Local heroes: Sculpture artist supports medical community

April 29, 2020

MARQUETTE (Mining Journal) — Support for people at the front lines during the COVID-19 crisis can come in many ways.

You can’t get much more front line than a hospital.

Of course, it needs physical items such as personal protective equipment in the form of masks, shields and other items.

However, moral support too is crucial and in one particular case, that support came in tangible and intangible ways.

And it’s outdoors.

Below, This sign, also created by Lakenen, is on display outside the facility. (Photo courtesy of Dave Mastric)

Tom Lakenen, who creates unique iron sculptures on display at his park, Lakenenland Sculpture Park, has made one for Upper Peninsula Health System-Marquette, which is displaying it temporarily outside the facility.

Lakenen said in an email that he made the sculpture as a way to show support for all health care workers.

“I have the highest respect for all of them,” Lakenen said.

It took three days for him to build the sculpture out of materials from around the Upper Peninsula — part of the steam drum from the Marquette Branch Prison, the copper countertop from the McDonald’s restaurant in Houghton and material from different construction jobs on which he’s worked, Lakenen said.

Lakenenland is located off M-28 across Shot Point Road in Harvey. It’s quite the attraction, being the home to a pond, a bog trail and, of course, Lakenen’s numerous, tall metal sculptures depicting animals, abstract objects and other whimsical creations.

Lakenen’s UPHS sculpture differs from many of those structures. Rectangular in shape, it has a multi-colored heart in the center, with an outline of the Upper Peninsula in the middle of that heart.

The sculpture reads: “Thank you Health Care Professionals, From The Whole Community.”

Not only does Lakenen respect health care workers, he said grocery store employees, truck drivers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters and others are his heroes as well.

Although he acknowledged being frustrated at having to watch others take charge, he believes in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.

How long will Lakenen’s initial sculpture stay at UPHS-Marquette?

“I told the hospital they could keep it there until they get sick of it and then I’d put it out at Lakenenland,” he said.

So, at least it will go to a good permanent home eventually.

Lakenen thanked his nephew, Walker Lakenen from Lakenen Crane, and his daughter Tommi Lakenen from Ironworkers Local 8, for helping place the sculpture.    

Showing gratitude for the project on its end was UPHS-Marquette.

“We are humbled by this beautiful piece of work made by Tom Lakenen honoring our employees and health care heroes who have been preparing around the clock to serve patients from across the Upper Peninsula during this uncertain time,” UPHS said in an email. “These are the moments where we all can make a difference to work together to care for our community.”

Alycia Davidson, a registered nurse in the Intensive Care Unit at UPHS-Marquette, said it’s heartwarming to see such wonderful support from the community.

“The sculpture, donations of food to feed our nurses and people making masks in the community to make sure we have enough supplies definitely raises our spirits, and it feels good to know that our community is behind us because we’re with our community,” Davidson said in a statement.

The sculpture outside UPHS shouldn’t be the last of Lakenen’s creations that will go there. He already built another sculpture for health care workers, which he had planned to bring to the hospital. The latest creation pays homage to the Michigan Nurses Association, complete with medical garb and the messages: “my Heroes work Here!” and “MNA Rocks.”

“Hate to wear out my welcome in the hospital,” Lakenen said. “Don’t want them to get sick of this stuff.”

It’s doubtful they will.