The FDR Hope Memorial, a sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt greeting a young girl who is also disabled, will be the first memorial dedicated to FDR's disability. Designed by artist Meredith Bergmann, the project is planned to open on Roosevelt Island in New York City, with the United Nations within FDR's view.
The memorial is the conception of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, which is running a campaign to complete fundraising for the memorial that asks, "Who's your FDR?" Friends and relatives of people with disabilities are raising funds to honor a loved one with a tribute to be engraved on a stone of the granite plaza that leads to the sculpture.
Jim Bates, president of the association, says, "How people confront their disabilities, with dignity and perseverance, inspires their loved ones, their friends, their caretakers, just as FDR inspires us all." FDR lost the use of his legs after becoming infected with the polio virus at age 39.
Tribute stones were first open to residents of Roosevelt Island and are now publicly available at fdrhope.org One of the tributes planned is for Tom Brown, who, like his former wife Nancy Brown, contracted polio, which led to quadriplegia. Nancy and their caretaker Luisa Huerta started the fundraiser for Tom's tribute. Their friends and relatives have now contributed the amount necessary to ensure that there will be a two-foot-wide stone honoring Tom on the Memorial's plaza.
Tom and Nancy were among many patients at Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island who were kept alive with iron-lung machines, full body enclosures that kept them breathing. With advances in medical technology pioneered at the island's hospitals, patients who were dependent on iron lungs became ambulatory. Nancy and Tom were able to move into the new Roosevelt Island residential community when it was built in the 1970s.
Nancy is now the disabled association's vice president and eagerly anticipates the completion of fundraising and construction. "The memorial will be such an inspiring place, not just for people with disabilities, but for all visitors, who will benefit from a greater understanding of the needs for accessibility and inclusion."
The sculpture of FDR and the girl are partway through a multi-stage process that will transform them from clay to wax to bronze. Rather than a depiction of an actual event, the encounter is the imaginative creation of the sculptor.
"The poses are based on numerous photos of FDR greeting and interacting with child polio patients at Warm Springs, Georgia, and in the White House," sculptor Meredith Bergmann explains. "We see in these meetings exchanges of gentle smiles of recognition, understanding, welcome and hope."
For Meredith, the FDR Hope Memorial continues a theme of addressing social issues with thoughtfulness and wit, as she has done at the 9/11 Memorial at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and the Boston Women's Memorial. Her work is informed by her own experience as the parent of a child with autism. "My son's spirit, determination, and abilities astonish me every day. I have tried to infuse the FDR Hope Memorial with those qualities to inspire others in their own struggle to achieve the fullest humanity."
The memorial will be located just north of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, which sits at the southern tip of the island. Designed in the 1970s by architect Louis I. Kahn and finally built in 2012, the four-acre park does not acknowledge FDR's disability. It features a larger-than-life-size head of FDR by sculptor Jo Davidson. The park's lack of reference to FDR's loss of the use of his legs spawned a protest by the island's disabled community.
Dr. Jack Resnick, an internist who has long treated the disabled and seniors on Roosevelt Island, advocated for memorializing FDR's strength in conquering his disability, noting that the island was renamed for FDR in large part because of his connection to polio.
Rather than modifying the design of Four Freedoms Park, a new memorial dedicated to FDR's disability was planned. The Four Freedoms Park Conservatory supported the concept, pledging $100,000 toward its costs. Funding was also provided by Alice Heyman, a New York City benefactor who was moved by the memorial's aspirations, and from the city and state.
Fundraising remains incomplete. Jim advises that people wishing to help build the FDR Hope Memorial and honor someone they know or care for can "do something wonderful and start a granite tribute or contribute to one in progress at fdrhope.org"
Wearing a cap displaying the phrase "enabled not disabled," Jim says he believes the memorial will say to children and adults with disabilities, "Look what you can be."
Nancy emphasizes the message. "We shouldn't be looked at as far as what we can't do; we should be looked at for what we can do."
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