Statue of Dwight Eisenhower on the Fraser River to be unveiled Saturday
August 7, 2008
This weekends unveiling and dedication of the Dwight Ike Eisenhower statute fishing in the Fraser River not only commemorates an important piece of Grand County history, it will represent a living memory for those residents who experienced the former presidents visits during the 1950s.
The Ike statute will be dedicated during a 10 a.m. ceremony on Saturday at the Fraser fishing ponds next to Safeway. The public is encouraged to attend. Created by artist and sculptor Howard Neville, the bronze is meant to honor Eisenhower, who was not only this nations 34th president, but also the general who led the combined American-British assault upon Hitlers Germany in World War II. In addition, the statute strives to preserve an important piece of local history. During his first term as president, Eisenhower spent a number of fishing vacations in the Fraser Valley between 1952-55.
While on vacation here, Eisenhower continued to perform his presidential duties including meeting a number of national political figures as well as signing a number of legislative bills into law including Social Security reform, farm, nuclear power and the outlawing of the Communist Party in the United States.
Eisenhowers repeated visits to the Fraser Valley resulted in it being dubbed the Western White House by the national media in the early 1950s.
Invited to Saturdays dedication are a number of residents who met and talked with President Eisenhower during his Fraser Valley fishing trips. One of them is John Work, who was the foreman of the Byers Peak Ranch where the president stayed during his visits.
The president was a real gentleman, Work said. He was just a real down-to-earth kind of guy who treated you like you knew him forever.
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Eisenhower made his first visit to the Byers Peak Ranch in 1952 as part of a short vacation during that years presidential campaign. At the time, the ranch was partly owned by Aksel Nielsen, a family friend of the presidents wife Mamie, who grew up in Denver. After that first visit Eisenhower apparently fell in love with the areas excellent fishing as well as the relaxing rural atmosphere of the Fraser Valley.
Work explained that after Eisenhower won the election and became president, he decided to spend his future fishing vacations back in Fraser. However, the Secret Service objected, because of security concerns, to Eisenhowers fishing along an extensive stretch of St. Louis Creek as he had on his first trip. To keep the president in one specific area where he could be protected as well as find good fishing, it was decided to build ponds along the creek.
We put dams across the creek with logs and hammered in spikes to keep them in place, Work said. The ponds were stocked with fish by Fish & Game and later by the ranch. Theres still a couple of those ponds in the creek near the rodeo arena on County Road 73.Work described the president as an ardent fisherman who liked to catch trout, though he would often let them go afterwards. In addition to St. Louis Creek, he also enjoyed fishing in the Fraser River. During the visits to Byers Peak Ranch, Eisenhower and his party would stay for periods of one week to 10 days. The president would often go to Denver, where Mrs. Eisenhower had family and friends. During the period between 1952-55, Work said a number of dignitaries came up to the ranch to meet with Eisenhower including then-Vice President Richard Nixon, former President Herbert Hoover, the U.S. surgeon general and others.
It was definitely an interesting period of my life, Work said. Another local resident with vivid memories of Eisenhowers visits is Dwight Miller, who was owner of the Idlewild Inn at the time. One day in 1953, I was down by St. Louis Creek where Ike was fishing, Miller said. He came up out of the creek to go into Fraser for a press conference. I held open a three-strand barbed wire fence for him to climb through. As he went through, he thanked me, saying: These old bones arent as good as they used to be. He was definitely the friendly sort. He was a really nice chap.
During Eisenhowers visits to the Fraser area, Miller said several of the Secret Service agents stayed at the Idlewild Inn.
They would dress up like ranchers or farmers so you couldnt tell they were Secret Service, Miller said. He explained one of the agents invited him into his room at the Idlewild and showed him a closest full of machine guns and other weapons being used by the agents to protect the president. Eisenhowers trips to the Fraser Valley ended after 1955. While in the Denver area that year, he suffered a heart attack and spent time recovering at the U.S. Armys Fitzsimmons Hospital in Aurora.
Saturdays dedication of the 9-foot-tall bronze statue is made possible by the Fraser River Valley Lions Club, which raised $96,000 in cash and in-kind services for the project. A total of 120 donors, both individual and businesses, contributed and will be recognized by bronze plaques and bricks in the garden area where the statute has been erected.