Funds needed for Black Hawk Statue restoration

Black Hawk Statue (image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti)
Black Hawk Statue (image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti)

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

The rough winter of 2013-2014 took a toll on the famous Black Hawk Statue in Ogle County. The 50-foot-tall statue stands on a 125-foot bluff overlooking the Rock River in Lowden State Park. Constructed by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally titled The Eternal Indian, it was intended to be a composite of Native American tribes who inhabited the area. Later, it was given the name “Black Hawk” in honor of the Sauk leader who tried to defend his people’s homeland against the encroaching whites in the Black Hawk War of 1832.

View up the vertical fold in the robe with significant delamination. (Image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti)
View up the vertical fold in the robe with significant delamination. (Image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti)

After 103 years, the statue has suffered some deterioration, but the last winter was particularly damaging. The head, which is solid concrete, has held up better than the hollow body. Frank Rausa of Sterling, Ill., has been instrumental in mobilizing support for the statue’s restoration. He and his wife, Charron, launched a critical $700,000 restoration effort, which has drawn the support of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Rausas are both retirees who saw a newspaper story in 2008 about the loss of state funding to restore the statue, which has about 400,000 visitors a year. They had become very fond of the statue as a local landmark that preserves important history.

Close-up of finish concrete delaminated from the middle robe portion of the statue, which protrudes 2 inches. (Image courtesy of Thornton Tomesetti)
Close-up of finish concrete delaminated from the middle robe portion of the statue, which protrudes 2 inches. (Image courtesy of Thornton Tomasetti)

Frank Rausa, 71, had worked as a grant writer and wrote one to acquire funding for restoration, but the effort failed. Then, the couple established a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Committee, and placed the statue on the National Register of Historic Places. They also began a speaking tour, talking to Rotary, Kiwanis, alumni associations and historical societies. The Rausas created “Pennies for Black Hawk,” engaging local school children to contribute coins and connect with saving a statue that has long been the focus of field trips. The couple also obtained the help of a Sterling High School computer graphics class, which produced a 13-minute promotional DVD.

After some time, their effort gained serious financial support from the Dillon Foundation in Sterling and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Dillon Foundation is a nonprofit organization that distributes gifts, grants or loans to other organizations.

The Jeffris Family Foundation, based in Janesville, Wis., contributed a $150,000 matching grant, Frank Rausa said. This foundation was established in 1979 by Bruce and Eleanor Jeffris and their son Tom. Bruce Jeffris was born in a pioneer family that immigrated to Wisconsin from Kentucky in the 1840s. The foundation assists the development of historic sites for nonprofit organizations in small towns and cities in the eight states of the Midwest.

The restoration was expected to take four to six months. The Rausas hoped the project might be finished in time for Oregon Trail Days July 20-21, a celebration of “Oregon’s American Indian and Western heritage,” but after extensive evaluation of the damage, this will not be possible.

The Ogle County News reported earlier that restoration architects had taken core samples from the bottom portion of the statue. The information from the samples should help experts determine what needs to be done to repair the statue, which has developed cracks, and large pieces of its concrete surface have been dislodged. The folded arms of the monolith have been seriously damaged. Large chunks have fallen out of the elbow of the right arm and from underneath the left arm. The cold and snow this last winter have made the situation even more urgent. After checking the statue this spring, Rausa was dismayed to note that the arm was crumbling, and the weather has put the restoration project behind schedule.

The crew consists of Andrzej Dajnowski, director of Conservation of Sculpture & Objects Studio, Inc., Forest Park; Anne T. Sullivan, an architect from Sullivan Preservation, Chicago; and Amy Woods, architect from Thornton Tomasetti, Chicago. They had originally planned to take samples from the bottom of the statue, then later from the top, and do the final sampling in December but had to cancel because of the snow and cold that enveloped the area. The statue had been examined by a team of experts who did tests last October. Engineers used high-tech scanners to see inside the concrete to enable them to assess its condition and determine the amount and location of steel reinforcing. Another
crew scanned the statue with rotating lasers to create an exact 3-D model of the statue.

Rausa and the Friends of the Black Hawk Statue have been trying to get funding for the repairs, but ironically, federal grants for restoration projects dried up about the time the statue was approved for the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. The cost of assessment and repairs was first estimated at $625,000, much of which has been raised. But now, Rausa says, the price tag for the study and repairs is up to $700,000 and could go even higher. At a recent press conference, Rausa said $724,000 has been raised for the restoration, and about $50,000 has been spent on engineering studies and other prep work.

More than half the money raised so far came from a $350,000 grant the IDNR received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The rest came from donations and funds raised during the annual Oregon Trail Days festival held at Lowden State Park since 2010.

From the July 2-8, 2014, issue

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