Enduring liberty

The Statue of Liberty replica in Hillsboro marks 65 years of service.

Hillsboro?s Statue of Liberty has served as a continuing reminder of the need to be vigilant about American freedom since 1950. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Hillsboro?s Statue of Liberty has served as a continuing reminder of the need to be vigilant about American freedom since 1950. Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

She stands in silent vigil at the head of American Legion Memorial Drive, not only as a familiar landmark in Hillsboro, but as a symbol of the freedom Ameri?cans nationwide celebrate every July 4.

The familiar Statue of Liberty replica arrived in Hillsboro 65 years ago this week, and the local Lions Club will mark the anniversary from 5-7 p.m. Thursday with an ?Armed Forces Night? fund?raiser meal of hamburgers and hot dogs, plus baked beans, chips and watermelon, at the local farmers market in Memorial Park.

Fittingly, assisting the Lions Club in serving the meal will be local Scouts from Troop 129, the organization that was the driving force in bringing the replica to Hillsboro.

Each year the Lions Club supports the local Boy Scout Troop 129 to the tune of $3,000, according to Marvin Funk, longtime member.

Cubmaster Russell Ben?nett said the Scouts will lead a flag-raising ceremony at 6 p.m. as part of the observance.

?I think it?s important to bring light back to (the statue) because I think over time people kind of gloss it over,? Bennett said. ?We just kind of drive by it and don?t even think about it.

?It?s something that needs to be highlighted again. Why is this here? What kind of impact can kids have??

A Boy Scout project

Hillsboro?s Little Lady Liberty was one of about 200 that were manufactured between 1949 and 1952 by Friedley-Voshardt Co. of Chicago to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America with the theme, ?Strengthen the Arm of Liberty.?

The project was the brainchild of Kansas City businessman J.P. Whitaker, who was then Scout commissioner of the Kansas City Area Council.

The replicas, stamped from sheet copper, were purchased by Boy Scout troops and donated in 39 states in the U.S. and several of its possessions and territories.

Locally, Boy Scout Troop 129 joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce, which was the troop?s sponsoring institution at the time, plus the American Legion and numerous other civic and social organizations to raise the $350 purchase price?$3,450 today, adjusted for inflation?plus freight.

According to one online source, ?The mass-produced statues are not meticulously accurate: a conservator notes that ?her face isn?t as mature as the real Liberty. It?s rounder and more like a little girl?s.??

About 1/19th the size of the original Statue of Liberty, the replicas stood about 81?2 feet tall and weighed 290 pounds.

The project caught the attention of the Hillsboro Star, the town?s English-language newspaper.

In its May 11 issue that year, the Star quoted Chester O. Burgert, a local pastor who served as scoutmaster of Troop 129, about the significance of bringing the replica to town: ?The statue will serve to remind all the people who pass by it every day of the continuing vigilance needed to protect American freedom and of the constant action of the Boy Scouts to strengthen the arm of liberty.?

Official dedication

Though it arrived in July, the local replica wasn?t formally dedicated until Satur?day, Nov. 11?on ?Armistice Day,? or Veterans Day, as it is known now. It?s first home was in ?the City Park, where a beautiful stone base has been constructed on which the replica will stand,? the Star reported in its Nov. 2 issue.

The dedicatory plaque from 1950 attached to the base.
The dedicatory plaque from 1950 attached to the base.
The writer added: ?Boy Scout Troops, Legion Posts of surrounding towns have been invited to attend the ceremony, as well as state Legion and Scout officials. The committee is planning on entertaining a large crowd on that day.?

The program planning committee had coyly promised ?a speaker of prominence? to give the dedication address. It turned out to be Congress?man Ed H. Rees of Emporia, a Republican who served at the national level from 1937 to 1961.

With local merchant Robert F. Schaeffler serving as master of ceremonies, the dedication program began with Tabor College professor Herb C. Richert leading the singing of ?America the Beautiful.?

After the presentation and unveiling of the statue by J.D. Raynesford, former Chamber president, Mayor J.V. Friesen accepted it on behalf of the city.

Burgert, who had moved to Horton by then, offered the invocation. Three Cub Scout Explorers, Bobby Stratman, James Franz and Keith Ashcraft, led the pledge of allegiance. Jona Baltzer followed with a vocal solo and the high school band concluded the event by playing the national anthem.

A second home

During the ensuing years, the statue served as a backdrop for many Memorial Day programs.

?I remember it being there when I was in high school,? Mayor Delores Dalke said. ?We?d have Memorial Day services out there. I played in the band, and the band would always go play around that statue.?

It remained in the park along the 300 block of South Lincoln Street until July 4, 1985, when mem?bers of American Legion Post 366 moved the statue and base to Memorial Park after the city of Hills?boro deeded the Lincoln Street park to Tabor College for the purpose of campus expansion.

With little fanfare, Hills?boro?s Little Lady Liberty has grown in significance as the number of replicas decrease. According to Wikipedia, about half of the 200 or so replicas that were manufactured have been lost or destroyed.

The one in Hillsboro continues her vigil in relatively good condition. She may be silent, but the dedicatory plaque beneath her speaks volumes:

?With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this replica of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.?

We are grateful for the assistance of the Center for Men?nonite Brethren Studies while researching this story.