Photo of George Rapanos George Rapanos: A Quest for Religious Transformation
I said to the almond tree,
"Sister, speak to me of God,"
And the almond tree blossomed.

- Haiku given to St. Francis.

Monuments of Spirit
By Steve Frangos
Special to The National Herald

ROUND LAKES, Ill.-The raising of an obelisk in western Michigan to one's Greek immigrant parents is perhaps the most unique expression of love and remembrance yet seen in North America. Anyone traveling to Big Rapids, Michigan can now visit Ferris State University campus' new Circle of Inspiration and see this monument. The obelisk, which stands 36 feet tall, weighs 24.5 tons of monument-quality granite, serves as the centerpiece of the 150-foot Bond Circle. Given its weight and height, this needle of stone requires a 10 to 20 foot cement base underground. The obelisk is the focalm point of what will eventually be a landscaped circle 80 feet in diameter, surrounded by granite benches and ten pedestals inscribed with poetry. The site features dramatic nighttime lighting. The systematic planting of trees and other landscaping around the circle has also begun.

Of the ten pedestals surrounding the obelisk, eight will hold plaques featuring poetry of students, alumni, faculty and famous poets. The other two pedestals feature a history of the obelisk and a dedication to the parents of George A. Rapanos, the benefactor of this site.

The dedication reads:

Dedicated to all our forefathers, those brave immigrants, who came to this land of opportunity so that they and their descendants may have a life more abundant.

In Memory of
Alexandros Nicolaous Rapanos
Emigrated from Greece 1910

Nicoletta (Agnostopoulos) Rapanos
Emigrated from Greece 1928

I said to the almond tree,
"Sister, speak to me of God,"
And the almond tree blossomed.
Haiku given to St. Francis

Presented to Ferris State University
By George A. Rapanos
Graduate of Ferris State University B.S. Pharmacy 1957
New York University M.A. Religious Studies 1990

Armies marched in a cloud of dust,
Like tin solders they turned to rust.

The whole world is restless and confused. It will always be so long as man sets his ideals on the wrong objects. There will be no real peace or happiness until man realizes what he seeks comes from within himself.

"The Pearl of Great Worth"

There is a hidden Treasure,
Most search for it in vain.
It comes down from heaven,
And it falls like the rain.

This treasure is not one of silver,
This treasure is not one of gold.
The source of this hidden treasure,
Lies deep within one's soul.

A treasure more precious than silver,
A treasure more precious than gold.
To find this hidden treasure,
You must look within your soul.

George Rapanos

How this massive obelisk came to this small town in western Michigan is a complicated story.

George A. Rapanos is a retired pharmacist, real estate developer and actively practicing poet. Mr. Rapanos is the son of Greek immigrant parents raised in the small town of Midland, Michigan. During the Depression years the Rapanos' were only one of three Greek families in Midland. A man of many parts, Mr. Rapanos had long contemplated the construction of an obelisk dedicated to the memory of his parents and other immigrants. He envisioned a single piece of granite, three-feet-by-three-feet and thirty-feet tall. Professional stonemasons told him it could not 't be done in one piece.

On the night of February 8, 2000, when George Rapanos turned on his television, he certainly did not expect to see anything beyond the ordinary. As fate would have it, George had tuned in to the documentary, "Pharaoh's Obelisk," which was a segment of the Nova series, "Secrets of Lost Empires." The film documented three separate attempts to erect a 36-foot-tall, 30-ton monument-quality needle of carved granite using only those means available to ancient Egyptians. The first two attempts in Egypt failed, but a third attempt in the United States succeeded.

Mr. Rapanos immediately contacted Fletcher Granite Quarry in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where the successful raising took place, to see if they could make one for him. The company told him he could buy the very obelisk he had seen on television, as it was being auctioned on e-Bay. In March 2000, George Rapanos became the successful bidder. Rapanos says. "It seems as if an innermost being was irresistibly drawing me in the direction of what I believe to be my destiny." Ten percent of the proceeds of the sale went to benefit New York City public school I.S. 90, whose students are largely children of Dominican Republic immigrants. The remainder of the sale was used for the production of other documentaries.

"It's magnificent, and shows the involvement to make the world a better place" Richard Santer, Ferris emeriti.

After securing the obelisk, Mr. Rapanos was looking for a location in my home town of Midland. But that was not to be the case. As a graduate of Ferris State, George Rapanos was having dinner at the annual Presidents Club get together. I mentioned what I was attempting to do and President Sederburg said, "Let's do it here."

On October 25, 2001, the Pharaoh's Obelisk arrived at Ferris State University campus.

Rapanos' dream became real when the obelisk was raised (with modern equipment and carefully, since granite is susceptible to stress fractures), in Bond Circle where it is now the center of a the "Circle of Inspiration."

Every person has a purpose and mission, and they are drawn in the direction of their destiny, says Rapanos. Poetry gives meaning to existence. It stirs the spirit and gives awareness of our origins. His view helps explain the phrase on the dedication plaque describing the obelisk: "Symbolizes the ray of light shining from God to enlighten mankind."

The Circle is a site used for reflection. It is intended to be a place where students, faculty, alumni and community members can sit, think, and be inspired by the poetry and the obelisk. Anyone is welcome to walk around, sit on the benches and reflect on life. "Mr. Rapanos is especially pleased to provide Ferris students and staff with a place on campus that is especially conducive to pausing and reflecting on one's life," said Dan Hurley, assistant to the President, who has worked with Mr. Rapanos in coordinating the project. "Upon its completion, the project will serve as a garden of sorts, rather than a stand-alone sculpture-a place designed to contribute to a heightened sense of spirituality for all those who visit it."

Besides being an inspiration to all who see it, the circle and obelisk represent Ferris' commitment to excellence. As Dr. Sederburg, president of Ferris State University states there are four reasons "why we like our obelisk: it raises our focus and determination, represents the union of technology and art, shows the reflection of history and is the start of beautifying West Campus."

On September 18, 2002, the Circle of Inspiration was dedicated. Approximately seventy-five people were in attendance, including Board of Trustees members, emeriti, staff and an art class. Speakers included President William Sederburg, Student Government President Kaci Baars, Professor Phillip Sterling, Trustees Chair Bruce Parsons and George Rapanos.

Dr. Phillip Sterling, professor of languages and literature at Ferris State University's College of Arts and Science said, in part: "It seems appropriate that such a provision is made in a public place for poetry and inspiration to be centered around an obelisk, a monument to human endeavor and triumph. May this "Circle of Inspiration" serve as a kind of open air temple; a place of safety and comfort. May it bond us to the possibilities for poetry, for magic and for peace. May it provide for all who pause here at Ferris State, a portal, the deep heart's core."

Other people at the time also thought well of the project. "It's a wonderful addition to this side of campus," said Professor Don Flickinger. "It shows a move toward encompassment."

Richard Santer, Ferris emeriti, agreed. "It's magnificent, and shows the involvement to make the world a better place, as Mr. Ferris wanted it. It also shows alumni's responsibility of giving back to the university." Students in attendance also showed much appreciation of the circle and obelisk. Mike Chitpasong, a junior in business, said it was a beautiful addition to campus. The whole obelisk project was inspired largely by a trip to India George Rapanos made in 1998. The trip had a profound impact spiritually and ideologically on Rapanos. A cousin of his operates an ashram there and feeds, clothes and educates more than 40 children from the area. Speaking from life experience, Rapanos observed that "You can talk all you want and it changes nothing. Actions are all that matter in the material world." So, Rapanos now feels that projects like the Ferris State obelisk are mandatory since "What I want is to inspire love and transcendence in people." The inspiration Rapanos hopes to give to others can be both fragile and enduring, not unlike a 30-ton slab of granite.

Rapanos credits several people at the University for helping to make the project a reality, including Artist-in-Residence Robert Barnum, assistant to the President Dan Hurley, Director of Planned Giving and Development Debra Jacks and President William Sederburg. Regardless of his personal success in business matters, George Rapanos was restless. His life-long quest in spiritual matters led him, not just to India, but also to a master's degree in theology at New York University. Along the way, George Rapanos has managed to write three books: "The Tao of Tribute Money; In Search of the Hidden Treasure: The Pearl of Great Worth" and "Pearls of Great Worth," all published by Avensblume Press of Midland, Michigan.

Any of these volumes are sure to surprise the reader. They are not narrative texts; rather, all of George Rapanos' books, to date, are anthologies. Yet these books are not simply compiled selections from other writers. Curiously, these anthologies go back to Nineteenth Century models. With the goal of inspiring his readers, as was the intent of those earlier anthologies, George Rapanos has gathered a sizable number of those writers that first awaken new ideas within him. Poems, selections from world novelists, quotations from the Bible, the writings of Ramanuja or Tao Te Ching, can be found on the same page of one of Rapanos' books next to an observation by Nietzsche. Certainly Rapanos' spirit (and at times even his writing) connects the numerous authors, ideas, and visions. But it is not George's intent to consciously come between the reader and the experience that the reading itself can induce.

As Mr. Rapanos has observed, "Man does not live merely to serve higher ideals, but that these ideals, in their turn, furnish the necessary conditions of his existence as a human being." Whether you agree, or even understand, George Rapanos' various worldly projects or spiritual anthologies, there is no doubt that this one man is attempting nothing less than to help raise monuments to promote the spiritual life of the world around him.


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