If Miriam Ray gets her way, downtown Akron will be graced by a large statue of a rubber worker, a prominent bow to the most important industry in the city’s history.
Unlike the statues that already honor historical titans of the business — Charles Goodyear near the Summit County Courthouse, Harvey Firestone at the Bridgestone Americas tech center — this would be a generic worker, representing the tens of thousands of laborers who put in hard days and came home exhausted and filthy.
The statue — right now an 18-inch prototype — was modeled after the photograph that appeared on the cover of Wheels of Fortune, the definitive history of rubber in Akron. Taken at Goodyear, the photo perfectly captures the grit and toughness of the era.
The man is wearing knee-high boots, an apron, a cap and a rolled-up, long-sleeve shirt, constructing a large tire.
Ray’s crusade began in August after she read an item written by Her Favorite Columnist. I had quoted another reader, Joel Neilsen of Broadview Heights, bemoaning the absence of “a tangible image of Akron’s rubber heritage.”
Neilsen suggested a statue modeled after — you betcha — the cover photo on Wheels of Fortune.
Ray loved the idea and swung into action.
She and her husband are active in charity and volunteer work. When she contacted a number of folks in her circle to gauge the level of interest, so many were fired up that she hooked up with a sculptor, Alan Cottrill of Zanesville.
Cottrill, who owns his own foundry, has designed and built more than 500 statues, many of historical figures (such as Woody Hayes for the Ohio State campus) and many of generic figures, such as the coal miners he created for two mining towns.
Ray is paying him $5,000 for the prototype. She was pleased with the clay model and last week gave him a green light to cast it in bronze. When it is finished in about six weeks, she will use the model in fundraising efforts.
Total estimated cost: $75,000 to $100,000.
Referring to her husband, Carter Ray, who runs Akron Gasket and Packing Enterprises, Miriam says, “We are both kids from Akron, with family who worked at the rubber companies.
“I have a daughter who teaches history at Firestone High School and another daughter who created the Facebook page ‘Akron Historical Buildings’ [which has 8,500 members]. We love history and Akron.”
Ray would like to sell inscribed bricks that would be placed near the statue to draw in other families with roots to rubber.
As Ray noted, it is almost impossible to go anywhere in Akron without running into someone who has family ties to the rubber companies.
“We are one generation from the stories of the rubber workers being gone,” she says. “Telling the history to our future history-making generation will be a great thing.”
Ray says the city is supportive but no location has been selected.
She is not prepared to launch the fundraising effort yet, because many of the variables (such as location) are still up in the air. But if you would like to get involved with the project, you can contact her at: email@example.com.
This is a wonderful idea. Here’s hoping the effort is successful and that the figure, representing all of the people who devoted their working lives to rubber, winds up in a highly visible downtown location.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31.