In a region where heated discussion easily erupts over topics like the founding of the Boundary Waters, copper mining, the Iraq War, the height of a cell tower, wolf hunting and the future of the Community Center, it’s good to get a little peace. One theory holds that world peace starts with how you treat the next person you meet, and I’d specify, the next contrary person you meet.
Dozens of local folks will meet with peace in mind in June to dedicate an eight-foot Peace Pole in Ely’s Whiteside Park. The pole displays the words, “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in four languages that represent major local cultures: English, Slovene, Finnish and Anishinabe.
The pole is part of an international project that started in Japan in 1955 and was sponsored here by Ely’s Rotary Club and President Joany Haag, with encouragement from the club’s district governor. To be sure that the Peace Pole would have real meaning in the community, the Rotary invited other community groups to participate, and 19 signed on to contribute funds and energy to the project and two additional service efforts. Donations will go to one local effort—the Ely Area Food Shelf and to one international project.
Ely’s Junior Rotarians had become involved in Ryan’s Well Foundation, a Canadian charity started by a first grade boy who learned about a lack of safe water and sanitation in developing countries and who raised funds to build a well in Africa. Since then the foundation has funded 749 water projects and 992 latrines that serve 689,907 people, according to the foundation.
“We wanted the kids involved,” Haag said. The Rotarians took 1,500 sheets of paper to Ely ‘s Washington Elementary School, talked about Ryan’s Well, and invited the children to fold paper cranes that commonly symbolize a wish for peace, luck and health.
“In an hour and a half they burned through 1,500 sheets of paper and started on more that teachers could find in their classrooms,” Haag said. “A little kid came up and showed me he’d folded his homework paper into a crane, and I just hoped the teacher would give him a break on his grade that day.”
The Ely organizations involved donated $100 apiece for a share of the cranes. The first $1,000 raised went to Ryan’s Well Foundation and was matched by a grant from the Rotary district. With additional contributions and donations from three businesses, the Peace Pole was erected. Silver Birch Builders contributed tamarack, the hard, dense wood that was often used in Ely area mines, which then went to the East Dhu River Sawmill, and was finally anchored in the park by Forest Concrete Products of Ely.
“This Peace Pole should last forever,” Haag said.
The original concept came from Masahisa Goi, who dedicated himself to the goal of international peace after surviving World War II and seeing the devastation after the atomic bomb blast on Hiroshima. His prayer, “May peace prevail on earth,” became the focus of his work. Since the first Peace Pole was erected in 1955, it’s estimated that more than 200,000 have been dedicated in 180 countries through the work of The World Peace Prayer Society. They range from a few feet to 52 feet tall, made of wood, metal or granite, and carry the prayer in up to eight languages. The tallest pole was erected in Janesville, Wis., at the site of an old lynching tree, after a Ku Klux Klan rally and cross burning occurred there in 1992. The site is now called “Peace Park.”
The organizations that made this statement of peace in Ely comprise a varied list. You’ll find many of your friends and neighbors involved in these clubs, offices and agencies. I hope you’ll thank them next time you see them:
Ely Rotary Club, Ely Jaycees, EMPOWER, Young Life of Ely, City of Ely, City of Winton, Ely TV, WELY Radio, Ely Garden Club, P.E.O. Chapter FD, Ely, Minn., Knights of Columbus #3238, Women’s Life Insurance Society, Students of ISD 696, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Vermilion Community College, Ely Community Resource, Friends of Ely Public Library, Ledgerock Community Church and Catholic United Financial.
“Peace starts at home,” Haag said. “We have so many topics we disagree about here. This community needs to come together on something peaceful.”
The Peace Pole in Whiteside Park “will be a nice place for reflection,” Haag said in a statement from Rotary. “ It shows Ely as “the community that came together in a big show of cooperation and peace.”
One of the songs that will be sung at the dedication is a familiar one. It begins, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”