Sculpture to honor Grams’ beautiful soul

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Miki Harder designed – and she and Rich Stewart made – a sculpture honoring nature lover and humanitarian Tom Grams. The Durango dentist was killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan two years ago after providing dental care to impoverished children in a remote mountain valley.

Two years have passed since Durango resident Tom Grams was killed in Afghanistan by members of the Taliban, who could not conceive of someone coming to help out of the goodness of his heart. He had to be trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, spying for the U.S. or doing something else underhanded in their world view.

Grams, a dentist, and nine other people were killed after two weeks in a remote village providing medical care to impoverished children.

I am one of those people who knew him a little, but I learned how extraordinary he was by writing about him after his death. It’s my loss, as many of his friends have told me.

In remembrance of him, and to honor his legacy of giving and inspiring, some of those friends have spent the last year working with several groups, including the Public Art Commission, the Durango Public Library, the Durango Botanical Society and Durango Parks and Recreation to place a sculpture as a memorial in the Botanical Garden east of the library, next to the Animas River Trail.

Permissions have been granted, and the sculpture, designed by Miki Harder, with engineering and sculptural help from Rich Stewart, is ready to be placed as soon as the pad is complete, which should happen in the next few weeks.

The sculpture, which features birds flying toward the sky, represents all kinds of things his friends wanted to express.

“It’s a prayer wheel, in some ways,” Sandy Bielenberg said. “It represents the mountains, canyons and rivers that Tom so loved. And the last bird is an ‘empty’ bird, which we want to send to Afghanistan.”

The empty bird is a silhouette of a smaller bird carved out of a larger one, symbolizing, also, the hole left in the world with Gram’s death. Gram’s brother Tim was stationed in Afghanistan at the same time his brother was doing humanitarian work there, so they have a way to get the smaller bird to the war-torn country.

Bielenberg and her partner in this venture, Kelly Rubin, hope to raise $6,000 by Oct. 15 to cover the cost of the sculpture and are about halfway to their goal. They’re hoping to raise even more than that, though, to support some of Gram’s favorite causes, most especially global dentistry (because Tom would want it that way, they said).

“We want folks to know about this memorial,” they said, “and to enjoy it, either in passing on the bike trail – or in quiet moments by the river.”

To help our community remember one of our remarkable neighbors in a lasting way, send your contribution of any size to Kelly Rubin, 1801 County Road 205, Durango, CO 81301; or Sandy Bielenberg, 67 Rio Vista Circle, Durango, CO 81301.

Not many people have both the skill set and the courage to put it to use in the way Tom Grams did. But the remembrance of his contributions can inspire all of us to do more, reach further and make a difference.

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Happy Libra birthday greetings go to Andy Kraftherfer, Ward Lee, Ann Hartney, Peggy Herrera, Brendon Shaline, Chase Collins, John Wells, Steve Jackson, Jill Rogers, Jacob Beekman, Kim Caldwell, Danica Dudley, Mallorie Godbold, Troy Moore, Don Oliver, Richard Siegele, Joelle Ward, Tyler Ruetschle, Leanne Moore, Susan Kolb, Parker Lovelady, Everett Manson, Joanie Thomas, Anna Marie Bishop and Irene Nix.

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Also working to improve children’s lives both here and around the world is Kiwanis International, with 600,000 members worldwide.

The $107 million the organization and its clubs invest in its projects, as well as the more than 18 million volunteer hours members donate, happens one club at a time.

On Sept. 13, the Kiwanis Club of Durango held its largest fundraiser of the year, its Pancake Breakfast.

Lisa Barrett, who headed up the event, tells me they served eggs, ham and those eponymous flapjacks to more than 1,000 people. God bless John Gamble, who for the last 20 years has spent the whole 12 hours of the event managing the kitchen, slaving over a hot griddle flipping those hotcakes.

Ryan Phelps and Connie Matthews organized a pretty amazing silent auction. While most people probably focused on the dinner with the firefighters of the Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, I was most impressed by the $500 bottle of tequila. If the winning bidder ever cracks the bottle, I’d love a sip (talk about a shameless plug).

Judy Michalski, purchasing chairwoman, organized all the supplies, and Charlotte Pirnat headed up hospitality.

Where will the $10,000-plus raised go? To programs such as Boys & Girls Club of La Plata County, Reading is Fundamental, Project Merry Christmas, Salvation Army and Head Start.

Bravo!

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Celebrating their anniversaries in the best weather of the year are Nick and Anne Spence, Ed and Suzanne Cash, Jeff and Peggy McElwain, Mic and Sharon McGrath, Chris and Jill Choate, Jack and Mimi Smith, Eric and Janelle Meyer and Scott and Sharon Kuhn.

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neighbors@durangoherald.com

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