Roosevelt Island Disabled Association Asks for and Gets RIOC Help

RIOC Steps Up To Give FDR Hope Memorial A Major Boost Toward Completion

David Stone
Artist rendering of the FDR Hope Memorial by Rendering is by Aanya Chugh.
Artist rendering of the FDR Hope Memorial by Rendering is by Aanya Chugh.

The FDR Hope Memorial, a work the late Jim Bates, President of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, championed since its conception in 2010 until his death last November, took a long stride toward completion when RIOC's Board approved taking over the project at its recent monthly meeting. The State agency acted on a request from RIDA and will bring both funding and expertise to finishing the tribute.

In concept.
In concept.

When the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute asked approval from RIOC to build Four Freedoms Park, activists led by Jim Bates and RIDA Member Nancy Brown raised a protest. Why did the park's designers ignore FDR's severe physical disability?

Sculptor Meredith Bergmann takes FDR's place in practice, shaking the young girl's hand.
Sculptor Meredith Bergmann takes FDR's place in practice, shaking the young girl's hand.

A sudden illness that hit Roosevelt in 1921, traditionally attributed to infantile paralysis, at the age of 39, left him paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. That this did not prevent him from becoming New York's Governor 7 years later, a job he held until winning the presidential election in 1932. Nor did it stop him from leading the United States out of the Great Depression or through the challenges of World War II.

FDR's achievements only add to perceptions of his heroism in the face of severe physical limitations, but a sad legacy of ignorance meant that, in his own time, he was forced to disguise his disabilities, using an array of ruses, to counter stereotypes about leadership and courage.

Detail of the girl's crutches and brace.
Detail of the girl's crutches and brace.

But for Roosevelt Island's irrepressible crew from the Disabled Association, the time for looking away from restricting conditions was over.

In the oft-spoken words of Jim Bates, "Enabled, not disabled."

The girl tucks both of her crutches under one arm, enabling her to accept FDR's expected hand with the other.
The girl tucks both of her crutches under one arm, enabling her to accept FDR's expected hand with the other.

The island named in honor of the 32nd President of the United States would no longer shy away from the facts. Paralysis did not stop FDR from becoming what historians consider to be one of the three best American Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

At the core of the Memorial, FDR is humble, reaching out to a young girl stricken by a similar disability and just as determined to overcome it.

FDR's smile radiates as he turns to greet the visitor.
FDR's smile radiates as he turns to greet the visitor.

In the years that followed, a committee formed by Bates won approval for the Hope Memorial in Southpoint Park from RIOC, raised money, approved a design and completed much of the work.

To date, $400,000 has been raised, including $100,000 from the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy and $150,000 from the City Council. In the approved deal to accept responsibility for completing the Memorial, RIOC agreed to handle future procurements and to cover additional costs not to exceed $278,000.

Together at the foundry, waiting to be taken to their home on Roosevelt Island.
Together at the foundry, waiting to be taken to their home on Roosevelt Island.

As you can see from the pictures accompanying this article, the statues - of Roosevelt in his wheelchair turning to greet a young lady who's moved her crutches to one side to accept his handshake - are complete and await completion of the surrounding structure.

FDR reaches out to the young girl who overcomes the same disability.
FDR reaches out to the young girl who overcomes the same disability.

Installation of two sets of granite, including Mt. Airy White chosen to match that used in Four Freedoms Park.

A look into the future of the FDR Hope Memorial.
A look into the future of the FDR Hope Memorial.

If all goes according to schedule, final construction will begin on the FDR Hope Memorial this summer with completion by year's end.

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