For Doug Whiting, Thursday meant a lot.
The Point Place resident, who was a labor foreman for concrete work when the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway Bridge was being constructed, was among the attendees at the dedication of Tribute Memorial Park, which recognizes the workers who built the Maumee River crossing and honors the five who lost their lives in the course of the $237 million project.
Mr. Whiting described Andrew Burris, one of the tradesmen killed on the job, as a valued friend and co-worker. Mr. Burris, a carpenter, died April 19, 2007, when a work platform broke loose from the bridge and dropped 82 feet to the ground in North Toledo.
“I worked on a pylon with Andy Burris. I miss him,” Mr. Whiting said, adding that he was not working the day Mr. Burris died.
The dedication ceremony at the park, which is on the upriver side of the bridge in East Toledo, featured a moving prayer delivered by the grandfather of Mr. Burris, statements by volunteers who shepherded the city park project to completion, and a welcome by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
It was the Rev. Kenneth A. Burris who brought a collective lump to the throats of the approximately 200 attendees.
“I sent you to reap what you have not worked for and you have reaped the benefits of their labor,” Mr. Burris read, from the Gospel of St. John. In his prayer, he said that everyone who crosses the bridge reaps benefits made possible by the workers who built it.
Then a bell tolled as the clergyman read each name of the five dead workers, and David Meegan, a retired Toledo firefighter, played a doleful rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Sobs and sniffles lifted from the audience and tears were wiped away.
The centerpiece of the park is a kinetic metal sculpture atop four concrete columns. The artwork has arms attached to eight propellers that spin in the wind and is the creation of Chicago artist Evan Lewis, who said he wanted the area around the sculpture to be “a place of repose.”
Beneath the sculpture is a plaque honoring the bridge’s builders, especially the five who died.
For Mr. Whiting, the park is “beautiful,” a fitting remembrance to Mr. Burris and the four iron workers — Arden Clark II, Robert Lipinski, Michael Moreau, and Michael Phillips — who were killed Feb. 16, 2004, when a gantry crane used to position precast concrete bridge sections collapsed while it was being moved. Four other men were seriously injured when the ironworkers were killed. The bridge’s general contractor was assessed fines of more than $400,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for workplace-safety violations.
In her welcome, Miss Kaptur noted that skilled workers such as those who worked on the bridge risked their lives every day. She described the bridge as “a great civic cathedral” and to the families of the dead workers said, “Our arms wrap around you. We never forget.”
Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, told the audience that the park represented a collaborative effort on the part of citizens, businesses, and labor unions.
Mr. Lewis, who was chosen from more than 70 artists expressing interest in the Toledo project, told Thursday’s attendees, “This is by far the greatest challenge I have ever tackled as an artist, a sculptor.” But he said he was inspired by the help he received from the ironworkers, electricians, and carpenters who volunteered their time and offered advice.
John Crandall, who heads the project’s Tribute Committee, said the park would cost about $285,000 by the time it is completed. The cost is being covered by financial contributions and donations of time by companies and members of trades unions.
He said work remaining to be done includes the installation of a sign on Front Street at the park’s entrance and the planting of 37 birch trees.
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