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From this Perch: The 'Bronze Bird' lives on

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It was a mighty strange sight to recently witness the gradual demolition of Karges Center on the UW-River Falls campus. Mid-way through the demolition process, the remnant of that once-mighty structure reminded me of images from WWII.

"Karges" has held a steady presence on the local campus for nearly 60 years. The building was named in honor of Dr. R.A. Karges, affectionately known as "Kargie." He taught chemistry at River Falls and was vice president of the college from 1926 to 1951.

While the building itself has been a steady presence, the pronunciation of its namesake — "Karges" — has been less steady.

Locals who knew him will tell you Dr. Karges pronounced his last name with a hard "g," as in "goal" and for years folks referred to the building by using that hard "g." In recent decades, however, somebody must have snuck a phonics rule into the picture and the pronunciation of Karges eventually morphed in the direction of a soft "g," as in "gym."

I suppose there's a sort of rhythm to that — Karges (with a soft "g") Gym, but I'll bet "Kargie" would be saying, "Wait — what?"

Pronunciation aside, the space previously occupied by Karges Gym will now be used for green space — until funding becomes available for a new Science Building. And the name Karges has flown over to the new Falcon Center, where the auxiliary gym is named "Karges Gym."

A sculpture of the school's athletic symbol — the Falcon — was created shortly after construction of the building in 1960. That sculpture was affixed to the building's north wall.

Referred to at the time as the "Bronze Bird," the idea came from the college's president, E.H. Kleinpell, who thought a high-quality sculpture depicting the Falcon would add a nice touch to the building.

Those in charge of the project lucked out when they got well-known University of Minnesota sculptor John Rood to take it on.

The sculpture cost $4,500 at the time, roughly $40,000 in today's dollars.

Thanks to late professor and historian Walker Wyman, we know quite a bit about that Falcon sculpture and its back-story, including a bit of controversy around the "Bronze Bird."

It seems that some objected to the quality of the art-work, and others to the cost.

It was left to Dr. Jim Crane, of the college's esteemed Art Department, to aim some witty perspective in the direction of the critics:

"If a vital contemporary sculpture doesn't excite, challenge and inspire us, then we might as well ask the Philistines, Carthaginians and Spartans to move over and make room for us ... Let us (instead) collect our old beer cans, junk, auto parts, catsup bottles, rock and roll records, cold cream jars and TV tubes and build us a tower with a statue of Mammon on top. We could do it ourselves, cheap."

And as they say in Zen, everyone was suddenly enlightened and the controversy withered away.

Thankfully, that John Rood sculpture was carefully removed from Karges Gym before the wrecking ball began its work and has been beautifully re-mounted on the brand new Falcon Center.

My bet is that Kleinpell, Crane, and "Kargie" (that's with a hard "g") would be happy: the "Bronze Bird" lives on!