By Mike LaBella
HAVERHILL — Hillie pride and Boston Strong came together yesterday in front of Haverhill High School when students gathered to remember the victims of last year's Marathon bombings and celebrate a new metal sculpture honoring the school, the city and the Marathon.
Although it was windy and cold and many students were not dressed appropriately, they didn't fidget and they didn't fuss. Instead they stood quietly for 45-minutes and listened to every word spoken by their classmates, the artist behind the sculpture and school officials.
Dale Rogers, a Haverhill High graduate who followed his dreams and became a well-known artist, donated the sculpture as a way to thank the school that sparked his love of art while also paying tribute to the Boston Marathon.
He unveiled the nearly 11-foot tall piece, titled "Hillies," to an appreciative crowd.
Rogers built the triangular geometric wave-shaped sculpture out of two types of steel and topped it with a winged running shoe.
The school placed the tall piece in a fenced-in grassy area near the entrance to the gymnasium and planted flowers around it.
"We thought it would be nice to create a piece that was Marathon related, but it's primarily a Haverhill High School piece," Rogers said prior to the unveiling. "It's something we wanted to do for the school. A way to give back for the art training I received here as I'm making a great living in the arts. The last art class I took was here at Haverhill High."
With this year's Boston Marathon just days away, yesterday's unveiling was also an opportunity for the school to remember the victims of last year's Marathon bombings, the lives lost and those forever changed. Students came together as one and displayed the kind of Hillie pride and respectful demeanor that garnered them praise from School Superintendent James Scully.
Scully reminded them of those who were lost in last year's bombings and those who continue to struggle with post-traumatic stress and physical limitations.
"The response of many that Marathon day is reminiscent of the people in 1775 who began the first battle for freedom at Lexington and Concord," Scully said. "Today we all join hands to defend the freedoms we enjoy as citizens of this great country."
Yesterday's guests included Boston Marathon runners Tim Carven, a physical education teacher, and long-time runners Sharon Yu and Jim Laprel, whose run in the Boston Marathon for over four decades. Laprel, 60, told the crowd that he and members of his Hillie track team went to see a Red Sox game years ago when he decided to watch the end of the Marathon. He said it inspired him to want to be part of it as well.
Senior Ryan Connolly addressed her fellow classmates with a speech about Hillie pride, while senior Aisha Chodat read a poem she wrote about her feelings about Boston and last year's events.
Rogers said he drew inspiration for his design from walking the school grounds and recognizing the changes that have taken place since he attended the school, most notably a total renovation of the building and grounds.
"It looks like a great, modern and current place," Rogers said about the school.
"Mr. Scully gave me the freedom to put my own creative stamp on the piece," Rogers added. "As a sculptor, one of my beliefs is you need to give back to the community. This is something I've wanted to do for years."
Andrew Talbot, lead welder at Dale Rogers Studio in Ward Hill, did all of the welding and finish work for the sculpture after Rogers created the layout and design and cut out each metal piece. It took about nine months of planning, designing and building to complete the piece.
The sculpture appears to have motion, which Rogers said he intended through its wave-shaped front and back sides. Rogers sculpted a large "H" into the front of the piece, with "Hillies" recessed into the opposite side. He etched this saying into the back of the piece: "It takes fire to temper steel but adversity to temper a man."
Rogers said the saying came from Scully, who suggested it be incorporated into the sculpture.
"I think it's a truthful statement and a great saying," Rogers said. "Without adversity we tend to stay stagnant."
A single winged running shoe crowns the sculpture.
"We wanted to add a subtle remembrance of the Marathon and the victims of last year's bombings," Rogers said.
Prior to the unveiling, Rogers chatted with his former art teacher Susan Paradis, who he credits with inspiring him to continue on with his art after high school.
"She gave me 95 percent of all my formal art training," Rogers said.