Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

The rock that tells a story

Washington County’s Freedom Rock coming to life in Brighton
Jun 12, 2018
Photo by: Gretchen Teske Ray Sorensen paints the Freedom Rock for Brighton on Monday, June 11. The Freedom Rock will be completed later in the week.

By Gretchen Teske, The JOURNAL


BRIGHTON —Ray “Bubba” Sorensen stands over a boulder and carefully paints the history of Washington County onto its side. Washington is the 73rd of Iowa’s 99 counties to have a Freedom Rock.

“This will be 73 in Iowa,” he says. “I’ve got three in Missouri, one in Wisconsin, then I’ll be doing two in Minnesota this summer and next summer.” These rocks are specified versions of his original project, the Freedom Rock, which he completed over 20 years ago.

This one sits in Brighton, but Sorensen’s original Freedom Rock is a 12-foot-tall boulder along Highway 25 in Menlo. He got the idea from seeing the rock covered in graffiti and decided to use it to send a message. In 1999 he painted the words, “thank you” onto the rock, as a gesture to veterans. Every year since then he repaints the rock for Memorial Day to commemorate the armed forces. In 2008, Sorensen and his wife opened a mural painting business and he decided to paint a rock for the counties of Iowa. His goal is to make it to all 99.

“My three main goals were to thank our veterans, promote Iowa tourism and feed my family,” he says. “I think keeping them all unique and different, it keeps it so you don’t see one and you’re like ‘oh, that’s it,’” he says. The success of his artwork has spurred people to create their own Freedom Rock tours around the state. “It’s kind of like a little Easter Egg Hunt across Iowa.”

Sorensen chooses his designs based on the county. “It’s a challenge. I wanted them all to be different and naturally each rock is different. They’re kind of like fingerprints,” he said. “I knew that would help me make each one unique.”

The county gives him ideas of the historical significance of the county and he creates the artwork from there. “I just try and keep it to do with the county.”

Because each rock is different, there is no exact time frame but Sorensen says on average each rock takes about a week to seven days to complete. The specialized paint he uses can cost as much as $230 a gallon.

The Freedom Rock in Brighton was donated to the city by Merle Pacha who had the 13-ton boulder on his property for years. It now sits on the corner of Highway 1, on an empty lot owned by the city. Townsend Crane Service in Wellman moved the rock at no cost. “They moved it for us at no cost because it was for veterans, which is pretty nice,” said Brighton City Clerk Chris Davies.

Getting a Freedom Rock for Brighton has been an idea for years. “One of the ladies in our town was at the state fair and she found out about it and so we looked into it,” he said. In September of 2013 they were added to the waiting list. “We’ve known almost for that long that we were going to do it sometime in 2018,” he said.

The time is finally here as Sorensen works all day to complete the mural in time for Whoopee Days. Once it’s complete, the city has plans to develop that corner to make it a place of honor for first responders and war veterans. “It’s going to be a work in progress,” Davies said. “It’s not necessarily a memorial, but more of a thank you.”

Covering the rock will be several murals all pertaining to Washington County. One side will depict cartoonist Ding Darling, a prominent figure in Brighton history. Another will feature Revolutionary War soldiers, as several are buried in Hillcrest Cemetery. Other aspects of the mural will focus on Purple Heart recipients and Sgt. Craig Rich, of Brighton.

“(We’re) just trying to make it a little more (local),” he said. “Every one of these is a little bit distinctive. With all the stuff going on in the world right now, it’s just kind of nice to honor those who risk their lives to keep us free or safe.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Jun 17, 2018 10:40


A memoir by the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist recounts a blockbuster career from the Golden Age of journalism.

CBS News

BOOKS: Seymour Hersh on the life of a "Reporter" | Watch Video
David Martin sits down with Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist and political writer Seymour Hersh, author of a new memoir.


If you wish to comment, please login.