The Freedom Rock Honors Veterans Locally and Nationally

    Marion County Freedom Rock
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    What started with a few cans of paint and one big rock may soon change the landscape nationwide.

    Greenfield artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II first painted his now-famous “Freedom Rock” in 1999, transforming a graffiti-covered boulder near Menlo into a tribute to U.S. military veterans and their families. Every year since, in time for Memorial Day, he has re-painted the 90-ton rock with a new patriotic design. Sometimes he mixes ashes from deceased vets right into the paint.

    Thousands of visitors pull off Interstate 80, at Exit 86, and turn south to see Sorensen’s handiwork each year.

    Calhoun County Freedom Rock
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    But more Iowans can see a Freedom Rock closer to home. Sorensen just polished off his 46th rock, in Fort Dodge, in his quest to paint a boulder in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. And now the Freedom Rock Tour is going national: Sorensen recently announced his plan to paint a pair of Freedom Rocks in all 50 U.S. states.

    “We’re visiting with representatives from Alabama, and there have been a couple of states, Minnesota and Ohio, that have spoken with us previously,” the artist told the Sioux City Journal in February. “I’d like to book some states so that when we do finish (all 99 counties) in Iowa, we can transition into doing 50 states.”

    But even as the project expands, Sorensen’s three main goals remain. He wants to honor vets, promote tourism and provide for his wife, Maria, and their two kids, a daughter named Independence and a son named Michael. Sorensen charges $5,000 for each Freedom Rock in Iowa.

    The rules are pretty simple: The first person or group in each county to book his services can decide where that county’s rock should go and suggest what details should be part of the design.

    Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson recently pointed out that the first-come-first-served system has occasionally prompted “a race among American Legions and city councils to claim their piece of what probably qualifies as the most expansive (and heaviest) artistic canvas in the state.” The

    Pocahontas County rock, for example, sits in someone’s front yard in tiny Rolfe rather than Pocahontas, the county seat. A brief debate erupted last month in Poweshiek County when county supervisors suggested that the three veterans’ memorials that already stood near the courthouse in Montezuma were enough, but the supervisors soon changed their minds, at the urging of the local American Legion.

    Sac County Freedom Rock
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    Plans for the national Freedom Rock Tour have been in the works for a while, but Sorensen wanted to keep it quiet until the groundwork was in place.

    “We decided to announce (the national tour) when I got halfway through Iowa so it had time to gain traction, so when the Iowa tour ends I can seamlessly transition into the national tour,” he told Jess Rundlett, a special projects and outreach coordinator for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

    Use “The Freedom Rock®” featured tour on the Iowa Culture mobile app or website to locate and learn more about each Freedom Rock in Iowa. The mobile app is free on Apple and Google Play stores.