By JOANNE FOX
Artist Mark Avery believes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it well: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”
It’s a question that was also addressed by Marilyn Murphy, the first diocesan social concerns facilitator/rural life contact for Catholic Charities, whose likeness Avery has captured in a bronze bust.
The Sioux City Council in 2014 formally accepted the donation of 13 bronze busts of people who dedicated their lives to represent minority and marginalized groups in Siouxland. The busts were to be sculpted by Avery of McCook Lake, S.D.
The art is part of the nonprofit Celebrating Community Project, which has been unfolding at the transportation center at the corner of Fifth and Nebraska streets. The project is a joint effort of the Celebrating Community Foundation, Mark Avery Studios (owned by Avery and his wife Terri), the Sioux City NAACP and the City of Sioux City. The entire project was financed by private donations and grants and used no taxpayer funds.
“Terri and I are grateful to be connected with many people from marginalized groups throughout our lives,” Avery said. “We felt passionate that this public art project had the potential to change the way individuals see people with addictions, disabilities, women, people of color, the poor and homeless, children and other diverse groups honored in this project.”
Phases of project
The bronze busts are mounted on pedestals alongside the building with plaques indicating why the person was honored.
Phase 1 of the project was dedicated Oct. 1, 2015. Those elements included the “Arc” – a soaring steel sculpture installed that year, which tied together the bronze busts. Avery explained the arc symbolizes a quote from civil-rights leader King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Those four illuminated bronze busts joined an existing bust of the Rev. King; Sgt. John Rice, Veterans honoree; Rabbi Albert Gordon, Jewish Americans honoree; Connie Spain, Those Recovering from Addictions honoree and Beulah Webb, Elderly honoree.
Phase 2 was dedicated Oct. 6, 2016 when four additional illuminated bronze busts were included. They were Hong Cuc, Asian American honoree; Tomasa Salas, Hispanic/Latino Americans honoree; Richard Owens, Disabled Americans honoree and George Boykin, Children’s honoree.
Phase 3 includes Murphy, feted as an advocate for women; Evelyn Freeman, advocate for African Americans; Susan LaFlesche Picotte, M.D., advocate for Native Americans; Rhoda Tenuta, advocate for Victims of Domestic Violence and Mike Wood, advocate for homeless.
Avery admitted the project “has had many moving parts.”
“The Celebrating Community Project Steering Committee collaborated with Mark Avery Studio and the City of Sioux City to create an inclusive, accessible public art project,” he said. “There were 13 committees totaling more than 125 people to choose the honorees.”
The 13 bronze busts and monumental abstract steel sculpture involved shop drawing, models, engineering, bronze foundry work, lighting, plaques and installation, Avery pointed out.
“To make this all happen we had a continuous fundraising effort – all of this culminating in three public dedications,” he said. “Many people share in the success of the project.”
Murphy served as social concern advocate for 35 years starting in 1973 at Catholic Charities and was the diocesan rural life contact person. She held this full-time position until she was 88 years old.
A lifelong Sioux City resident, Murphy was a champion for the poor, marginalized and abused, serving on numerous boards ranging from the Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence to the Siouxland Drug Abuse Council and Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Murphy also served on the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 1982-1985. Her efforts to promote peace, justice and equality appeared for decades via commentaries in The Catholic Globe.
“We met Marilyn Murphy several times at NAACP events,” Avery said. “We have learned so much about this powerful, loving and humble woman from her family and friends. What a model of leadership she gave us.”
Advocate for women
Murphy, who died in 2012 at the age of 91, received numerous awards through the years. A 1946 Briar Cliff College alum, Murphy was the first laywoman on the Briar Cliff Board of Trustees. She was the first woman to serve as chairperson of the Council of Community Services and the Iowa Commission of Substance Abuse. She co-founded the Sioux City chapter of the Women’s Political Caucus. She was admitted to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame Governor’s Award in 1988. She assisted in the formation of the Commission on Women in Church and Society. In March 1999 Women Aware of Siouxland initiated the Marilyn Murphy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Avery felt the greatest joy in being associated with the project was the relationships he and Terri developed during this multi-year process.
“They include our steering committee, city staff, city council, the six living honorees and many family members and friends of all 13 honorees,” he said.
Avery added, “It’s gratifying that this project will continue to teach lessons of inclusivity, unselfish leadership, compassion and, hopefully, challenge people to make a difference in our community.”