His wise, old face was cracked and scarred.
The gigantic feathers fanning out of his tribal headband have long been removed, and the back of his head, chewed by insects, has been filled and re-sculpted to match the rest of his flowing hair.
But try as they might, no one could keep Rotaynah from showing his age.
On Sunday, the tired-looking wooden Native American statue at Resnik Community Learning Center gazed out at the small crowd of people who came to say their final goodbyes before a crane plucks him out of the ground and puts him into storage — if he makes it that far.
With the help of Barberton Tree Service, the Akron Public School District will attempt to remove the deteriorating statue, which has been worn by weather and eaten away at by bugs, to store it indoors indefinitely.
Rotaynah — the Tuscarora word for “chief” — was donated to the district in 1985 by Peter “Wolf” Toth, a Hungarian native and Akron Public Schools graduate.
Toth, whose family fled Hungary during the 1956 uprising, was inspired by the similar injustices he and Native Americans endured in their home countries. He has carved more than 70 different towering Native American statues in every state and around the world in a series he calls the Trail of the Whispering Giants. Rotaynah was his 51st statue in that series.
In 2006, Toth told the Beacon Journal he predicted the statue would last nearly a full century.
Yet less than 35 years after its dedication, the 20-foot statue is so deteriorated that the district has determined it a safety hazard to keep standing.
Once carved out of solid 20-ton Kentucky red oak and standing a stately 36 feet tall, Rotaynah’s 16-foot feathers were removed in 2011, when the weight of them became too heavy for his head to hold.
Over the years, Rotaynah has been stuffed with foam and fiberglass, doused in polyurethane and preservative and even reinforced with steel poles running up his back “to strengthen him,” said Jeanne Ott, the widow of former Akron school Superintendent Conrad Ott.
Toth has advised the district on Rotaynah’s upkeep, and he’s even taken several trips up from his home in Florida to make repairs himself.
“I think we gave our best efforts” to keep the statue preserved, said Debra Foulk, the executive director of business affairs for the district. “The board has taken care to address issues as they come about.”
Ott agrees that the efforts have been extensive. Rotaynah’s place at an Akron school was, in part, sealed by her husband, who was superintendent at the time and was interested in the history of the Native Americans who once roamed Summit County.
Ott was one of about 20 people who gathered around the statue Sunday to honor its legacy in the community.
Many had memories of visiting Toth as he chipped away at the tree for nearly three months and formed Rotaynah’s lined face.
“As a child, I remember seeing him doing his art,” said Ronald Neal, 51, of Barberton. “When I saw how big it was, I thought, ‘This is really amazing.’ It was in all its glory then.”
The school district and Barberton Tree Service, which is removing the statue for free, are still working out the exact date to remove the statue.
Officials are hopeful that they will be able to preserve Rotaynah’s stone base, move him and his plaque into storage with his feathers and find a permanent indoor location to display him.
But the removal procedure could get messy.
When the time comes, Barberton Tree Service will send out a crew of four to five men and a crane to lift Rotaynah from his base.
“If that pressure is too great, it could just crush because it’s so fragile ... I’ve seen our guys pick up trees where the entire inside is just sawdust,” said Barberton Tree Service manager Lisa Devenport. “We’re going to do every possible thing we can. We just want the best outcome for everyone.”
District officials hope they can save at least some part of the statue, even if just his face.
Toth could not be reached for comment, but district officials said they and Barberton Tree Service have been working with him to find out how to best remove and preserve Rotaynah. For now, his base will remain, but there are no current plans for another statue.
“We’ll put him somewhere,” Ott said. “Now how much of him, I don’t know. But he’s just too magnificent to lose.”
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
District plans to store away massive wooden Native American statue but removal could get messy
His wise, old face was cracked and scarred.