By Susan Johnson
With the spring season advancing, and as people start making vacation plans, one popular Illinois tourist attraction still stands awaiting a much-needed refurbishing. The famous Black Hawk Statue in Lowden State Park, Ogle County, has withstood many rough winters over the decades, but now, after years of neglect, the iconic historical figure is literally crumbling. Waiting till next year may be too late.
Constructed by sculptor Lorado Taft in 1910, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally titled The Eternal Indian as a composite of local native tributes but later was called “Black Hawk” in honor of the Sauk leader who led a brave but futile effort to defend his people’s homeland against the whites who had taken the land. The battle is commemorated as the Black Hawk War of 1832.
Beginning in 2008, Frank and Charron Rausa, retirees who live in Sterling, Illinois, have been spearheading a drive to restore the statue. Frank Rausa had worked as a grant writer, and he wrote one to acquire funding for restoration, but the effort failed. After that, the Rausas established a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Committee, and placed the statue on the National Register of Historic Places. They have spoken to groups such as Rotary, Kiwanis, alumni associations and historical societies. They created “Pennies for Black Hawk,” in which local school children contributed coins for the effort. A Sterling High School computer graphics class also produced a 13-minute promotional DVD.
As the campaign gained public exposure, funding was obtained from the Dillon Foundation in Sterling and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Jeffris Family Foundation in Janesville, Wisconsin, contributed a $150,000 matching grant.
For the last few years, the town of Oregon, Illinois, has contributed proceeds from its July festival, Oregon Trail Days, celebrating “Oregon’s American Indian and Western Heritage,” but this festival was concluded last year.
Restoration architects have taken care samples from the bottom part of the statue to determine what needs to be done. The statue has developed cracks, and large pieces of its concrete surface have been dislodged. The folded arms of the monolith are severely damaged. Large chunks have fallen out of the elbow of the right arm and from underneath the left arm. The winter of 2013-14 showed further damage, and now the situation for the statue has become critical.
The original funding goal had been set at approximately $724,000, but it became apparent that this figure would have to be increased. Since this writer had previously spoken with Frank Rausa for an article for this newspaper, he was contacted again for an update.
SJ: What is the status of the project right now? How far are you from your financial goal?
Frank Rausa: Just last Monday [April 27] the Illinois Department of Natural Resources issued contracts for the conservator, the one who’s doing the restoration. They issued a contract to a company that’s going to oversee the project. Amy Woods, formerly of Thornton Tomasetti [Research Development Group, New York], is now with Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, Chicago. The next step is, they have to do some testing of materials that they will inject in some of the cracks. They will wash and clean the statue. They will start filling in some of the cracks. As far as the goal, we are about $50,000-$75,000 away. They know that there is more damage because they did a lot of physical testing last year, and there is a lot of damage that was shown by the radar. So they won’t know how much damage there is until they start removing some of the surface of the statue. Some of it is so thin that you could flick it off with a finger. In some areas, it is not too bad. The structural concrete and the inside surface, and the exterior surface is the finishing coat. That is the one they will have to start removing. The analogy I use is the person who has a heart problem, and they do the heart scan, and they won’t know until they actually get inside. We’re budgeting that we probably need another $50,000-$75,000.
SJ: A Chicago Tribute article in January made reference to your wife’s cancer diagnosis and her determination to see the project through to complete. How is she doing now?
FR: She’s doing well. She is having chemotherapy, and there is Stage 4 lung cancer in both lungs, the lymph nodes, the liver and some of the bones in the arms.
SJ: We certainly wish her well. Have you received any more funds from the Dillon Foundation, the Jeffris Family Foundation or others? Have all grant resources been exhausted?
FR: They’ve made contributions, and other contributions have been made. Once we get the construction started, we’ll have one more push for the campaign. Right now, it’s all conjecture how much we need. But we want to wait until we actually get going.
Note: Tax-deductible donations can be made at ilcf.org or mail to: Illinois Conservation Foundation, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, IL 62702. (Indicate the donation is for the Black Hawk Statue.)