afghan and an Elvis impersonator. 

“The big fundraiser we had was we had an Elvis impersonator come and he donated all the money and then he wanted to take his picture with all the servicemen and I think there were around [30] here that day. It was great,” said Erickson.

The mayor predicts the town will hold more fundraisers to raise money for the remaining projects; however, no plans have been made.  

Erickson also said he hopes the Freedom Rock will help bring interest to Emerson while honoring those who have served. After having a large crowd at the ceremony and having out-of-state visitors, Erickson is hopeful it will be a large tourist attraction. 

“[The ceremony] was perfect,” said Erickson. “To have those dignitaries, the other mayors, to have city council members here, it was just terrific. Besides, to have all the legion and they were all represented from each town in our county. And then to have [the poker run] people come through and watch what we were doing and clap and say ‘thank you,’ it was tremendous.”

Erickson said it’s been a long time since that many out-of-towners were in Emerson.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had this many people in our small town. We’re really proud of this. I have visited with people from North Platte, Neb., Omaha, Kansas City, Maryville, Mo., they’ve all come to see this rock that Bubba did,” he said. “Hopefully, if nothing else, it’ll bring notoriety to our town, and then the second thing, hopefully it’ll bring some money into our town. When you’re a small town, you could always use that.”

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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