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WAFA eagle sculpture proposal seeks dollars


LE MARS — A request for money to aid in funding a project in the Westmar Park was brought to the Le Mars City Council at its Feb. 16 meeting.

Janice Kooiker, executive director of the Westmar University Alumni Friends Association, or WAFA, spoke to council members on behalf of the group.

A commissioned sculpture of an eagle in stainless steel and metal is currently being worked on by Terry Utesch, a local metal artist.

“The WAFA board and staff looked for ideas, and had a conversation with Brad Eppling to discuss pros and cons,” Kooiker said.

“In his words, it needs to be something that’s durable and easily maintained,” she said.

“Last summer ideas became options when Terry Utesch shared his dream of creating a large flying eagle,” Kooiker said.

Options moved closer to reality recently when Steve and Barbara Wernli Collins stepped forward as underwriters in the amount of $10,000 for the eagle sculpture itself, Kooiker told council members.

The flying eagle will have a 16-foot wing span and will be over 6 feet from beak to tail, approximately two times life size, according to information provided by WAFA.

The proposed location will be on the former Westmar campus, north and west of Veterans Park, where a Westmar gazebo formerly stood. The eagle is expected to be complete by late summer of 2016 and installed with lighting and landscaping completed by October 2016.

The Collins’ would like the eagle sculpture itself as an honor to Jacob Wernli, the great-grandfather of Barbara and an important figure in the early history of Le Mars and Westmar College, Kooiker said.

Wernli came to Le Mars in 1875 and for a quarter of a century was an important figure in the community as a business man, a land developer and an educator. He established a book and stationary business in Le Mars. He also platted the Wernli Edition in south Le Mars bordering both sides of Central Avenue South in the current 1200 and 1300 blocks.

In 1887 he established the Northwestern Normal School and Business College which later became the Le Mars Normal School, then Western Union College and later Westmar College. In 1893 he became the Superintendent of Schools for Plymouth County. He died in 1901.

Additional funding of approximately $15,000 will be required to construct a permanent base to position the eagle 15 feet above the ground, for professional landscaping in the area, for electrical connections to light the sculpture at night and to establish a fund for ongoing maintenance.

“Gus Pech has provided an estimate of construction costs of $24,000 for the base,” Kooiker said. “It would include frost-free piers, vertical metal supports and a stamped concrete plaza area with lighting.

WAFA is asking the city to contribute $10,000 from the LOST Fund account to complete this project.

“We know there is interest from WAFA board members and alumni, and several donations have already come in,” Kooiker said. “We would like to have participation from the city initially as this will be to the city’s advantage as well.”

In a letter to the council from WAFA, the group said, “This will be a dramatic and durable piece which will bring visitors to Le Mars to enjoy it for many years. It will appeal to a wide variety of people and will be appropriate to feature in tourism media across the state. It would also have the support and interest of alumni, faculty, staff and administration of the former college as they return to the area.”

Le Mars mayor pro-tem Rex Knapp thanked Kooiker for coming to the council meeting.

He clarifying that WAFA was asking for $10,000 from the city on top of the $10,000 already committed.

“Yes,” Kooiker said.

Council member Ken Nelson said his only concern was that instead of using LOST dollars, money from the Hotel/Motel Sales Tax dollars may be a better option.

“We approached them as well and their funds are all going to the convention center,” Kooiker said.

Knapp said he would like to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposal, pointing out it was doing that with the Hotel/Motel allocation recommendations that had also been presented at the Feb. 16 council meeting.

Council member John Rexwinkel said he commended the group on its efforts.

“I like the cost-sharing on these projects,” Clark Goodchild, council member added.

The Westmar Park is located on the former Westmar campus property, which the city owns.

The item will be on the March 1 council agenda.

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