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Artist closing in on end of Iowa Freedom Rock Tour
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Saluting veterans

Artist closing in on end of Iowa Freedom Rock Tour

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Ida County rock

The Ida County Freedom Rock was kept under a tent shortly after its completion in late June 2017 by artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II. The rock stands just north of Highway 20 at Holstein, Iowa, along the community's "Avenue of Flags" area.

SIOUX CITY -- Artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II recently finished painting his 87th rock in Albia, Iowa, which leaves 12 rocks remaining on his Freedom Rock Tour of Iowa.

During the tour, which Sorensen hopes to wrap up next fall or winter, he honors veterans by painting military-themed murals on large boulders in each of the state's 99 counties. He has completed rocks in every Northwest Iowa county.

Although Sorensen said he had great art teachers in primary and secondary school who "pushed him along," he really didn't get into painting until he majored in art and design at Iowa State University.

"I just sort of started expanding my mediums and things that I was experimenting with. I'd always kind of wanted to try murals out," he said. "That's kind of what led me down this road."

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Original Freedom Rock
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Woodbury County rock
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Plymouth County rock
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Ida County rock
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Sac County rock

In 1999, Sorensen asked permission to paint a large boulder near Menlo, Iowa. The 60-ton rock, which is located one mile south of Interstate 80, off exit 86, had been a popular spot for graffiti. He painted "Thank you veterans for our freedom" and the flag raising at Iwo Jima. 

After the rock was eventually graffitied over, a group of veterans asked Sorensen if he would go out and paint the same thing for Memorial Day. Instead, he changed the mural.

"It just kind of snowballed from there. Every May, I go out and paint a different 'Thank you' for our veterans," said Sorensen, who doesn't get paid for the murals he paints on Freedom Rocks. "I've always said I'll continue to do it as long as I can afford the paint and afford the time."

After Sorensen started a mural painting and photography business with his wife in 2008, they came up with the idea for the Freedom Rock Tour, which touches all of Iowa's counties.

BubAnthon2 (copy)

Artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II paints the Woodbury County Freedom Rock in Anthon, Iowa, on June 22, 2017. Sorensen has completed rocks honoring veterans in 87 of the state's 99 counties. He expects to finish the last 12 rocks -- all in eastern Iowa -- by next fall or winter.

"I haven't served, so I feel like I and my family, we owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women that have served and are serving and standing at ready to defend this country. All it's done is just deepen my appreciation and understanding of what our veterans are done and are doing," Sorensen said of the tour.

Sorensen said he paints as few as 10 and as many as 16 rocks in a year. He even painted a rock in Wisconsin in January. Each mural takes 1 to 2 weeks to complete, depending on size and complexity. As far as subject matter, Sorensen said that's decided by him and the Freedom Rock committees that naturally form at each site.

[Read more: Sioux City VFW canteen closure a sign of changing times for veterans groups.]

"I'm not so much concentrated on branch and each era and every single thing crammed onto each rock, but rather just tell interesting and inspiring stories at each spot," he said.

Sorensen said the original Freedom Rock is his favorite, simply because he's "the client" and has sole control of the theme. In celebration of the conclusion of the Iowa Freedom Rock Tour, Sorensen said he will paint a 100th rock. Towns will get to bid for the spot. Fifty percent of the proceeds from the auction, Sorensen said, will benefit a veterans' charity.

As Sorensen winds down his Iowa tour, he's already begun the 50 State Freedom Rock Tour, having painted rocks in Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Washington State. 

"The goal, of course, is to try to have one in all 50 states. That one is going to probably move at a little bit slower pace, but that's fine," he said.

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