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updated: 7/14/2014 6:57 PM

Massive wooden soldier reassigned from St. Charles to Pingree Grove

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  • Wyman "Clint" Carey of Pingree Grove bought the 25-foot-tall wooden sculpture known as "The Unknown Soldier," which for the last 38 years has sat in front of Custom Furniture in St. Charles. The store is closing, and Carey plans to restore it and display it by his barn.

       Wyman "Clint" Carey of Pingree Grove bought the 25-foot-tall wooden sculpture known as "The Unknown Soldier," which for the last 38 years has sat in front of Custom Furniture in St. Charles. The store is closing, and Carey plans to restore it and display it by his barn.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

When Carolyn and Richard Pakan decided to retire, one of their first thoughts was, "What to do with the Unknown Soldier?"

The 25-foot-tall wood sculpture crafted by Richard's father has been sitting in front of the Pakans' store, Custom Furniture on Route 25 in St. Charles, since July 3, 1976, when it was unveiled for the nation's 200th birthday.

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The Pakans considered taking the Revolutionary War soldier to their home in St. Charles, but they were hesitant to embark on such a huge project. Plus, they were considering moving somewhere warmer, Carolyn said.

A neighbor seemed interested in buying it, then changed his mind.

"We also thought of cremating him in place. The fire department probably wouldn't have liked that," Carolyn joked.

That's when Wyman "Clint" Carey of Pingree Grove stepped in, willing to not only buy the sculpture but restore it.

"I'm superexcited," said Carey, who plans to display the soldier near his family's barn sometime in the spring. "We just think it will be a cool addition to the town."

Carey, a jeweler and former Pingree Grove village president, said his wife read in the Daily Herald that the soldier was for sale. "We spoke with the owners, hit it off, so we decided we'd do it."

Carolyn Pakan said she and her husband are relieved the soldier found a new home.

"Clint was superenthusiastic about being able to restore him," she said. "We were just thrilled."

Richard's father, Andrew Pakan, originally opened Custom Furniture in Chicago in 1938 and moved it to St. Charles in the late 1960s.

Andrew Pakan first sculpted the soldier's rocking chair, then made the soldier a couple of years later, when a 100-year-old oak tree behind the store began to falter, Carolyn Pakan said. ComEd lent the use of a cherry picker to get it assembled, she said.

The sculpture is made of separate pieces of oak -- including a 500-pound head -- with the exception of the trunk, made of two-by-four pieces of wood, Carolyn Pakan said.

Over the years, Carolyn, 65, and Richard, 79, former physical education teachers who took over the store in 1982, took meticulous care of it.

"We have painted several times since then," shes said. "We have taken him down once, soaked him all in preservatives."

The soldier will be taken apart, possibly next week depending on the weather, and taken to the carpentry studio of Jim and Bill Miller in Elgin, Carey said.

"We'll erect scaffolding around it and take it down gently," he said. "If everything goes smoothly, we can take it down in a week."

Some rotten pieces of wood will be carved again and a concrete pad will be added, he said.

Carey has started a Kickstarter campaign under the name "Save the Unknown Revolutionary Soldier" to help defray the estimated $5,000 to $7,000 cost of restoration.

He declined to say how much he paid for the sculpture.

Carolyn Pakan said the store's target closing date is Labor Day, but it largely depends on getting rid of inventory.

"I'm very happy (the soldier) found a home," Carolyn said. "I would like to see artwork that my husband's father's created being displayed."

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