LAFAYETTE — Lafayette’s civil war soldier has returned to its post.
“It’s been shot at, painted, egged and climbed on. It’s weathered the storm well,” Bill R. Kimmel said as he watched a handful of men and women ready the statue’s granite plinth Tuesday morning. “You can go by it every day, and you don’t notice it until it’s not there.”
The 96-year-old Lafayette resident recalled earlier days when he worked across the street as a gas station clerk. On those nights decades ago, he would walk home from work and notice the statue standing at parade rest — its limestone fists holding a rifle.
“That statue protected me every night. It was my guardian,” he said.
Now freshly refurbished, there’s good chance the statue will still be there for another century.
Arriving in Lafayette by truck bed Tuesday mid-morning, the updated Jackson Township Civil War statue was set by mid-afternoon to stand where it was first erected more than a century ago.
The origins of civil war soldier statue begin in 1903 when a group of community leaders and Civil War veterans came together to collect $400 (or over $11,000 in 2019 dollars) to erect a statue memorializing the sacrifices of soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic. Enthusiasm was high for the project in its initial stages, and the group was able to bring together more than $300 when the initiative was first announced.
After the rest of the funds were collected, a grand dedication unveiled the statue to the public on Nov. 24, 1903, and Lafayette became one of the smallest municipalities in Ohio with a civil war soldier statue.
But over the years, enthusiasm waned, and the limestone itself began to show its wear and tear. Carmine Menduni, president of the Columbus Art Memorial Company which restored the statue, said rain collected in some parts of the porous statue, and the cold weather of northwest Ohio ended up creating some cracks when the freezing water couldn’t escape portions of its epoxied outer coating.
The Jackson Lafayette Historical Society took the initiative to fix those issues when they noticed the statue starting to lean on its original sandstone plinth in 2017.
Lee Yoakam, a member of the unofficial committee in charge of the project, said the group jump-started a fundraising campaign called “Save the Soldier,” and they began to talk to local businesses and alumni of Jackson Lafayette schools to raise the $120,000 necessary to refurbish the statue, update its plinth and add the surrounding memorial materials.
“It’s really been a group effort,” Yoakam said. “It’s unusual that a town this size can do that.”
The effort worked. Money came in from across the county and even from some other historical societies outside the state.
Menduni said the statue’s extensive refurbishment included a complete resurfacing and re-carving with some aspects of the statue — like the saber, bill and rifle — needing some replacement parts. Due to the rework, the statue actually stands about a quarter of an inch shorter and thinner. Menduni said he also “impregnated” the statue using a cutting-edge technique that will reduce erosion and ease the cleaning of the statue in cases of vandalism.
“As long as it’s impregnated every five years, it will stay like this forever,” Menduni said.
With the statue now in place and ready to last, the next step for the Lafayette Jackson Historical Society is to rededicate the memorial to all of those who have fallen in defense of the country. A ceremony is planned on Memorial Day immediately following Lafayette’s Memorial Day parade, which starts at 9:30 a.m.
The 10 a.m. re-dedication ceremony will feature Bill Hawk, a Lafayette native and Vietnam veteran who formerly served as vice commander of the Ohio VFW, as its keynote speaker.
“It’s a part of Lafayette’s history and shows our values,” Amy Joseph, president of the Lafayette Jackson Historical Society, said about the statue’s meaning to the community. “The word that comes to me is ‘respect.’ Memorial Day is about respect for the country, but also respect to those who made the country possible.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.