FARGO — Former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness clearly remembers April of 1997, when it was questionable if the city would win its fight against the flooding Red River that reached its highest point ever at 39.72 feet.
In describing it to the Fargo City Commission on Monday night, April 19, he said the first problem was that huge piles of sand for sandbagging froze, and as more April storms hit, the water started creeping up. Eventually, there was water everywhere.
What happened after, though, was inspirational.
Approximately 25,000 people, including residents, students and people from across the nation, came to help frantically fill sandbags to try to save the city. Volunteers worked 24 hours a day until the flood was over, Furness said.
"We would have lost that flood without them," he said.
So, to make sure the contributions of volunteers from 1997 and the many flood years before and after are remembered, the Lions Club is working on a monument.
They are calling it a gift to the city and are seeking donations to finish the project that will involve a gateway arch with metal sandbaggers in action on top of two pillars that are already in place.
It will be about 28 feet long and 17 feet high, said Jane Pettinger, a club member who is also working on the project.
Called the "Spirit of the Sandbagger," it will be erected just east of City Hall next to the downtown bridge on Second Street and First Avenue North in what is called Riverside Gardens in an opening of the floodwall that allows access to paths along the river.
With the floodwalls and dikes going up and the Fargo Moorhead Diversion Project underway, Pettinger said she foresees the day when the nearly annual norm of filling sandbags will be "something our children won't have to do."
"We think sandbagging will be a thing of the past," she said. "So, we want people to remember. We want people to recognize that this community comes together and stands up for one another and protects one another when any type of crisis may arise," she said.
"We want to commemorate the beautiful people of this community," she said as she also made mention of the many young people in the audience.
Many businesses and groups donated to help make the sculpture a reality, said Pettinger, but she is urging residents to help fund the project by giving to a fund the FM Area Foundation has set up for the project at www.areafoundation.org or by mail to 409 Seventh Street S.
The project was envisioned by Lions Club member Mike Benson, whose neighborhood along the river was one of many sandbagged by volunteers who arrived at all hours in adverse weather conditions. He thought it would be a fitting legacy gift to the community as the club celebrates its 100th anniversary.
The club partnered with the city to determine the site for the project, which received the unanimous approval of the city commissioners.
Professional artist Karen Bakke of Bakke Art & Design and metal artist/fabricator Brock Davis of Davis Designs are creating the gateway arch between the existing pillars in Riverside Gardens to illustrate sandbaggers in action.