Very nice article in the Detroit Free Press about the Port Huron Mining Memorial, for which I was commissioned to sculpt a life size full-figure Miner. Twenty two miners perished in that mine explosion 35 plus years ago. The same newspaper editor who covered the accident those many years ago found out about the memorial and phoned to ask about the bronze sculpture I am creating for it. He wrote the article below and plans to also cover the installation.
The sculpture is now being cast at the bronze foundry. My husband and I will be present for the installational on August 30th and the dedication on August 31st. Families of the 22 miners are flying in from all over the country to be present for the dedication. It should be a very meaningful and inspiring event.
Coming together to remember
Memorial to honor men killed in 1971 tunnel explosion
July 9, 2007
BY DAVID ASHENFELTER
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Ft. Gratiot Twp. -- One moment, Jerry Radford and his crew were setting up forms to pour concrete in a 6-mile-long water intake tunnel near Port Huron.
Seconds later, Radford's workmates were dead, victims of an explosion caused by drillers on a platform in Lake Huron who bored through the tunnel's concrete liner while the men were still in the tunnel. A spark ignited a pocket of methane, causing a blast that hurled men and heavy machinery along the tunnel.
"It still amazes me how all of those men could be gone in the twinkling of an eye," Radford, 61, of Turtletown, Tenn., said of the accident that killed 22 men and left him permanently disabled.
It happened at 3:11 p.m., Dec. 11, 1971, as the men worked on the final mile of the tunnel, which provides drinking water for millions of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department customers in southeast Michigan.
And now, more than 35 years later, friends and family members of the victims are planning to dedicate a $60,000 brick, stone and bronze monument to their loved ones.
Dedication of the 1971 Water Tunnel Explosion Memorial is planned around Labor Day.
"It's long overdue," said Radford, who counts himself lucky to be alive. "Those were some mighty fine men who lost their lives that day. They were my friends. Any tribute they receive is well deserved."
The memorial is the brainchild of Debbie Comeau and her husband, Randy, of Port Huron. Randy's father, Raymond Comeau, died in the accident; he was 35.
As a teenager, Debbie Comeau remembers driving out to the water treatment plant that sits at the tunnel entrance to check out a local myth that flashing car headlights on the metal door of one of the buildings would reveal the image of a cross. Sure enough, it did, she said.
Six years ago, after learning that her husband's father died in the accident, Comeau decided to start raising money to erect a memorial.
She drew support from the Port Huron Museum, the Port Huron Times Herald, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission, which owns Ft. Gratiot County Park, where the memorial will stand.
A granite pedestal and the circular brick, stone and concrete pad on which it sits were installed by construction companies that donated labor and materials.
The group also raised money by selling $25 engraved paving bricks, $250 engraved paving slabs and $5,000 granite benches.
Sculptor Paula Slater is creating the life-size bronze statue of a tunnel worker that will stand on the pedestal.
Slater of Hidden Valley Lake, Calif., usually works on more expensive projects -- she's a finalist for a major firefighter memorial in Toledo -- but said she jumped at the chance to work on the tunnel memorial.
"It really touched my heart," Slater said. "I get to sculpt so many wonderful projects that I get to pick the ones that are really important to me. This one is very important."
Slater said she plans to come to Port Huron to install the statue in August or September.
The accident, one of the worst in state history, was blamed on poor communication between contractors -- the drillers had no idea that men were working in the tunnel -- and poor ventilation.
Cherie Fogal Darmis, 55, a Lexington real estate agent whose first husband, Donald Fogal Jr., died in the accident, said she spent 17 years grieving her loss.
"It brings some closure," she said of the memorial. "And it gives my husband a chance to be remembered by his family and friends. He laid down his life for us. Just to be able to honor him this way is major."
Contact DAVID ASHENFELTER at 313-223-4490 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.