The Fort Lee Common Sense Society and the Fort Lee VFW will honor Mayor Mark Sokolich with the first annual “Thomas Paine Winter Soldier Award” at a dinner fundraiser in November.
The Common Sense Society also hopes to raise a good chunk of the remaining $40,000 it needs to complete funding for a statue of Thomas Paine the group commissioned to be permanently placed in 2012 at the site Paine and the rest of the American Army encamped with General George Washington in 1776—present day Monument Park in Fort Lee.
“We’re honoring Paine specifically for his role in Fort Lee,” said Common Sense Society vice chair Tom Meyers. “[Paine began] to write The American Crisis right here in Fort Lee, and anyone who doubts that, read the first few paragraphs of The American Crisis when he specifically references Fort Lee and what happened here and what he saw here. I think any town with that type of history and that connection to a patriot like Paine, not only should have a statue of that person in their town, but must have [one].”
The award, which Sokolich will be receiving on Nov. 5, is as yet officially unnamed, although members of the Common Sense Society are leaning toward calling it the “Thomas Paine Winter Soldier Award.”
“The ‘Common Sense Award’—even though it’s the Common Sense Society—is confusing because Thomas Paine didn’t write Common Sense in Fort Lee, and I don’t know if anybody would want to accept an award called ‘The American Crisis,’” Meyers said. “But in The American Crisis, Thomas Paine wrote about winter soldiers and summer soldiers. Winter soldiers were those committed to the cause even when the cause was bleak. So I think we’re going to call our award the ‘Winter Soldier Award’ for people who have stuck to the cause, whatever they do in life, and that despite the odds, they persevere just like Thomas Paine did. The mayor will be our first recipient.”
The Common Sense Society was formed nearly five years ago as a non-partisan, non-political group of people interested in Fort Lee’s role in Revolutionary War history and Thomas Paine in particular. An offshoot of the Fort Lee Historical Society, that group joined forces with the Fort Lee VFW, voted James Viola of the VFW chairman and made it its dual mission to raise money for the statue and awareness among Fort Lee’s school children about their town’s role in American history by celebrating Thomas Paine’s birthday every year on Jan. 29 in one of the elementary schools.
So far the Common Sense Society has raised about $88,000 of the roughly $128,000 it needs to complete the statue, Meyers said.
“Some of [the money raised] came in big donations,” he said. “Some of it came in pennies. The elementary schools formed ‘Pennies for Paine.’ They each raised $500, which was beautiful. So no amount is too small, and no amount is too large for us in this cause.”
The Common Sense Society started looking for a sculptor about four years ago, considering a number of them before settling on David Frech, a young sculptor from Beacon, N.Y., after reading a newspaper article about a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln he completed, which currently sits in Richmond, Va.—the only statue of Lincoln in a confederate state, Meyers pointed out.
“What caught our eye was the beauty of the statue,” Meyers said. “It was just marvelous. So we did some research and contacted David. He came down here. We toured the area; we toured Monument Park, where we want to put the statue, and we found out his birthday is Jan. 29 just like Thomas Paine. I think it all was meant to be.”
Although Meyers hasn’t seen Frech’s Paine work in progress lately, he said Frech has provided pictures, and that he likes what he’s seeing so far.
“He’s done a marvelous job,” Meyers said. “We’ve told him kind of what we want, but we’re also giving him the freedom to create something special.”
The Common Sense Society hopes the Nov. 5 fundraiser will get them to their goal or close to it.
“Next year, hopefully, we can finish up the project, and hopefully by November of 2012, we’ll unveil the statue in Monument Park,” Meyers said.
For more information on the Nov. 5 fundraiser honoring Sokolich or making a tax-deductible donation to the cause, visit the Common Sense Society online or call 201-693-2763.