A little more than one year after the death of the great man, the family of Dallas “Pete” VanKirk and several hundred of his Perry friends and supportes gathered Monday night to light up a sculpture erected in his honor.
VanKirk, who died Aug. 18, 2016, was born in 1939, moved to Perry in 1965 and bought the Progressive Foundry in 1980. He and his family have been patrons and donors to innumerable local causes in Perry, from the founding endowment of the Des Moines Area Community College Perry VanKirk Career Academy in 2010 to the family’s recent $350,000 donation toward the renovation of Dewey Field at Perry High School.
Gathering Monday to honor Pete were his widow, Joyce VanKirk, his two sons, Kirk VanKirk and Darek VanKirk, his daughter, DeLynn Stein, and one of his 10 grandchildren, Jackson VanKirk. Laughter mingled with tears during the testimonial speeches by his family members.
Many people attending were also strongly attached to the popular Perry figure.
“Thank you, Uncle Pete, for all that you have done for Perry,” said Mindy Miner of Perry. “We sure do miss you!”
Dozens of Perry’s notable public figures attended the event and expressed their thanks to the VanKirk family and fond memories of Pete.
“I am so very glad that I was able to get to know Pete VanKirk,” said Lynn Ubben, former superintendent of the Perry Community School District and one of the many VanKirk fans at Monday’s unveiling. “We sat at a few wrestling meets together, and he just beamed when talking about his family and the Perry schools and community.”
The sculpture was commissioned by the Art on the Prairie committee and executed by Des Moines artist John Brommel. “Born of Fire” figures a gear-driven ladle pouring molten metal, a common sight at the Progressive Foundry. LED lights project from the base of the 15-foot artwork and simulate the appearance of liquid metal.
The lighting event began with hamburgers provided by the Perry Hy-Vee and ice cream from Indianola’s The Outside Scoop. Following the ceremonial remarks, the sculpture’s light switch was thrown by grandson Jackson VanKirk about 8:30 p.m.
The work is the first of four planned by the Art on the Prairie committee. Other themed sculptures planned for the boulevard will honor Perry’s agricultural and railroading roots. One will memorialize Perry native and philanthropist Roberta Green Ahmanson.