March to Freedom: Pair planning Olyphant park to honor veterans

Kim Atkinson and Mark Zinskie stand at the Freedom Fighter’s new home in Olyphant, which will be known as All Veterans Park.

The Freedom Fighter statue to be erected in Olyphant has found a home but will need some help and time to get there.

Olyphant natives Kim Atkinson and Mark Zinskie have been planning for over two years to bring the monument honoring Desert Storm soldiers and the sacrifices they have made to the borough.

The statue, known as The Freedom Fighter, depicts a Desert Storm soldier standing guard. The stainless-steel figure stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and will be placed atop a cube of granite etched with Desert Storm camouflage with the slogan “Home of the Free because of the Brave.” Zinskie began creating the sculpture in 2010.

Atkinson and Zinskie originally hoped to have the statue installed at the Olyphant Train Station by 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back plans until this spring. Additionally, there were logistical concerns about the train station location.

“It was in the middle of traffic, there was no place there to park or for anyone to get out and go over to it, to sit and contemplate. But we were going to make do,” said Atkinson.

However, in the fall of 2020, there was a change in plans for the location of the Freedom Fighter.

At the time, Olyphant Hose Co No. 2 vacated their building behind the Olyphant Borough Building and moved to the former restaurant at 590 Burke Bypass. After deciding the old fire station could not be repurposed, the borough tore it down and turned it into a parking lot. Once officials saw how much space they had, they decided to offer the land as a new home for the Freedom Fighter, according to Council President Jim Baldan.

“Instead of just having a parking lot, our idea was to have a beautiful area that would be a tribute to all service men and women, which would be the Freedom Fighter Statue. It’s going to make a better place for everyone involved in the community,” said Baldan.

Atkinson and Zinskie were equally excited for the new location.

“We jumped at it, because now we have space,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson plans to use this space to create what will be called The Freedom Fighter Veteran’s Memorial Park. The space will house the Freedom Fighter in the middle of a brick pathway made to resemble the Medal of Honor.

“We can make it (the) All Veteran Park, not only just the Freedom Fighter, honoring the 21st century desert soldier, but it will also pay homage to all five branches of service,” said Atkinson.

The total for the Freedom Fighter expanded to between $10,000 and $15,000, in order to transform the space into All Veteran Park. To reach that goal, Atkinson is still selling engraved pavers that will be laid around the Freedom Fighter, as well as miniature replicas of the Hometown Hero banners for service members and first responders to be placed in their homes.

While Atkinson and Zinskie eager to break ground, there has been another snag in their plan.

The borough was a recipient of the state Economic Development Grant that would allow them to update their disabled-accessible entrance from a ramp to an elevator. However, they have yet to receive the funds and still must bid the job out to local contractors.

“We’re ready to go, but at this point, I have to say, and it’s so sad to say this, I have to wait until next year,” said Atkinson.

As of now, it looks as if the Freedom Fighter will be installed in the late spring or early summer of 2022, she added.

Because this statue is meant to honor the 21st century desert soldier, both Zinskie and Atkinson feel the statue is more important than ever, given what has just happened in Afghanistan and the end to a war begun 20 years ago, just after the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We want to thank them for being over there. We don’t want them to feel that it was for nothing. They can’t be left to feel that their service was in vain,” said Atkinson.

For Zinskie, this has become an emotional project connecting him to his community’s military service, as well as his own attempt to serve which ended due to a medical problem.

“My art is my way of honoring some of my local heroes. Jan Argonish, Nick Staback, they were on my mind every second I was working on that statue. People who served or had family members and friends that served would stop by my

studio and share their stories. My inspiration came from my failure and wanting to honor those who did make sacrifices for us,” said Zinskie.

While Atkinson is upset the statue has been held up once more and will not align with the 20-year anniversary of Sept. 11, she is also a little relieved to not be unveiling the statue right now considering the chaos in Afghanistan.

Zinskie emphasized the significance of the statue in light of what is happening in Afghanistan and how they can honor service members.

“It’s more important than ever,” said Zinskie.

For more information on purchasing banners or pavers, contact Atkinson at 570-892-0378 or at kgatkinson527@gmail.com.