CU Plays Key Role As Spokane Erects Statue To Astronaut Killed In Crash

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This memorial was a true community effort.

A local credit union helped as this city erected a statue of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson, one of seven Space Shuttle Columbia astronauts lost when their ship disintegrated reentering the atmosphere Feb 1. 2003.

Anderson considered Spokane his hometown. His parents and church were here and he frequently visited schools or held telephone interviews to spur children's interest in science, aviation and space exploration. Astronauts, NASA officials and hundreds of people gathered for the ceremony after thousands of locals emptied their pockets to memorialize their hometown hero.

School kids raided family sofas in search of loose change; high school students got organized and donated more than $3,000; area businesses chipped in with larger donations; a concrete supplier donated material to build the statue's base while newspapers and television stations followed every step of the campaign fund.

In all, Spokane residents raised more than the $125,000 cost of the statue, with about $10,000 remaining for insurance, maintenance costs and possibly scholarships. Spokane Teachers Credit Union managed the donations account, counted thousands of loose coins, and then donated $1,200 for the statue.

"They had buckets and buckets of coins," according to Jane Skellie, lead member service officer for Spokane Teachers CU.

Skellie was taking her routine turn at the "greeter desk" one day in 2004 when member Jessie Wuerst walked in. Wuerst works as a communications coordinator for a local power utility and was serving on the Anderson statue planning committee. Wuerst told Skellie about the idea and said the credit union's branch locations and its commitment to community service made it the ideal choice for the statue project. The Michael P. Anderson Memorial Statue Fund was born.

Wuerst said the statue committee visited schools and made science and math presentations in conjunction with the fund raising effort. Schools held "change drives" for funds and a "gravity funnel" was placed in the Spokane mall. The statue commission was given to local sculptor Dorothy Fowler, who works in bronze and also flies her own biplane through the Northwestern skies.

Fowler created a larger than life-size figure of Anderson in his space suit holding his helmet in one hand and a dove in the other. Fowler said she made the eight-foot-tall statue in a kneeling pose to reflect Anderson's natural humility and so children could easily see the details of his space suit. Fowler said the dove of peace taking flight represented Anderson's personal faith.

"He achieved his dream, so it's been a moving opportunity for school children," Fowler said.

Fowler spent a year researching and creating the 600-pound bronze using photographs and materials sent by NASA.

Wuerst said that every penny donated by the Spokane community went directly toward building the bronze statue. She credited Spokane Teachers CU with quick turnaround counting donated money, citing one instance when more than $1,000 in coins was quickly accounted for by CU staff.

"We knew they would make a great place to drop off donations," Wuerst said. "They were there every step of the way. I can't say enough about them."

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