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'It's well-deserved recognition': See Des Moines' new RAGBRAI sculpture

  • 17 July, 2020
  • Sierra A. Porter, Des Moines Register

John Karras and Donald Kaul went on a now-famous bike ride in August of 1973.

It was an excursion that would bring Iowans together to launch the world's biggest bicycling event: the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, best known as RAGBRAI.

Forty-seven years later, the two longtime newspapermen — Kaul was a columnist, Karras a features writer — were memorialized with a statue at Water Work Park in Des Moines. Installation was completed Thursday.

Carl Voss, a former Register photographer who covered the first ride and rode one day, was among those who advocated for the statue to honor the late Kaul and 90-year-old Karras with a sculpture. 

"This is everything. I don't know if I can talk about it without choking up," Voss said as he held back tears. "It's well-deserved recognition for what they brought to Iowa." 

Colorado artist Gail Folwell designed the sculpture, located near the Lauridsen Amphitheater. 

Hundreds of donors, including RAGBRAI and the Des Moines Register, contributed to the $200,000 project constructed of bronze and aluminum. It features abstract 6-foot-6-inch renderings of the two men alongside long, 50-foot strips that represent the rolling hills of Iowa. Dozens of circular rings represent bicycle rims.

Statues of Kaul and Karras were made out of bronze that started with clay. Then came the aluminum that was bent to create the hills and wheels of the sculpture. 

"All the wheels light up in the day and the night. It'll all be wired up to light up all the time," Folwell said. 

Folwell started work on the sculpture in the middle of 2019, as ideas of where the piece will be placed were in question. 

"When they gave me this site and told me that sometimes it might be under 6 feet of water, we had to kind of redesign some stuff to handle the water, but we still want it lit up all the time," Folwell said.

► RAGBRAI archive photos: Riders dip bike tires in Missouri, Mississippi rivers

RAGBRAI forever: Statues honoring founders, rider memories, unveiled

The sculpture's title became "RAGBRAI: River to River" in recognition of the longtime tradition of ride participants dipping a bike tire in the Missouri River at the start of the event and another in the Mississippi River at its conclusion, Folwell said.

Karras's conversations with Folwell about the hills of Iowa influenced the design of the project. He had an idea of what the final product would look like after seeing drawings of the sculpture and his statue at the Iowa Bike Expo at the Iowa Event Center in January of 2020. 

"I think they're great," Karras said in January. "I'm pleased and honored this is being done, very much so."

 Folwell said that she thinks the late Kaul would've been happy with the project.

"He's looking down on us, right," Folwell said. 

Rachel and Chris Kaul said their father would have been humbled.  

"He always complained, mostly in jest, that he would be remembered more for founding RAGBRAI than for the column he wrote for over 30 years," they said in a statement to the Register.

RAGBRAI 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers are instead hosting virtual activities and challenges.

Sierra Porter covers entertainment for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at or via Twitter @SierraAPorter95.

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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 'It's well-deserved recognition': See Des Moines' new RAGBRAI sculpture

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