By Michele Deluca
Niagara Gazette —
My friend, Rocco DelGrosso, admits to getting a little misty eyed when he spends time at the first monument he worked on a few years ago. I kind of expect him to feel the same way about the new one being unveiled today.
In 2010, he led the installation of the All Heroes' Memorial in the City of Tonawanda at the edge of the Niagara River. Rocco pretty much saved that monument. The couple donating the money insisted it be installed on the spot where a Tonawanda youth, Skip Muck, swam across the river prior to becoming a war hero.
It was Rocco's idea to build the monument on a steel enforced platform — rather than digging into questionable soil — that allowed the monument to stand the spot its benefactors desired. It was an impressive save he is proud to have engineered.
Rocco and his wife Carla are good friends of my family, and Roc has been sharing stories with my husband and me all year long about his latest project — installing the new Tuscarora Heroes monument which is making its debut at 6:30 p.m. in Lewiston. The project honors the native Americans who saved villagers when Lewiston burned in the the War of 1812.
While everybody else is getting very well-deserved attention for the project, not much has been said about Rocco, who has been working quietly behind the scenes this past year to insure the three beautiful bronzes, depicting two native Americans and a frightened woman holding a baby, will be standing hundreds of years from now in their parklike setting on Center Street and Portage Road.
"He was a godsend," said Lee Simonson about Rocco. Lee heads the monument committee for the Historical Association of Lewiston and led efforts to build the waterfront monument honoring those in the region who assisted runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. He's also been the driving force behind the Tuscarora Heroes project.
"It was more than a job to Rocco," Lee said. "This was something he stayed up nights thinking about."
Niagara Falls born and raised, Rocco runs an upscale design and construction business in Amherst called Krislyn Co. He's the kind of guy who sees life like a Rubik's Cube and enjoys making things work out right.
The biggest challenge on this project, he said, was that for a variety of reasons, the design kept changing.
Midway in the planning, a historical association member noticed the plaza in Rocco's plans was sort of shaped like a turtle, a creature which is sacred to native Americans. So, Rocco reconfigured the design. Today, the monument stands on a plaza that incorporates a giant turtle, including the 13 large scales on the turtle's back which natives believe represent the 13 full moons of each year and 28 smaller scales representing the days of a lunar cycle.
Rocco's crew and some historical association members where literally on their knees finishing the job, handcrafting, cutting and coloring the cement to give the turtle's scales just the right amount of dimension and detail.
"I never knew much about turtles," Rocco jokingly told me yesterday. "I am probably now the foremost authority on fabricated turtles in the country."
The plaza design also features six pine trees, representing the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscaroras.
Today, when the statues are unveiled with a ceremony and dramatic reenactment, the hundreds who gather to watch will see the results of a massive labor of love, birthed by a complex blend of the brilliant designs of Youngstown artist Susan Geissler, the hard work of Lee Simonson and all the volunteers from the historical association, to the sweat and effort of those who labored on the monument. In the interest of full disclosure, even my husband Doug, owner of a fence company, had a hand in the project as he was called in to core-drill holes in the concrete and help set the statues in place.
That makes it kind of personal for me. But, everybody involved in the monument has something to be proud of. Like the Freedom Crossing statues on the Lewiston shoreline, the Tuscarora Heroes stand as our message to the future, and our tribute to one of the best aspects of human nature — our inclination in even the worst of times, to look out for and care about one another.