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Saintly statue takes its place at TMP

8/31/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The sculpture weighed approximately 250 pounds. But Tim Chapman handled it much like he would a baby.

This was, after all, his baby.

And he finally was able to breathe a sigh of relief after his precious cargo was secured tightly to its large cement base.

Chapman, a local sculptor, was on hand Thursday morning to help install a bronze sculpture of St. Thomas More on the east side of the steps leading up to the main entrance on the south side of Thomas More Prep-Marian High School.

The statue, which took approximately four months from design to completion, was installed as a memorial to Steve Schmeidler, a 1977 graduate of the school. Schmeidler died in a vehicle accident during the summer of 2011, and his family chose Steve's alma mater as one of his memorials.

The Schmeidlers decided on a statue of St. Thomas More, after whom the school was renamed -- Thomas More Prep -- in 1970 after it changed from St. Joseph Military Academy to a Catholic boarding school.

A statue of St. Joseph greets visitors at the first flight of steps to the school, and there is a large statue of St. Thomas More in the school's entryway, but none outside. All that changed Thursday.

"Perfect," Jeff Brull, director of advancement at TMP, said as he watched the sculpture being maneuvered while hanging from a forklift. "St. Joseph is an indispensable part of our history, and we now have a (Thomas More) piece publicly on display that chronicles our history."

The bottom of the sculpture displays all the different names of the school from its beginning as Hays Catholic College in 1908, and a plaque is attached to the base in memory of Schmeidler. The entire structure will be dedicated on homecoming weekend, Sept. 22.

The base that holds the genuflecting Thomas More, with one hand grasping a Bible and the other a cross, features large crosses on every other panel around the octagonal structure.

"That was John Moeder's idea, to showcase the sculpture better," Brull said of Moeder, a 1982 graduate of TMP who built the cement base.

Chapman, an art major during his college days at Fort Hays State University in the 1970s, returned to his alma mater as president and chief executive officer of the FHSU Foundation in 2006 after 28 years away from Hays. He is able to continue his passion for art in the garage at his Hays home.

Chapman, who has commissioned several bronze pieces throughout the community, said he was "humbled by the opportunity to do (St. Thomas More)."

"This is a collaboration of what I wanted to participate in as a memorial," he said, "in recognition of Steve and something long lasting for the school."

The sculpture was anchored to its base with foot-long pins that were epoxyed to the cement.

"I told them that if there ever was a tornado here, I'd run to Thomas More and hang on," Chapman said. "He's anchored in well; he isn't going anywhere."