A new monument was unveiled outside the Cruz Bay Visitor Center on St. John on Tuesday in honor of three of the key figures behind the establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park in 1956.
The monument, a three-sided stone sculpture in front of the visitor center’s Philanthropy Pavilion, bears the likenesses of conservationists Laurance S. Rockefeller and Frank Stick, and former V.I. Sen. Julius E. Sprauve.
The year 2016 is not only the centennial of the creation of the U.S. National Park Service; it is also the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the V.I. National Park on St. John.
Rockefeller, who was the grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller Sr., first visited the island in 1952 and soon afterwards bought the Caneel Bay Plantation with the intent of turning it into an environment-oriented resort.
He later collaborated with fellow conservationist Stick, who had recently bought the Lameshur Bay Estate, on acquiring over 5,000 acres for the establishment of a national park on St. John.
Stick, a former artist and illustrator, had previously been instrumental in conservation efforts in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Sprauve, a St. Johnian civic leader who was a member of the first Virgin Islands Legislature, was an advocate for the formation of the park, arguing for the benefits it would bring in shifting St. John from a subsistence economy to one based on tourism.
Former park employee Paul Thomas, Sprauve’s grandson, offered a few words about his grandfather at Tuesday’s unveiling.
“He was always interested in the growth and the wellbeing of the people of St. John,” he said.
Thomas said his grandfather died when he was around 12 years old, so he didn’t get to know him well, but he remembered Sprauve as “a very humble man, very quiet, caring.”
Park volunteer Bruce Schoonover and former Park Chief of Resource Management Rafe Boulon also offered words about Stick and Rockefeller.
“Rockefeller had a number of special qualities that led to the creation of the Virgin Islands National Park,” Boulon said. “He was a conservationist with the vision and desire, and means obviously, to seek the serene and preserve beauty wherever he found it, and he made this a lifelong mission.”
Friends of the Virgin Island National Park President Joe Kessler said the idea for a monument honoring Rockefeller, Sprauve and Stick was born a decade ago around the time of the park’s 50th anniversary. At that time the visitor center’s Philanthropy Pavilion was constructed and Kessler thought a monument would benefit the newly renovated area outside the center.
The Friends of the V.I. National Park helped fund the monument, designer Kate Norfleet conceptualized it, and architect Glen Speer erected it. Maryland-based stone sculptor Rick Rothrock created the sculpture itself.
St. John artist Karen Samuel created the original artwork from which the faces of Rockefeller, Sprauve and Stick were copied onto the monument.
“It is so appropriate that we are here to recognize the contributions of what I will go out on a limb and call ordinary citizens,” said Park Superintendent Brion Fitzgerald. “Today more than ever it is important that we highlight and appreciate the role of citizen philanthropy in protecting our national parks.”
Park ranger Laurel Brannick served as mistress of ceremonies at the monument’s unveiling.