A central Iowa man is again turning a 56-ton boulder in western Iowa into a patriotic work of art. Ray "Bubba" Sorensen has been painting the "Freedom Rock" or "Patriot Rock," located just south of Interstate 80 in Adair County, since 1999.
Before Sorenson started his work, the big boulder was simply known as a "graffiti rock" to the locals. He says he wanted to put his "graffiti" on the rock by thanking local veterans for their service to the country. His first mural was entitled "Thank you for our freedom" and depicted the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. It received a huge response from local vets but was defaced by local youth, so Sorensen repainted it — and it’s become an annual event ever since.
Sorensen says the wrap-around mural takes him about three weeks from start-to-finish, working sometimes late into the night before the rock is completed in time for Memorial Day. Sorensen normally works for his employer from his home in Ames, but adapts to get the job done. Sorensen lives with his parents in Greenfield while work on the project is underway and takes vacation time to do so. The rock has received worldwide attention since it was featured on a local television station the first year it was painted. It has also become a Memorial Day tradition that draws thousands of people.
Local businesses have arranged bus tours to the rock. They’ve also helped contribute to the cost of lighting site and the placement of a kiosk where folks can leave notes for "Bubba." Sorensen says this year’s mural pays tribute to local man who lost his life in Iraq. He says a schoolmate and good friend, Marine Lance Corporal C.J. Miller, was killed in action last December. Miller’s face and a theme dedicated to the Marines is on the front of the rock. The remaining branches of service will be remembered on the wrap-around portion of the boulder.
Previous murals have paid tribute to Vietnam vets, World War Two and Pearl Harbor, the World Trade Center victims, women in the military, "Generations of Valor," and the themes of liberty, honor and freedom. Sorensen says inspiration for the paintings comes from a variety of sources.
His next project is a mural commissioned by the San Diego, California, County Fair. " Freedom Rock " is located about 40 miles west of Des Moines and then two miles south on Highway 25.