STERLING – A much-loved bronze statue of a cherubic boy carrying geese, known as “Goose Boy,” was pilfered from its perch in a pond at Oak Knoll Memorial Park, dismembered and sold for scrap.
The local man accused of taking the statue, carving it into pieces and selling the remains is being charged with theft commensurate not with its scrap value, but with its replacement value – around $14,000.
Cemetery groundskeeper Scott Hinrichs last month noticed the heavy statue, which had been bolted to a base in the middle of the duck pond for about 80 years, was missing.
The pond was frozen, and whoever took it, likely not art connoisseurs, apparently took advantage of the ice to grab Goose Boy, as he’s known.
Deborah Schoonover and Scott Hinrichs run Oak Knoll. It’s a fairly straightforward division of labor: She handles the inside, he handles the outside. Scott’s brother Lee Hinrichs is on the cemetery board of directors.
“We all thought, ‘That’s it. This thing’s gone; we’ll never find it again’,” Schoonover said Monday. “It’s in Rockford, it’s in Chicago, it’s gone.”
Still, Lee, who worked at the cemetery 50 years before retiring and who still helps out, had a feeling. He gave Cimco Recycling in Sterling a call.
Goose Boy indeed was there. Unfortunately, the statue arrived in pieces.
The Cimco worker asked the guy scrapping the statue its provenance, and was told it was his grandmother’s and she no longer wanted it, so he cut it up, Schoonover said.
The worker, who found the story suspicious, set the pieces aside, she said.
Because the scrapper was required to show his driver’s license, however, law enforcement went knocking on his door.
Cody Rhodes, 31, of Sterling, was arrested and pleaded not guilty Feb. 16 to felony theft, which carries, in this case, 3 to 7 years in prison. Bond is set at $10,000 and he has a preliminary hearing March 7.
Rhodes is not accused of stealing the statue, per se.
According to information filed in Whiteside County Court, on Jan. 24, Rhodes ”knowingly obtained control over certain stolen property of Oak Knoll cemetery ... being one bronze decorative statue, having a total value of more than $10,000 but less than $100,000, knowing said property had been stolen or would reasonably induce said defendant to believe the property was stolen, and with the intent to deprive the owner permanently of the owner’s use of the property.”
It would cost Oak Knoll nearly $14,000 to replace the artwork today, Schoonover said.
They sent the pieces to the Whiteside Area Career Center, where welding instructor J.R. Walls – who, like many locals, has fond childhood memories of feeding the ducks by that statue – declared it “way too far in disrepair” for him to fix.
Whoever nabbed Goose Boy not only cut off his arms and legs, but also cut into the abdomen then split the body apart, he said.
“I’d hate to make it worse,” in case someone else could make it whole again, Walls said.
All hope is not lost.
Oak Knoll has a vendor who sells them the bronze plaques they use as grave markers, and he thinks he knows someone who could fix, Schoonover said. They also might have other avenues to explore.
Cost likely will be the determining factor, she said.
If Goose Boy can’t be repaired, he will be missed. He’s been in the background, if not the forefront, of thousands of visits to Oak Knoll, and in the everyday lives of those who care for the memorial park, for decades.
“It’s part of the cemetery, and it’s part of me, I’ve been there so long,” Lee said.
About the statue
Goose Boy was purchased by the cemetery’s original owners, Russell and Geraldine Meldorf. They founded the 38-acre park, which straddles state Route 40 north of Sterling, in 1938.
The 39-by-20-inch, 120-pound statue, originally a fountain that shot water out of each beak, was designed by Italian-American artist Emilio Angela, who died in New York in 1970.
Others exist; for example, one came up for auction in June 2020 at a gallery in New York, where it failed to meet the $3,000 minimum bid, and another is installed in Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills, New Jersey, where it is titled, probably correctly, “Boy with Waterfowl.”
Angela has another work titled “Goose Boy” that depicts a goose in flight away from an older boy.