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A reminder of local heroes

Greenfield muralist begins Freedom Rock Foundation

Ray Sorensen paints the Union County Freedom Rock in Nov. 2014. Sorenson has been painting Freedom Rocks for more than 20 years and has painted one in each of Iowa's 99 counties to honor military veterans and other local heroes identified by committees in each community he's painted in.
Ray Sorensen paints the Union County Freedom Rock in Nov. 2014. Sorenson has been painting Freedom Rocks for more than 20 years and has painted one in each of Iowa's 99 counties to honor military veterans and other local heroes identified by committees in each community he's painted in.

Greenfield muralist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II hinted to the Adair County Free Press last December that he and his wife, Maria, are exploring a way for the Freedom Rocks he’s painted across Iowa and the United States to be maintained well after they’re completed.

In a press release last week, the Sorensens announced the Freedom Rock Foundation – an organization intended for the purposes of folding the end of the Freedom Rock Tour into the next chapter.

Sorensen painted his first mural on a 90-ton boulder along Highway 25 south of Menlo in 1999, which he’s updated every year since.

He isn’t commissioned for the original Freedom Rock. He does it as a tribute to military men and women. He receives a large amount of visitors to the rock during the few weeks in May when he’s actually on-site painting it and many people visit the spot throughout the year. Due to its popularity, Sorensen was inspired to go on tour in an effort to install a Freedom Rock in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

The Freedom Rock Tour will have placed a painted rock in all 99 Iowa counties when it is completed later this year. Now that Iowa is complete, Sorensen has been commissioned in six states to install Freedom Rocks later this year.

“A lot of people keep asking us...what’s next?,” Sorensen said. “So, we wanted to be ready for the next chapter. After talking it over, we decided a non-profit would be the best way to move forward.”

Local heroes

When the Iowa rocks were painted, many of them had a task force of people behind them who would do the leg work of collecting stories Sorensen could portray on their county’s rock. Sorensen said that one of his favorite parts of the Freedom Rock Tour has simply been hearing the stories of those he’s painting about.

Adair County veterans he’s painted recently include Rick Scheacher and CJ Miller of Greenfield. He’s also painted Ringgold County astronaut Peggy Whitson, who has since visited the Freedom Rock in Mount Ayr and has signed it on the same side Sorensen painted her signature.

This year, the original Freedom Rock paid tribute to the medical professionals working in the heart of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This Freedom Rock Tour, I’m glad I’m taking it, too. I’m getting to go around to all these communities, learn about all these stories and talking to veterans,” Sorensen said. “To see my artwork having impact on veterans across the state is a very humbling experience.”

Foundation

Now that so many rocks are complete, the Freedom Rock Foundation will take care of the needs of keeping up the rocks in all these communities for many years to come. For instance, one rock has already had to be repaired because it was crashed into by a drunk driver.

Sorensen says that as a state representative, he can often utilize contacts he has at the federal level of government to help people with veteran-related issues they have. The Freedom Rocks are another way he can promote veteran causes utilizing talents he has and inspire others to think of the needs of veterans who may be around them in everyday situations.

Sorensen said that, with the exception of the Vietnam War, we as a nation have sent men and women to war and have welcomed them home. But when they get home, they have transitional struggles we struggle to understand and needs we struggle to meet.

“We don’t understand everything about their transition from military to civilian life. My hope is that the rocks can be some sort of a bridge or conduit to facilitate that, to be a reminder to the public that these are the men and women we do have to take care of,” Sorensen said. “They put their lives on the line to defend us and our way of life here in this country and my hope is that these are little lighthouses or beacons for that.”

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