University installs statue of fallen Grand Rapids soldier

University installs statue of fallen Grand Rapids soldier

The bronze sculpture by Edward Byrd at GVSU's Steelcase Library in downtown Grand Rapids is based on Dennis Lobbezoo — a Grand Rapids native who was killed during the Vietnam War. Courtesy GVSU

A neurosurgeon-turned-artist’s donated sculpture is being unveiled tomorrow morning at a university campus in honor of Veterans Day.

Grand Valley State University will publicly dedicate a bronze sculpture of a soldier during a Veterans Day unveiling at the Richard M. DeVos Center, from 8:30-9 a.m., on the Pew campus in Grand Rapids.

The piece

Donated by artist and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Edward Byrd, the sculpture is based on Dennis Lobbezoo, a Grand Rapids native and soldier Byrd met during the Vietnam War while working as a medical officer. Lobbezoo was later killed during the war, according to GVSU.

Henry Matthews, director of Galleries and Collections at GVSU, said it's interesting the medical doctor decided to go back to earn a degree in art after his retirement as a way to deal with his war experiences.

“He was clearly haunted by this man and decided that he wanted to create a sculpture to the heroes of the war and to those who were wounded," Matthews said. "It is not precisely of Lobbezoo, but really a portrait of every man in uniform. Really, this is for all of them, and I think it is just a wonderful story that this man could realize his vision and bring it to reality.”

Matthews said Byrd came to the area to find a location for the sculpture based on Lobbezoo’s ties to Grand Rapids and eventually contacted him.

“Once I saw the sculpture itself in a photograph, I was taken by it, because it really is very moving, and it is very beautifully done,” Matthews said. “I considered it. I communicated with Dr. Byrd, and, well, one thing led to another, and he ultimately offered it to Grand Valley as a donation. We were very pleased to accept it.”

With an existing major art collection and a strong veteran-related program, Matthews said he felt the statue would be a great fit for the university setting.

“We wanted the sculpture, because it was a good work of art, and we like the cause for it — we like the memoriam, the related memoriam to veterans," Matthews said. "I think it honors veterans, and I think it is a good fit for our veterans programs.”

Touchable statue

The bronze sculpture is 27 inches long and 14 inches tall and will be displayed on a special pedestal in the lobby outside of the Steelcase Library. It will be available for onlookers to touch and is at a height that's accessible by wheelchair.

“There are many veterans who are handicapped . . . or can’t simply walk up to a work of art, and so he wanted to make sure that it was accessible and could be touched,” Matthews said. “Most of our sculptures we very purposefully ask people not to do that, but that was his stipulation, and we were happy to comply.”

Veterans Day

The statue's unveiling is part of GVSU's Veterans Day celebration on Nov. 11.

The unveiling will be preceded by a private breakfast with veterans and current service members, along with students, faculty and staff and Tim Lobbezoo, nephew of Dennis Lobbezoo, and Thomas Haas, president at GVSU.

“It seemed like the perfect timing to present the sculpture publicly and formally accept it, so that is what we are doing . . . at our Veterans Day breakfast ceremony,” Matthews said.

"Military-friendly" school

As a member of the Consortium of Michigan Veteran Educators and part of the 8 Keys to Veterans’ Success initiative through the U.S. departments of Education and Veterans Affairs, GVSU provides a number of support and resource services for service members and veterans.

The university was recognized by for the fifth-consecutive year and Military Advanced Education for the fourth year as a veteran/military-friendly institution in 2014.

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