Club leads effort to memorialize Bill McArthur


First Posted: 1/15/2009

RED SPRINGS - A planned sculpture of a former Red Springs resident will match his accomplishments, but not necessarily his face.
Bill McArthur, an astronaut whose journeys since he has left Robeson County have carried him into space three times, is the planned subject of a bronze sculpture for the town.
Paul Van Zandt, a Red Springs artist, has been commissioned to create the sculpture. A model of it shows a helmeted astronaut rising out of Robeson County.
Van Zandt said the sculpture was supposed to appear larger than life, “which is what his accomplishments are.” But don't look for a close resemblance between McArthur and the abstract creation Van Zandt plans.
The Dilettante Book Club is trying to raise $6,700 for the sculpture of McArthur, who actually was raised in the Wakulla community. The club has donated $2,500 for the project and is hoping to get the community to help with the rest.
Patsy Conoley, president of the 25-member Dilettante Book Club, said the club “just wanted to do a project” and chose to honor McArthur.
The 6-foot stylized figure of an astronaut will rise out of the base from a point approximately where Wak-ulla is located. The sculpture's future home hasn't been decided yet, Conoley said.
“We're not going to let him (Van Zandt) start this until we have a location secured,” Conoley said.
McArthur, a 1969 graduate of Red Springs High School, graduated from West Point in 1973. After West Point, he completed a tour with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg and then went into U.S. Army Aviation School, which eventually led him into the aerospace program and the rank of colonel. In 1987, he was assigned to NASA as a space shuttle vehicle integration test engineer and he became an astronaut in 1991.
He has been sent into space three times and completed two space walks. His long list of accomplishments are listed on the NASA Web site and include the Distin-guished Service Medal and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
McArthur's accomplishments will be engraved across the front of the sculpture, on the figure's torso, Van Zandt said.
McArthur was supposed to fly to the international space station this year, but that trip might be postponed because of the explosion of Columbia.
“We were told that, with the U.S. mission going up this year and it being the 100th celebration of the Wright Brothers, that he was going to carry something up to commemorate that,” said club member Judy McIlwain. “We don't know what's going to happen with that.”
Van Zandt has several works displayed around the county, including pieces in the Robeson County Public Library, on The University of North Carolina at Pembroke campus and in the Native American Resource Center at UNC-Pembroke.

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