Niemisto statue unveiled

Scores turn out at downtown’s pocket park to honor beloved icon

This plaque is placed at the Phil Niemisto Pocket Park, which now has a sculpture of Niemisto, who maintains the site. The sculpture was dedicated Tuesday. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — A piece of public art was unveiled in the city of Marquette Tuesday, recognizing a person much deserving of the honor.

A statue of Phil Niemisto, who turns 88 Thursday, was revealed to the public at the pocket park along Washington Street named for him.

It now has what he jokingly called his “brother.”

“Phil has volunteered selflessly for many years, as you well know, planting flowers here and maintaining this park,” said Marquette Mayor Dave Campana, who noted Niemisto performs this work without help and never expecting pay.

“He just did it because he wants Marquette — downtown Marquette — to look pretty and appealing, and to come down here and see, you know, some green space amongst the buildings is really nice, and that’s all he wanted,” Campana said.

Phil Niemisto sits next to a statue of him, which was dedicated Tuesday at the pocket park. The community raised funds for the sculpture, which was created by local artist Earl Senchuk. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Niemisto often can be seen washing windows in the downtown area as well.

“What Phil does is typical of many people in our community,” Campana said. “They volunteer. They fix things up. They clean things up. They make it better, and when people do that, we have a better city.”

Spearheading the project from the beginning was Mona Lang, executive director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority, who said that almost $14,000 was raised from the community to have local artist Earl Senchuk create the statue.

Leftover funds from the project, which had a fundraising goal of $10,000, will go toward purchasing flowers for the Phil Niemisto Pocket Park.

“This really is a gift, I think, from the community to the community, and it represents not only Phil, but I think it represents the spirit of good in all of us,” Lang said.

Lang had seen a smaller sculpture of Niemisto, or what she called “mini-Phil,” that Senchuk had created. She then got the idea for a larger sculpture.

At Tuesday’s ceremony, Senchuk donated “mini-Phil” to Lang for her longtime work with the DDA.

For the bigger statue, Senchuk sculpted Niemisto’s likeness using a combination of concrete and steel. His face and hands were modeled from a direct molding and cast in Permastone, which is break-resistant and water-resistant.

Senchuk said it took him three months to create the statue.

“I’d like to thank Phil for just for being Phil and for coming over to my house and trying to sit,” Senchuk said.

Walt Lindala, chairman of the Marquette Arts and Culture Advisory Committee, said arts and cultural programming is important to city residents, with a public art policy now in place.

“This is a culmination of that, but only the beginning,” Lindala said.

Lang also addressed the public art aspect of the project.

“Public art is so important in our lives, and it really provides that sense of place that I believe we had in Marquette before ‘sense of place’ was a buzzword,” Lang said.

As the statue was unveiled, a large round of applause came from the crowd.

“It’s nice that somebody does notice what you’re doing day after day after day, and it’s very important,” Niemisto said.

Niemisto sat alongside the sculpture, which is placed on a bench.

“I can’t tell which one is the real one,” Campana said. “It’s very well done.”

Located near the statue is a plaque that provides a little background about Niemisto, including this statement: “Wearing his signature blue shirt and tie, this statue is a tribute to a gentleman who reminds us that we all can make a difference.”

It also has a quote from “Somewhere in Time,” Niemisto’s favorite film: “There is so much to say … I cannot find the words.”

Campana had a suggestion for the crowd.

“When you see him downtown next time, or around, stop him and thank him, because he is making this a better place,” he said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.