By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixty-five and counting. That’s the number of “Freedom Rock” murals Ray Sorensen has painted in almost two decades.
The latest has its home in Rockford’s Central Park right on Main Avenue. Sorensen has been in the town the past couple of days working on the project.
Sorensen, who goes by Bubba, painted his first patriotic-themed boulder in 1999 near his hometown of Menlo about 20 miles west of Des Moines.
It started as a simple “thank-you” message to veterans to paint over a 12-foot rock near a highway that had been covered by graffiti over the years. Sorensen said he was inspired by the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and his desire to thank veterans for their service.
He has repainted that same boulder near Menlo each year for Memorial Day with a different patriotic scene.
In 2013 he launched the Freedom Rock Tour to bring an inspirational stone mural to each county in Iowa.
The Rockford project began at the behest of the late Kathy Tumilson, mother of Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson who was one of 30 American troops killed in Afghanistan when their helicopter was shot down in 2011 enroute to a combat mission.
Tumilson was familiar with the first Freedom Rock and when Sorensen started doing them in other counties she wanted Rockford to be the site in Floyd County, she told the Press in 2013.
Several people in town got together to donate the $1,000 required as a down payment on the project, and the rest of the total $5,000 plus expenses that Sorensen charges has come from grants, donations and fundraising.
Tumilson, who died in 2015 before seeing the project begin, said she eventually hoped to have landscaping and lighting for the rock.
The location of each Freedom Rock is on a first-come, first-served basis.
“It’s up to the first town in each county to book it,” Sorensen said while working on the Rockford rock Monday.
Floyd County makes the 64th Freedom Rock he has painted in addition to the original rock near Menlo. Thirty-five counties have scheduled a Freedom Rock. Only Henry County in southeast Iowa doesn’t have or hasn’t scheduled one, according to Sorensen’s website, www.thefreedomrock.com.
Last year Sorensen launched a national Freedom Rock Tour, hoping to eventually have a painted memorial to veterans on a rock in each state.