HUNTINGTON — What happened on the night of Nov. 14, 1970, is no secret to those who call Huntington home. But a memorial erected to honor a group of fraternity brothers who died in a plane crash that night — something that could be easily overlooked — was taken down Friday in order to restore it to its original state.
The sculpture base stands in front of the former Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, 1411 5th Ave., and the unit's future was in jeopardy when the property went up for sale after the frat disbanded.
However, a recent visit by the daughters of Vernon Howell, the sculptor of the piece, has provided at least some assurance the memorial won't be forgotten.
The sculpture of a crouching football player sat atop a brick base inlaid with marble plaques etched with the names of the players Jimo Adams, Mike Blake, Pat Norrell, Bob Patterson and Ted Shoebridge.
The football player represents "an abstraction" of the fraternity members' sorrow in the wake of the 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Marshall football players, coaches, community members and the flight crew.
When the property went up for sale, sisters Robin Howell and Jennifer Howell Pierson learned there were no concrete plans for the sculpture and began to make arrangements for it to be saved.
"We started right away when we saw it was for sale. The first step was contacting the Realtor who put us in contact with a Pi Kappa Alpha representative here in Huntington. He said the fraternity wanted to restore it but didn't have the funds to do it or means to get it done," Robin Howell said. "They've been willing to work with us on making it happen."
The effort began with a GoFundMe page to raise money for removing, restoring and relocating the structure - setting a goal of $15,000.
Mike "Goose" Sizemore of Mountain Artworks Studio in Athens, West Virginia, has been selected by the Howell family to do the restoration. He removed the sculpture Friday morning, moving it to his studio, where he plans to begin working to restore it to the original design, which will require sandblasting, reinforcing the structure and powder-coating.
Vernon Howell, the captain of the 1958 Marshall football team, also was present.
The Howells are attempting to secure a new site for the refurbished memorial, but if unsuccessful, Robin Howell said the sculpture must be returned to its original base because it is owned by the fraternity. She added they are hoping it finds a new home on or near Marshall's Huntington campus.
"We've been reaching out to different organizations at Marshall and have had contact with several of them, but no commitments yet," Howell said. "(The sculpture) is just too important to be put away in storage. We'd really like to keep it on campus."
As for the possibility of placing the sculpture on campus, a representative with the Marshall University communications office said the athletics staff was in Boise for the game and the university could not yet comment on the project.
Donations can be made by visiting www.gofundme.com//marshall-football-memorial. The sisters say all funds raised will be used to repair and refurbish the sculpture and to remove and rebuild the base. Any additional funds raised beyond their goal of $15,000 will be donated to a Marshall University charity.