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Council takes up soldier statue Approval of artwork for park expected

A sculpture called "Going Home," depicting an angel carrying a dead soldier heavenward, is about to find a new home in Sioux Falls.


The City Council will decide tonight whether to accept the gift of the statue from the family and friends of fallen Army Special Forces Green Beret Robb Rolfing.

If accepted - and the resolution is expected to pass easily - the statue will find its way to the city's Veterans Memorial Park, where it will honor all Sioux Falls area service members killed in battle.


"I can't imagine anyone opposed to it," Councilor Vernon Brown said of the gift. "It seems like a fitting tribute."

To be able to present the sculpture to the city is particularly meaningful to Rolfing's family. Rex and Margie Rolfing had just enjoyed an anniversary meal at Minervas with their two other children, T.J. and Tiffany, on June 29 when they noticed the angel carrying the soldier for the first time among all the other artwork on display along the streets of downtown Sioux Falls.


At virtually the same moment they saw it, 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Robb Rolfing was dying of wounds he received after taking small-arms fire in a southern neighborhood of Baghdad.


"It still hurts a lot," Rex Rolfing said. "But it's also a great honor to know that we could do something that helps other people honor their fallen loved ones. It's a tribute to all the people who have helped to keep this country great."


Gifts sought


To give the gift, the Rolfings and others need to raise between $150,000 and $175,000. That will pay to enlarge the sculpture to seven-eighths life size and for a platform on which to set it. It also will pay for benches and landscaping around the sculpture.


Rolfing said his family will make a donation, as will his employer, Midland National Life Insurance, and his son T.J.'s employer, Holmes Murphy & Associates.


"We have some people who have stepped forward and are willing to help us," he said.


His family is working with Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation to coordinate the fundraising.

Sondra Jonson, the Nebraska-based artist who created the sculpture, said it would take about a year to enlarge and complete the piece. The Rolfings would like to see it dedicated by Memorial Day 2009. Jonson said she could see the dedication happening by Veterans Day 2008.


Jonson originally designed the piece for a veterans memorial park competition in Nevada. Though it didn't win that competition, she ended up sending a bronze casting of the sculpture to President Bush in the White House.

The image of the angel carrying the soldier with an American flag at his feet is meant to capture three themes, Jonson said.


One is the heroism of a soldier who sacrifices his life for his country. The second is the great sorrow over the loss of that life. And the third is the idea that life continues into eternity.


"The theme is exactly what the statue looks like," she said. "And that is, death is not defeat."


Approval expected


Before tonight's vote, the decision to place the sculpture in the park needed approval from the Veterans Memorial Park board, the Sioux Falls Parks board and the Visual Arts commission. Board members wanted to make sure that the statue represents fallen service members from all military branches. Emblems of those branches will be displayed in some form on the base of the statue.


That, and the the sculpture itself, should make tonight's vote a simple one, Councilor De Knudson said.


"I think it will be such an appropriate addition to our veterans park," she said. "It really will be a very easy vote for every one of us."


Reach Steve Young at 331-2306.


Argus Leader Media - News
By Steve Young
October 15, 2007

A near-life-sized copy of "Going Home" by Sondra Jonson could be on permanent display in Veterans Memorial Park. (Photo by Emily Spartz / Argus Leader)


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