Students and community members braved the cold weather Monday morning, Nov. 11, as they gathered near the Story County Freedom Rock in Maxwell City Park.

As part of a project students in a first grade class and two third grade classes at Collins Elementary are working on, artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II came and talked to the students about how the Freedom Rock began.

Sorensen got the idea for the Freedom Rock after watching the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." He decided a way to thank veterans would be to paint a more than 60-ton rock, which is located along a highway north of Greenfield. Each May, Sorensen paints a new "thank you" scene on the rock.

As a way to spread the message of the Freedom Rock, Sorensen began the Freedom Rock Tour a year ago. This project will place a Freedom Rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. So far, 13 counties have their own Freedom Rock, with an additional 58 counties booked. Story County’s is located in Maxwell.

The talk Sorensen gave on Monday served as the kick-off for a project the students are doing that involves learning about veterans. First grade teacher Lori Staples said as part of the project, students will interview veterans, write biographies about the veterans they interview, Skype veterans stationed overseas and make their own freedom rocks to give to a veteran they personally know. The entire project is expected to last 15-25 weeks.

Staples and third grade teacher Steve Rimathe came up with the project after attending a conference about Iowa Core Writing and Social Studies standards. Students in Sue Lee’s third grade class are also participating in the project. Staples said this is the first time a project like this has been done.

"I think it will be fun and rewarding for the kids," Staples said.

Purchase a brick to support the Story County Freedom Rock

Though the mural on Story County’s Freedom Rock will not be completed until 2015, plans are already in place for landscaping around the large rock. Community members can purchase bricks that will form a walkway up to the rock. Engraved on each brick will be the name of a Story County veteran. Order forms to purchase a brick can be found at local businesses or online at www.storycountyfreedomrock.com. The deadline for ordering is Dec. 31 for the first round of bricks that will be placed in the spring. After that, all other bricks will be placed near the Freedom Rock on an annual basis.