News & Archives
Jul 8, 2013
By Pam Chickering Wilson, Daily Union staff writer
JEFFERSON - Jefferson High School's almost 100-year-old eagle mascot statue has been restored, but fundraising continues for the project as the damage turned out to be more extensive than originally thought.
Scaffolding around the eagle went up the week after the 2013 Jefferson High School graduation ceremony.
After restoration, project manager Howard Haas and artist Jeremy Lunn of Conrad Schmitt Studios, New Berlin, got a good look at the statue, and they discovered it was in worse shape than initial inspections had shown.
First of all, the restorers found birds and insects nesting in the interior of the statue, requiring their eviction.
In addition, the restorers discovered more than 50 holes in the eagle and the globe it stands on which required repair and sanding consistent with the detail of the eagle feathers.
The globe also had serious dents, most likely the result of earlier relocations of the statue, which has been moved several times since it came to Jefferson High School in 1967, including a couple of recent relocations due to the expansion and renovation project at the high school.
The raised "J" on the front of the globe, added during an earlier renovation project, turned out to be wood that had been bolted to the metal of the globe. Like the rest of the globe, it was covered with fiberglass.
Restorers had to remove the raised letter and fiberglass during the past two weeks so they could repair holes and dents in the metal of the globe.
Unfortunately, said Kay Reinders, coordinator of Project Eagle, which has been raising funds for this renovation, more extensive repairs mean increased costs for the project.
"We could have cut costs and gone with the original scope of the restoration, but that would have meant a less-than-outstanding result," Reinders said. "We didn't want that."
Rain over the past three weeks has extended the project schedule but, weather permitting, the final details on the current restoration project were slated to conclude this week. These include detailing on the eagle, the application of a seal coat, the painting of the globe on which the eagle stands, and new stenciling on the globe in the school colors reading: "JHS."
Moreover, the base of the eagle beneath the globe was slated to be squared up and bricked to match the façade of the school.
Jeremy Lunn, of Conrad Schmitt Studios, was finishing the main portion of the statue restoration last week. He said the whole project was set to take three weeks, not counting rain days.
"There were 50-some holes I had to fill," Lunn said. "At some point, someone had attempted a previous restoration and put window glaze in there. But window glaze never hardens, so I had to remove that. It was still gunky."
A big hole in the chest of the eagle required reconstruction of that entire area, Lunn said. When all of the holes were repaired, he had to prime the bird and begin detail work.
A plaque listing the names of the individuals, businesses and organizations that donated $500 or more to Project Eagle will be embedded in the brickwork.
"Original plans called for pavers leading up to and circling the base of the eagle to make it easier (for persons) to pose with the eagle for pictures commemorating special events," Reinders said. "Due to cost, however, the pavers will be replaced with concrete."
Landscaping still is slated to finish the restoration, hopefully in time for a rededication of the eagle later this summer, she noted.
Added to the landscaping plan is a picnic table and seating area, the graduation gift to the school from the Class of 2013.
Labor for the remaining work on the project is being donated by area businesses: Merlin Lange, masonry work; Joe Riedl and Hans. Bros, the concrete walkway; and Tom Meinl, landscaping.
"And while our community has been more than generous with their donations, Project Eagle can't be completed without additional funds," Reinders said. "Donations have topped $18,000 but an additional $2,500 is needed for materials. Ideally, additional funds would be set aside as well for ongoing maintenance of the eagle, which will need to be done about every decade."
The historic eagle statue has guarded the entrance to Jefferson High School since 1967, and successive generations of JHS graduates have posed in their caps and gowns as their respective classes commenced their high school careers there.
The eagle is estimated to be between 90 and 100 years old. The Class of 1967 obtained the giant eagle statue from a Case dealership in Anaheim, Calif., where it had stood for many years.
The company authorized the eagle's removal when it closed that Case dealership, already being in the process of switching to a new symbol for the company.
Reinders, another member of the Project Eagle coordinating committee, said that the local group has contacted the J.I. Case Club and learned that the statue even was older than first thought.
"There are only nine (such statues) of this size in existence and they're really pretty valuable," Reinders said.
After more than 45 years in Jefferson and several moves around the school grounds, the hollow sculpture had developed dings, dents and holes, and its base was deteriorating.
Reinders, a member of the Class of 1967, helped instigate the eagle repair fund drive in August of 2012 after seeing an article in the class' 45th reunion booklet and then touring the newly renovated school to discover the eagle statue was deteriorating.
During the reunion, she said, the former classmates, spouses, and several of their former teachers toured the school and took a picture by the eagle.
"Superintendent Mike Swartz gave us the tour and mentioned that the eagle was in need of repairs, and he had no idea how to get them done," Reinders recalled.
She noted that the Class of 1967 was one of the first classes to attend the "new" high school instead of the castle-like building on the hill which now houses the School House Apartments. The class wanted to contribute something that would serve as a lasting tribute to the spirit of Jefferson High School.
Reinders contacted Conrad Schmitt, a well-known firm that handles restorations, to obtain an estimate for the eagle repairs. She noted that Schmitt's firm did the restoration at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and also restored the statues at St. John's Cemetery.
Howard Haas, from Conrad Schmitt, inspected the eagle and determined that it needed more than just cosmetic repairs, as the structure was becoming fragile in spots. The maintenance that had been done prior to this project mainly was cosmetic, as when the Jefferson High School Art Club repainted the sculpture in 2000, redoing a fairly primitive paint job with a much more detailed one.
Reinders gained the approval of the School District of Jefferson Board of Education earlier in the year to proceed with the fundraising effort, and received the blessing of the board and administration. More recently, the school district set aside $2,500 toward the restoration effort with the understanding that the majority of the funds for the project would come from donations.
The Jefferson Community Foundation still is accepting donations to Project Eagle, to be sent to the foundation's address at P.O. Box 81, Jefferson, WI 53549. People also may take their donations to PremierBank, making checks payable to Jefferson Community Foundation-Project Eagle.