Verona’s iconic WWI Doughboy statue to return after 7 years
The storied Verona “Doughboy” statue is expected to return to its rightful place this year after seven years missing in action.
The Doughboy, nicknamed and modeled after the American infantryman in World War I, had long been Verona’s most prominent landmark and symbol of pride.
The statue was the centerpiece of the war memorial along Allegheny River Boulevard for the better part of 55 years — his right arm hoisting a triumphant fist in the air, his left brandishing a bolt-action rifle.
In 2007, the Doughboy was gravely wounded. He split at the ankles and collapsed atop the brick foundation that laid before him, shattering his right arm and hand.
Since then, the 7-foot statue has not seen the light of day. Debates over the feasibility of repairs kept the Doughboy tucked in a corner of the borough’s maintenance garage, and officials showed little interest in making the issue a priority.
Then, in 2011, borough foreman Russell Frazier volunteered to repair the statue and got off to what Verona Mayor Dave Ricupero described as a “solid start.” But Frazier’s repair efforts were cut short later that year by personal issues, and the Doughboy project was again placed on the back burner.
Frazier could not be reached for comment.
Three years later, Ricupero said Frazier is planning to resume repairs and could have the statue ready for rededication by the end of the year.
It would be fitting timing, he said, given that 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I.
“The Doughboy is a symbol of our freedom,” Ricupero said. “The First World War was a period when that freedom was in danger, and our young men and their families made great sacrifices to preserve it. It’s always been a part of the town, and we’re looking forward to getting it back up.”
‘It’s been through a lot’
Its downfall seven years ago is the latest in a series of mishaps in the Doughboy’s history.
“It’s been through a lot, to say the least,” Ricupero said.
The Doughboy’s first bit of misfortune came in 1943, months after the former Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Verona laid a down payment for the statue.
As the VFW raised enough money to bring the statue to Verona, the warehouse where it was being stored in Chicago was destroyed by fire. The Doughboy survived but was severely damaged.
Ricupero said someone refurbished the statue in time for the VFW to have it erected in 1952 at the war memorial.
For the next 40 or so years, the statue stood there, largely without incident, but eroded over time under the elements.
The Doughboy was damaged in 1997, when vandals pushed the statue off its pedestal, shattering his right arm. The suspect was caught and ordered to pay restitution, but borough council, knowing it could take years to receive enough money, raised $25,000 for its repair.
Repairs were finished, and the statue was re-erected the next year.
Borough officials could not recall who refurbished the statue. As part of the restoration, the statue was taken apart and filled with plaster, and by 1999, the zinc began to crack and leak under the resulting pressure.
The borough sent the statue to Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum & Memorial in Pittsburgh the next year for storage.
The Doughboy sustained further injuries in transport — his arm fell off, and a crack in his stomach widened.
The borough later reclaimed the statue and took it to monument maker Donatelli and Sons of Pittsburgh for treatment. After that, the borough kept the statue inside the borough building to prevent further deterioration.
Ohio artist Tom Podnar, who has relatives in Oakmont, agreed in 2005 to repair the Doughboy for the borough to erect the statue in the war memorial. Podnar brought the statue to his art studio in Oberlin, Ohio, where he disassembled it, removed the plaster from inside and reassembled its zinc parts.
He also refurbished the Doughboy’s rifle, which, he said, is the only part of the statue that wasn’t a part of the original. The rifle was bronze and weighed about 80 pounds, placing “substantial pressure” on the statue’s left arm.
Podnar hollowed out the rifle and reinforced the statue’s arm from the inside.
He returned the statue to the borough later that year, and it was placed in the war memorial.
There it stood for more than two years until June 2007, when it broke at its ankles and fell.
Verona police quickly ruled out vandalism. The war memorial’s mulch and brush was undisturbed, the report stated, and there were no footprints in the surrounding area. Several people also reported seeing the Doughboy standing just an hour before its collapse on a clear and bright Saturday afternoon.
Podnar contends that the Doughboy was tampered with, arguing that the statue would have fallen earlier if it were structurally deficient. He believes someone swung on the statue’s arm, weakening its base and ultimately leading to its collapse.
The Doughboy’s raised right arm and hand shattered into pieces when it fell.
The borough requested that Podnar pay for the statue’s repairs. When he declined, the issue went to district court, which ruled in favor of Podnar.
The borough placed a black granite statue of an eagle on the Doughboy’s pedestal. When the Doughboy is ready, Council President Dom Conte said, he will return to the pedestal, with the eagle moving to the borough hall.
“The Doughboy will be returned to where he belongs,” Conte said. “We’re excited to get him back.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or [email protected]. Trib Total Media’s archives contributed to this report.