Local Greenfield artist Ray Sorensen II is on a mission to thank veterans. One rock at a time.
Sorensen has painted a veterans tribute mural every year for the past 14 years on what is now known internationally as The Freedom Rock. This spring, Sorensen will kick-off a statewide tour where he plans on painting a similar tribute in each of Iowa's 99 counties.
The original Freedom Rock, which stands approximately 12 feet tall, is located in Adair County on Highway 25, just off Interstate 80 at exit 86.
The rock, which originated from a nearby limestone quarry, would attract graffiti artists because of its visibility and close proximity to the freeway and became quite an eye sore for the passerby.
In 1999, Sorensen asked the owners of the quarry if he could paint a veteran's tribute on the rock for Memorial Day. The owners of Schildbergs Construction agreed.
"I had just seen 'Saving Private Ryan' and was inspired to do something," said Sorensen in a Creston News Advertiser interview Monday. "I was trying to spark that inspiration in others and remind people what Memorial Day is all about."
Apparently, it worked.
"Everyone liked it, so did the local vets," said Sorensen. "It really took off without my wife or I really doing anything."
This spring will mark Sorensen's 15th year painting the Freedom Rock in Adair County. Over the past 15 years, Sorensen has not only painted a different mural each year on the Freedom Rock in Adair County, but has been hired across the country to create patriotic murals and commissioned to paint two other freedom rock murals in Mitchell and Dallas counties.
The idea for the tour stemmed from Sorensen's intent on traveling around painting murals for the American Legion. Sorensen then decided to make it his mission to paint one rock in all 99 counties of his state.
Sorensen said he was inspired by Iowa Senator Chuck Grasserly, who in 1980 made it his goal to visit all 99 counties in Iowa during his successful run for state senate.
"I was also inspired by Kyle Munson from the Des Moines Register," said Sorensen. "He set out to write a story on every county in Iowa. I thought I should do that, too."
According to Sorensen, the Freedom Rock Tour will kick off in April 2013, weather permitting. Residents interested in having a Freedom Rock in their town, representing their county, or interested sponsors, are encouraged to visit www.thefreedomrock.com for application information.
"Each county has its own unique story or veteran that they want to honor'" said Sorensen.
Sorensen’s Freedom Rock tour is currently sponsored by Valspar Paint and Casey's General Store.