Efforts of local woman pays off
First CCC statue in Indiana to be unveiled at Versailles State Park

Wanda English Burnett

Indiana’s first “Iron Mike” statue, will be unveiled at the Versailles State Park Friday, May 21. The unveiling of the tribute to the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps or more commonly referred to as the CCC, is the direct effort of a local citizen, the late Ruth Ann Swinney.

A part of American history is immortalized forever with the six-foot bronze statue that now stands in front of the new office for the Versailles State Park, which also houses the Indiana Conservation Office District 9 Headquarters. The dedication for all will be held at 11:00 a.m. next Friday.

The statue, that began as an idea with Mrs. Swinney after she read an article about them, finally materialized thanks to grants from the Rising Sun Regional Foundation, Ripley County Community Foundation, and many hours of paperwork. The cost of the statue was approximately $18,000.

According to Mrs. Swinney’s daughter, Lisa Ebinger of Holton, her mother’s dream was to make sure that period of history was remembered forever. It was a time when the CCC program literally provided food and shelter for thousands of young men and also helped their families.

The CCC was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, which was during the Great Depression years. The CCC boys as they were referred to, planted billions of trees in the nation’s forests, developed the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia and built Waterbury Dam in Vermont.

They were instrumental in replenishing and protecting much land from erosion, fire and excessive timber harvesting across the nation. They fought forest fires, built firelines, roads, bridges and much more that we continue to enjoy today.

The government program not only provided a respite for our natural resources - it provided food for many families during the desperate days of the Depression. The program was created within 100 days of Roosevelt taking office and provided a light in a dark time.

In her own handwriting, Mrs. Swinney noted that CCC boys were paid $30 per month, with $25 going home to their families and them keeping $5.00.

The CCC workers enlisted for up to two years, and were housed in military-style camps that were run by the War Department. The men lived in barracks and ate in a “mess” hall, much like the military. Here they not only worked for the government, they learned skills that would later be useful in their careers.

The workers also were a boon to a community where they were working. Hundreds of men would trek into the towns where they spent their meager $5.00, giving the country a further economic boost.
According to information from the Ripley County Historical Society, CCC workers camped at what is now the Versailles State Park, building many beautiful stone buildings. Mrs. Swinney thought the Versailles location would be perfect for the statue. She was grateful to the local historical society for their help in the project.

She began her journey of getting the proper paperwork in order. She found out more about the statues and how the idea was born with a retired Methodist minister, Rev. William Fraser. The Reverend, a member of the National Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni in Michigan (Chapter 129) presented the idea of a CCC worker statue that would be erected and dedicated to the memory of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The first statue was dedicated on June 3, 1995 and sits in front of the CCC Museum at North Higgins Lake State Park in Michigan.

In a letter dated June 19, 2006, John Selesky, chairman of the statue project, wrote Mrs. Swinney “I am sending you our CCC worker statue promotional kit...remember it takes from six months to two years, but whatever it takes it will be worth it in civic pride and gratitude by the few CCC boys who are still with us.”

Selesky was right. It took nearly four years from that letter, but Mrs. Swinney perservered. “She worked really hard on this,” noted her daughter, Lisa, who just wishes her mother could have seen this project completed. She passed away August 19, 2007. Lisa tied up the loose ends after her mother’s death knowing this project was close to her heart. Lisa noted that the statue was actually at the park for over two years. Plans for the new park office were in progress, so they waited to install the CCC statue in front of the new office at the entrance of the park.

The public is invited to the unveiling to see the finished product that has been a collaborative effort including the Ripley County Tourism Bureau who has put together a brochure that will be available for guests at the park telling about the statue.