|250-plus crowd dedicates Hoover statue
by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · August 10, 2017
Andy Hoover, President Hoover’s last surviving grandchild, and wife Jeanie Hoover rolled up in a golf cart to the front of Hoover Elementary School on Aug. 2 to see a new Hoover statue lowered into place.
“Oh, I like it,” Andy Hoover said.
Along with other Hoover descendants, they joined Connie Laughlin, who spearheaded the effort that raised $45,000 for the bronze likeness, and Mayor Roger Laughlin, Connie’s husband.
The Max-Cast Sculpture and Foundary Services work truck sat in a parking spot across the street, the uncovered statue in its bed. Yet most passers-by turned toward the noise of artist Steve Maxon and an assistant, Josh Wilson, drilling holes into the reinforced concrete pad, which would help secure the 600-pound statue showing Hoover reclining on a park bench.
Nearby, fellow artist Doris Park, who also worked on the sculpture, watched and chatted with the Hoover and Laughlin families.
“It’s been a really neat project,” Park said, measuring the work in months, rather than hours.
Maxon and Wilson took turns drilling the deep, fat holes that would accept foot-long pins that slide through each of the four feet on the bench. Even with the commercial-grade, double-handed drill, it took more than half an hour.
“It’s not likely to blow away,” Park said, “but it still has to be stable. And we don’t want it to be stolen.”
Andy Hoover sat on the footrest of the golf cart, or walked gingerly with a cane around the back of an extending forklift operated by Roger Laughlin; the Hoover grandson rarely taking his eyes off the work.
Summer school got out a few minutes later, and parents and children walked by, their attention focused on the workers and the drill. Still not many seemed to notice the statue in the back of the truck. That’s OK, because Connie Laughlin planned to cover it up for the big unveiling Saturday, during Hoover’s Hometown Days.
“It’s done and it’s here,” she said. “That’s what matters.”
Laughlin told Park that she hopes the two sculptors, who also produced University of Iowa Football Coach Hayden Fry’s statue, see more business when the public views these two pieces.
“He looks great,” Laughlin added.
Moving the truck to the front of the school, Max-Cast workers then used straps to hook the statue to the fork lift, and Laughlin gingerly worked the controls to heft it out of the truck bed. One strap made a sudden jerk, giving the statue a quick tilt, but did not drop or harm it as the weight settled into the movement.
Andy and Jeanie Hoover, as well as Connie Laughlin, shot numerous photos with their cell phones as the workers lowered the statue into place.
Nearby the statue stands a plaque, listing everyone who donated toward the statue. Most appeared in Saturday’s 250-plus audience when the blanket and Bungee cords were removed by Connie and Hoover great-granddaughter Leslie Hoover-Lauble.
Hoover-Lauble is a daughter of Pete and Meredith Hoover, the couple who visited Hoover Elementary at the invitation of then-Principal Kevin Uhde nearly 12 years ago. It was Pete Hoover who first offered the family’s support should the elementary school need something, an offer which led Laughlin to the idea of the statue. She said she saw a similar statue of Beatle John Lennon sitting on a bench in Cuba.
“It’s been 12 long years,” Laughlin told the crowd seated in front of the elementary school. “It’s a great place to sit with the Great Humanitarian.”
More than a year ago, fundraising for the statue ramped up, and, with a match by the Hoover family, the last of the funding arrived in January. Along with some in-kind donations, some 73 people and organizations contributed.
Hoover-Lauble called the dedication ceremony a “monumental day.”
“Herbert Hoover had a great affinity for children,” the great-granddaughter said.
Laughlin, Hoover-Lauble and Hoover Foundation Executive Director Jerry Fleagle all said that Hoover did not care for statues, but thought he might like one that put him so close to children.
“I think he’d be pleased to have a child sit next to him,” Hoover-Lauble said.
West Branch Community School Board member Julie Sexton accepted the statue on behalf of the school district.
“What an awesome, lifelike statue,” she said, getting emotional. “I’m touched Connie did this. … Hopefully it will be around for a long time. Thank you very much.”
Fleagle, who served as master of ceremonies, said Hoover would rather “point out the contributions of others.”
“In fact, with National Park Service rules, it literally takes an act of Congress to get a statue placed in a national park,” he said.
He called Connie Laughlin “a person with perseverance and vision.”
Fleagle also credited the Hoover family for working with Laughlin and the Hoover Foundation on the project.
“It took a deep understanding by the Hoover family that this statue can make a difference in young people’s lives that Herbert Hoover so deeply cared about,” he said.
He also thanked everyone who donated to adorn the school with the monument.
“In 1954, literally steps from where I am standing, Herbert Hoover on his 80th birthday dedicated this school that has served the West Branch community well,” Fleagle said. “I am proud to have attended school in this building, as many of you have today as well.”
He encouraged people to step up, take “selfies” and post them on social media with the tag, #Hoover31
Many of the crowd then stepped into the school’s gymnasium for a picnic lunch featuring the same menu from when Hoover dedicated the school: fried chicken, Iowa sweet corn, potato salad, applesauce, and birthday cake.