Ottawa monument cleaning rekindles memories
After Mike Sutfin started work in Ottawa's Washington Park cleaning the La Salle County Civil War Soldiers Monument, it summoned memories from nearly four decades ago and half a world away.
The humid high 90s weather, Sutfin said, reminded him of serving as a Marine in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.
And Tuesday, when he and his crew worked a 12-hour day in blistering hot weather trowling a thick poultice onto the 1873 monument, he was mindful of another memory: It was the anniversary of the 1969 death in Vietnam of Cpl. Frank Walthers, a Silver Star medal recipient and close high school friend from their home town of Morton Grove.
Walthers, 20, was killed by enemy small arms fire while serving as an Airborne Ranger. And Sutfin has traced his friend's name from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.
'The thought that I had then was that was the only memorial there was going to be to his giving his all to his country. And as I looked at this monument here in Ottawa I realized it was the same thing. The names engraved on it of the 810 men from La Salle County is all the memorial most of those guys will ever have for giving their all to our country during the Civil War."
It made him deeply realize, he said, the importance of preserving the monument and a sense of pride in being able to do the work.
Through his firm, MJS Technologies, Sutfin is billing Ottawa for the wholesale cost of his materials and the wages for his crew. But his own efforts are pro bono.
"I'm doing this because I believe with all my heart that this particular monument is very important to the citizens of La Salle County. There is a historical significance to it that we can never allow to be lost."
The monument is to be the centerpiece of a new plaza that will feature six granite slabs inscribed with the names of the 810 La Salle County men who died from wartime wounds or disease. An Oct. 14 dedication is planned.
Sutfin has restored buildings and built monuments, but never before restored a monument as old as the one in Washington Park. Sutfin said the monument itself basically is in remarkably good shape.
The cleaning process began with preparatory work such as removing the old joint caulking. Next a commercially manufactured marble poultice was applied and covered that was designed to draw out dirt and other impurities and lighten the stone.
A thunderstorm late Wednesday tore loose some of the poultice and coverings, but may actually have been of benefit, Sutfin said, since the rain moisturized the poultice which was drying too quickly from the extreme heat of the day.
The rest of the cleaning process involves a gentle chemical cleaning and possible poultice reapplications on problem areas that may benefit from more treatment.
"We think it's going to remove very much of the darkened areas," said Sutfin. "I don't know that we'll get it perfectly white, but it should come out pretty nice. We hope we can make this monument really glisten close to the way it looked when it was dedicated."
The final step, he said, will be a final chemical application that will help slow and perhaps prevent further degradation of the stone.
"To me, as a veteran, one of the most important things we can do is to preserve this monument for the generations to come.
"I think once it's lightened up and brighten up people in La Salle County are going to start noticing they have something here that is quite magnificent. It's a tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and in many ways a symbol of what we're all about in this county."
For additional information on the project, visit online at www.cityofottawa.org.