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Robie monument a possibility in Auburn

Local man hopes to raise $600,000 for statue
By: Bridget Jones Journal staff writer
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A local man is hoping to represent endurance athlete Wendell Robie in a new piece of community artwork. But where a proposed statue immortalizing the Tevis Cup founder will go is not set in stone. Robert Fordney “Potato” Richardson, of Greenwood, said Robie’s huge impact on the city of Auburn merits a monument. “The heart of endurance started right here by Wendell Robie,” Richardson said. “He has done so many other things for the community that are remarkable and worthy of respect. I’m forming a committee to explore locations, explore all the avenues to get the statue put together, all aspects of the project.” Robie, a well-known Auburn figure, started the famous endurance-riding event, the Tevis Cup, in 1955. Bruce Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks it would be a natural step for Auburn to represent Robie in a statue. “In recent times Wendell Robie played a major role in Auburn history,” Cosgrove said. “He had a huge investment in the community and employed many of our local residents. Wendell Robie was … a central figure in preserving the Western States Trail and establishing the Tevis Cup.” Cosgrove said Robie also had a lot to do with promoting and advocating for the 1960 Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. World-renowned sculpting artist Douglas Van Howd, who has worked in Auburn for 38 years, said he and Richardson have talked about working to create a Robie monument. Van Howd said he is also an avid horse rider and truly understood the drive it takes to ride the Tevis Cup when he volunteered last year. “It’s not an easy thing to do,” Van Howd said. “This is the most difficult race in the world.” Van Howd said after last year’s race he became interested in sculpting a small statue, or maquette, of Robie for the winner of future Tevis Cups. “(Being named the endurance capital of the world) all happened because of Wendell Robie,” he said. “Wendell Robie to me was probably the guy to (sculpt) because he started (the Tevis Cup) and rode it several times. He’s the one who made the trail.” After that Richardson approached him with the idea for the monument, Van Howd said. Van Howd said he and Richardson have talked about creating 120 maquettes of Robie riding his horse over Cougar Rock. Each maquette would sell for $5,000. The money will be used to help fund the Robie monument. Richardson said he doesn’t think it will be hard to sell the maquettes, because so many people have been inspired by endurance and Robie’s other activities. “I think that there are 120 people out there willing to buy those statues,” Richardson said. Richardson said his committee would need to raise about $600,000 to erect the statue. This amount will cover the cost of crafting the monument and maquettes, as well as to pay for the promotion and installation of the statue. Any extra money would be donated to a non-profit foundation created by Richardson’s committee furthering Robie’s cause. Richardson said there are several possible locations for the monument, including Central Square and the property of Community First Bank on Lincoln Way, a building Robie used to own. Councilman Keith Nesbitt, who is also part of the Streetscape History and Arts Advisory Committee, said the Auburn Arts Commission will decide what artwork will sit in Central Square, but he doesn’t think Robie will be included. “I’d be really surprised if something honoring Wendell Robie didn’t appear somewhere in Streetscape, but I don’t think it will be in Central Square phase one,” Nesbitt said. “I could be wrong. It’s really in the hands of the Arts Commission now.” Sue Dings, chair of the Arts Commission, said she has not been in contact with Richardson about the monument since an Aug. 11 Arts Commission meeting, but that she’d be happy to work with him in the future. Richardson and Van Howd said the monument is still in the planning stages right now and a timeline of when it will be finished is unavailable. Richardson said he is glad to be working with Van Howd on the project. “Doug has the capacity, facilities and the desire,” he said. Richardson said he would work with the Arts Commission and city as much as possible because his main goal is to honor Robie. “I want this program, this whole project, to be focused on Wendell Robie,” he said. “I don’t want my name to be the limelight.” Richardson pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return in December 2007. He was sentenced in federal court to one month in prison. He has since fulfilled his required time and is in the process of paying a $64,210 debt to the government. Van Howd said Friday he had no previous knowledge of Richardson’s case before reading a recent Journal report. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com