Freedom Rock® artist Bubba Sorensen started work on the Cerro Gordo County rock this week at the corner of Main Avenue and 8th Street.-Reporter photo by Chris Barragy.
by Marianne Gasaway
Bruce Trebil is watching with pride as a Freedom Rock is being painted this week at the corner of Main and 8th Streets. Trebil has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of artist Ray Michael Sorensen II, better known as ‘Bubba,’ not only because he is a veteran, but because some of the paint Sorensen will use to create a unique tribute to Cerro Gordo County contains the ashes of his friend, Army veteran Louis (Butch) Raprager.
“We were best friends since the age of three. We considered each other brothers,” explained Bruce. “When we heard there might be a Freedom Rock here we thought that would be a perfect tribute to Butch.”
Sorensen tells the story that as a young child he began drawing, and later painted his first mural on a large, approximately 12-foot tall, 60-90 ton rock that made his artwork known throughout the world— The Freedom Rock. While attending college, Bubba was inspired by the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” and painted a sincere thank you to veterans on the rock. The work was so appreciated that local veterans encouraged him to continue painting the rock every year for Memorial Day. He has painted the rock with different tributes to our nation’s veterans every year since 1999.
Sorensen’s original Freedom Rock is located along Iowa Highway 25 near Menlo in western Iowa approximately one mile (1.6 km) south of exit 86 on Interstate 80.
Bruce and his wife, Donna, said they have visited other Freedom Rocks throughout the State and were aware of Sorensen’s willingness to incorporate cremains of veterans into the paint he uses on rocks. Bruce supplied proof that his friend, Butch, was a veteran and he met with the artist Sunday before he started work on the rock.
“Bubba told us he would use that paint in a place of honor— near the top of the rock,” said Bruce, adding that Butch’s wife was also pleased to honor her husband at the Freedom Rock.
“In the 11th grade Butch joined the Army. I stayed in school and when I graduated I joined the Marine Corps,” explained Bruce, now 71. He served two tours in Vietnam. When he came back we got together again and it was like we had never been apart. We were more than friends; he was a brother to me. His whole family was pretty much my family.”
Butch went on to live in California and North Carolina before returning to Mason City and again renewing his friendship with Bruce and Donna. He passed away five years ago from Parkinson’s Disease, the result of his exposure to Agent Orange.
“We are so excited that Clear Lake will have a Freedom Rock. We can’t describe it in words,” added Donna. “It’s a great tribute for all veterans.”
Sorensen is expected to finish work on the rock this week. The most visible part of his creation so far is his trademark