The homecoming of a piece of Wadsworth history — all 4 feet in bronze — was celebrated Monday morning.
More than 300 residents came to see the Memorial Day unveiling of the “Boy with the Leaky Boot” statue and fountain near the city’s gazebo downtown.
The statue stands above memorial plaques that contain the names of local men and women killed in combat.
Two Wadsworth High School graduates had the honor of removing the protective cover to unveil the statue — Col. Linda Spoonster Schwartz, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs and a 1962 alumna, and Ret. Capt. Michael Foreman, a 1975 alumnus who has served as a NASA astronaut on two space shuttle missions.
When the fountain was turned on, water bubbled up and spilled from the boot.
“We are grateful to those who played a part in bringing this project together,” Wadsworth Mayor Robin Laubaugh said.
The statue was given to the city in 1896 by a local women’s group to serve as a Civil War memorial.
During World War II, it was melted down so the metal could be used to support the war effort.
The community raised $27,000 to remake the statue, which included borrowing an identical statue from the city of Sandusky and having a cast made. Jim Havens of the Toledo Area Sculptor’s Guild created the bronze statue for Wadsworth.
The recasting of “Boy with the Leaky Boot” was in conjunction with the city’s bicentennial celebration.
The story behind the statue is based on recollections of Civil War soldiers about a boy who brought them water from a nearby stream in his boot. His boot had a hole in it and he held his hand over the hole to keep water from leaking out.
This story was retold by Jack Ollom, executive director of Downtown Wadsworth, to the crowd Monday morning.
The boy’s identity was never known, and the story cannot be authenticated, but the statue was popular near the turn of the 20th century and can be found in 24 cities across the United States, Ollom said.
In an effort to restore the statue, local businesses and individuals contributed, including schoolchildren who raised more than $7,000 through a penny drive.
Franklin Elementary School Principal Rodger Havens, who serves as bicentennial celebration co-chairman, praised the hard work of students and their families, and lamented causing headaches for local banks as the coin campaign worked to gather $7,000 in coins.
“So many of you selflessly donated this money,” he said.
Havens also recalled a boy at his school with holes in his own sneakers who stopped by his office to make a donation of a $1 coin he received from the tooth fairy. The school already had raised more than $1,000 — well beyond its initial goal of $200.
“I suggested he keep it and save up for a new pair of shoes,” Havens said. “He thought about it and said, ‘Nah, I think the brave boy with the leaky boot needs to be recognized for what he did.’ ”
Havens said that single donation has stuck with him.
“I’d like to visit this memorial with that young student someday,” he said.
Following Monday’s unveiling, city leaders kicked of the Memorial Day observance with a parade through town followed by a service at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Spoonster Schawartz delivered the keynote address and she credited Wadsworth with her success.
“This place, Wadsworth, had a lot to do with my upbringing,” she said. “Every year I marched in that parade and it was here I learned so many lessons.”
She has served as commissioner of the Connecticut Veterans Affairs Department since 2003 and is the first woman to hold the post. She served in the U.S. Air Force from 1967 until 1986, when she was injured while serving as a flight nurse. She holds a master’s degree in nursing and a doctorate in public health from Yale University and recently was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as assistant secretary of policy and planning for Veterans Affairs.
Memorial Day “is about keeping the faith for those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “Keeping the faith involves more than a parade or one weekend.”
She also encouraged everyone to remember soldiers who are missing in action.
“We must also remember those suffering from PTSD and those who were so disturbed by their service that they took their own lives,” she said.
Spoonster Schwartz has participated in studies on the effects of depleted uranium on troops who served in the Gulf War, and helped to plan a conference studying the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam-era veterans. She reminded attendees of those still battling the effects of chemicals they were exposed to in combat.
She also said civilians and military alike must work to ensure the freedoms afforded to U.S. citizens remain intact for the next generation.
“If you see oppression and intolerance, remember we served and they died so there would be liberty and justice for all,” she said.