Ernest McFarland is finally getting the memorial he deserves, and his grandson couldn’t be happier.
The new “Ernest W. McFarland and the American Dream” Memorial, replacing a previous one that had fallen into disrepair, will be unveiled on Feb. 14 – Arizona Statehood Day – at Wesley Bolin Plaza.
“He worked so hard and the old memorial was just disgusting to the family. … He got the memorial he deserves,” said John D. Lewis, McFarland’s grandson, who spearheaded the efforts to get a new memorial.
McFarland, a Democrat, served as a U.S. senator from 1941 to 1953 before losing his seat to Barry Goldwater. After his time in Congress, McFarland became the 10th governor of Arizona, holding the office for one term from 1955 to 1959. His career culminated on the Arizona Supreme Court starting in 1964 as a justice. Eventually he became chief justice from 1968 to 1970. McFarland died in 1984 at age 89.
The previous memorial, dedicated in 1998, mostly focused on McFarland’s work on veterans’ issues. He is known as one of the “Fathers of the G.I. Bill,” which he introduced in Congress as a way to help returning military members pay for college and receive home loans. McFarland also championed water rights for Arizona and helped direct the authorization of the Central Arizona Project.
The old memorial was a disaster, Lewis said, with photos missing or damaged, a crumbling wall and a nonfunctional fountain. The repairs were estimated to cost $250,000, according to the Department of Administration, which was approximately the cost of building the monument in 1998.
Lewis and other grandchildren banded together to raise funds for a new memorial, coming up with $400,000 to start over, Lewis said. The family also set up a fund for future repairs and maintenance.
The memorial now includes a spiral path, flanked by panels telling about McFarland’s life and accomplishments, ending in a prominent 24-foot-tall arch. About halfway through the path, a black scar cuts through the memorial, a feature that demonstrates the loss of McFarland’s first wife and children to disease. McFarland’s personal loss coincided with the Great Depression.
At the end of the path, near the arch, a rock will feature a plaque that honors McFarland, but the photo on the rock won’t show the former lawmaker’s face. It’ll show a workhorse, intended to inspire and challenge those who visit the memorial, said the memorial’s architect, Don Ryden of Ryden Architects Inc.
“It isn’t achieving your dream that’s the point … The prize is the legacy that he left behind for everybody on the way,” Ryden said.
A major challenge of designing the memorial: McFarland was a “a great but humble man who would have wanted no monument,” Ryden said.
That’s why the memorial ideally will inspire people to see parallels in their own lives and challenge them to achieve success despite adversity, he said.
“This is meant to be an architectural fanfare to the common man,” Ryden said.
The McFarland Memorial sits next to the World War II memorial, which Ryden says shows a strong interplay. The WWII memorial displays wartime and sacrifice, with a symmetrical design. McFarland’s memorial exemplifies the post-war boom, with its asymmetrical but balanced and optimistic tone, he said.
“Between the two of them, they tell a much greater story than either of them alone,” Ryden said.
Lewis said he hopes visitors learn about his grandfather and the kind of man he was, and that they’re moved to action by his journey.
“I’d like them to walk away from this kind of like seeing a really good movie that inspires you or makes you think,” Lewis said.
Though a Democrat, McFarland was known for working across party lines to achieve his goals, which Lewis hopes could be a source of inspiration to people who visit the memorial. McFarland believed in the greater good and in working hard to make Arizona grow and become great, Lewis said.
“He wouldn’t care if you were a Democrat or a Republican, if there’s something we need to do, let’s get on it,” Lewis said.