A fallen symbol that stood on a hill overlooking the Dana College campus for nearly 50 years may soon return with help from alumni.
A large wooden cross, which was made from telephone poles, was placed on the hill just west of Rasmussen Hall near the fence line along Black Elk-Neihardt Park in 1969 by the Dana College freshman class. It had replaced another cross that had stood in the same place.
But this past spring, Bob Coffey, president of the Dana College Foundation, discovered the cross had fallen — snapped off at the base.
Coffey and campus owner Ed Shada began an effort to replace the cross with another that could withstand the elements.
“We get some pretty strong winds up there and we want it to be able to stand for a long time,” Coffey said.
Former Dana College art professor Milt Heinrich, who has created other public art displays, including at Eppley Airfield and the Omaha Playhouse, was approached to design the cross.
“I've got some sentimental attachment certainly to the campus,” he said. “And it fits into the kind of things I do artistically.”
Heinrich's design includes a 28-foot tall cross made of steel i-beams with wood inserts, which will be placed on a concrete base. Heinrich has used the four quadrants of the cross to create a decorative element.
“Stylistically, when I've done crosses for churches in the past, they are one of the few areas where you can take liberty and make the cross unique and special,” he said. “In this particular case, unlike other ones I've done in the past, the sun becomes an important element. By choosing a fractured stainless steel approach, hopefully the cross will kind of glow at particular times when the sun rises and the sun sets.”
Coffey and Shada were pleased with the concept.
“We fell in love with it,” Coffey said. “It's simple, but it's going to be really a powerful thing, I believe.”
The cross may also include another tie to Dana.
Coffey has suggested using i-beams salvaged from Argo and Elkhorn halls, which are slated to be demolished.
“It would be meaningful to alumni,” Coffey said.
While there are no guarantees, Coffey said Al Schoemaker, public works director for the City of Blair, has spoken with the demolition company.
“They said they would do their best to retrieve some i-beams,” Coffey said.
The estimated cost for the project is $38,000. Con-E-Co has donated the steel work to put the cross together. Angels Share Inc., which owns the campus, will also make a significant donation, but the Dana College Foundation is calling on alumni for donations.
Coffey said he's already received positive responses.
“I got a call from a guy from Arizona who said he'll donate $250 a month until it's paid for,” Coffey said.
Donations can be sent to the Dana College Foundation, PO Box 392, Blair, NE 68008.
There is no timeline as to when the cross will be erected. Coffey estimated it could be this spring, depending on the fundraising effort.
Heinrich sees the placement of the new cross and the changes to the campus as a “phoenix event.”
“Having a new cross up there harkens back to the old days, but it's the new days,” he said.