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It will be a slow week for official events because of July 4th, but politicians and advocates for causes will be out in force at holiday parades. At the Capitol, a special exhibit by local artist Jay Wittenberg will honor soldiers who served in the First Minnesota regiment during the Civil War. "First Minnesota Portraits" will be in the Capitol's North Corridor through July 7.

Hotdish Politics: 'Happy Warrior' to be honored at Capitol

  • Article by: JIM RAGSDALE
  • Star Tribune
  • June 30, 2012 - 5:26 PM

The garden is blooming, the walls are etched with famous sayings and the polished granite pedestal is in place.

All the new memorial in front of the State Capitol needs is its star -- Hubert Humphrey, the "Happy Warrior."

After nearly two decades of fits and starts, a bronze statue of the former vice president, U.S. senator and Minneapolis mayor is to be moved out of storage and unveiled at a formal dedication on Aug. 4.

"It's been quite a while in the making," said state Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who has shepherded the project along.

Humphrey died in 1978 at age 66 and is well memorialized in the Twin Cities, with a statue in front of Minneapolis City Hall and an airport terminal, a sports stadium and a public affairs institute at the University of Minnesota named in his honor.

Now he joins the select few leaders memorialized on the Capitol Mall, a list that includes aviator Charles Lindbergh, civil rights leader Roy Wilkins and Depression-era Gov. Floyd B. Olson.

Humphrey's primo location is next door to Lindbergh's, at the corner of John Ireland and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards, with views of the Capitol, the St. Paul Cathedral and (alas) the Department of Transportation's boxy HQ across John Ireland.

Like most of the projects that are filling up the Capitol Mall, this one was not easy to pull off.

Cohen and Paul Mandell, principal planner for the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board, said the initial state appropriation was made in 1993. Changes in location and design, and the need for private fundraising, delayed the project.

An initial plan involving a pool was abandoned, Mandell said. The current design -- a small plaza, with inscriptions and plantings, trees and a statue -- was selected in 2005. The yet-to-be-unveiled statue was finished in 2008.

Chicago sculptors Anna Koh Varilla and her husband, Jeffrey Hanson Varilla, executed the Humphrey bronze. Photos of the statue show Humphrey in his prime, not declaiming before thousands but making a point gently, as if in conversation, leading with his index finger.

Cost of the entire project was $620,000, of which $400,000 came from the state, Mandell said. Panels lining the memorial contain quotations and a bronze bas-relief depicting Humphrey at a civil rights demonstration. The panels include this quote from 1977: "I remain an optimist with joy, without apology about this country and about the American experiment in democracy."

The Humphrey Memorial is listed as the 18th finished mall memorial, with a workers memorial and a firefighters memorial on the way. Among the others are memorials to Lindbergh, Wilkins, Olson, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans; women's suffragists; Minnesota peace officers; Govs. Knute Nelson and John Johnson; and Christopher Columbus and Leif Erikson, each of whom is described on his pedestal as the "Discoverer of America."

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