I must have a thing for statues. I just finished writing a novel that is partly narrated by a statue. And that’s not even my favorite sculpture. No, that would be the 48-foot-high figure of the Eternal Indian (aka Black Hawk) that towers above the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois. This statue means a lot to my family. We made annual pilgrimages to see it and have countless photos of our kids posing at its base.
My wife and I recently took a nostalgia-drenched trip to visit our old friend. We were dismayed to see it shielded from head to toe by scaffolding and hidden behind a shroud of green nylon. There was a newspaper article displayed there, describing the 104-year-old statue’s deteriorated condition and the efforts to restore it. The project had been launched by a couple from Sterling, Frank and Charron Rausa. And they had Forest Park’s own Andrzej Dajnowski on the job.
Seven years ago, Frank and Charron were reading an article about the statue. It said state funds to restore Black Hawk had dried up. This didn’t deter Charron, who told Frank they needed to fix the figure, the way the American people had united to repair the Statue of Liberty. They established a non-profit Friends of the Black Hawk Statue Committee.
Their grassroots fundraising efforts, like “Pennies for Black Hawk,” attracted the support of major donors. The state also promised $350,000. Frank and Charron were well on their way to raising $825,000 to fix the statue and establish a future maintenance fund. The couple were celebrating this triumph when Charron was diagnosed with cancer. But it would take more than illness to stifle her feisty spirit.
I called Frank and Charron recently and they had wonderful news and not-so-good news. First of all, Charron was feeling great and was in high spirits. But the statue project was crippled by the budget impasse in Springfield. No work was done this summer and they will not meet their goal of fixing the statue by November 2015.
They have no choice but to keep the statue protected until next spring. Even this isn’t cheap, as the scaffolding costs $2,200 a month. Worse, the project may lose donors if the budget impasse isn’t resolved soon. Had the state grant come through, the statue might have been fixed by now.
Frank remains undaunted. He plans to launch another appeal for funding, after they calculate the final price tag.
This wasn’t just a setback for the Rausas and the statue, it upset the plans of Andrzej and his son, Bartosz, who had intended to work on the statue this summer. “Anyone but Andrzej would have thrown in the towel,” Frank said, “but he’s personally committed to the project.” Andrzej has already restored other works by the sculptor, Lorado Taft, and remains loyal to the great sculptor’s legacy.
When Andrzej first signed on, Charron had been thrilled that, “We could get the best in the world.” But even better, they became friends with Andrzej and his wife. In fact, the couple joined a hundred other partiers to celebrate Charron’s 80th birthday last Saturday.
So, here’s to Charron! Hoping she will enjoy many more birthdays and that she and Frank will someday see the rebirth of their beloved Black Hawk.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.