International peace project rooted in Ohio

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WASHINGTONVILLE, Ohio – An international project that spans the Atlantic Ocean traces its roots to small towns in northeastern Ohio.

The Phoenix Peace Fountain, which serves as a symbol of America’s support of Ireland’s steps in peace-building and conflict resolution, was built by Foster Pattern Works, located in the Columbiana Industrial Park, and Witmer’s, Inc., a farm equipment dealership in Washingtonville, has donated use of one tractor for the fountain’s domestic unveiling ceremony.

America’s gift. The idea for the 8-ton fountain was conceived by Inspirational Media International, a Mentor-based nonprofit group headed by Michael Whitely, as an initiative to address conflict resolution in Northern Ireland.

Whitely’s involvement with groups of Protestant and Catholic students overseas during doctoral work at Kent State University led to the founding of the Northern Ireland Community Cooperation Initiative in 1998.

Whitely’s company has also been involved in production of multimedia presentations and plays in Ireland to unite the groups. The fountain is Inspirational Media’s latest project.

Melted guns. The 16-foot fountain, made of melted down guns confiscated from crimes in Ohio, represents America’s support in peace efforts and the destruction of violence, Whitely said.

The fountain has 26 pillars bearing the names of each council involved in an agreement calling for government reform in Ireland, and a sculpture of the mythical phoenix, who was said to rise out of its own ashes after death back to life – to give hope to Irish peacemakers.

The six sides of the fountain are engraved with phrases that flow together with no start or end point to symbolize unity.

The gift from the United States to Northern Ireland will be unveiled on the Ashtabula campus of Kent State University March 17 before being dismantled and shipped overseas to its destination. An unveiling ceremony will be held July 4 in Coleraine, Ireland. Coincidentally, the dates are St. Patrick’s Day and the United States’ Independence Day.

“The Irish people are really excited that this is coming their way. As a way of honoring the United States, the fountain will be shown for the first time on our independence day,” Whitely said.

The July 4 date will also mark the second awards ceremony created to honor those in Northern Ireland who are involved in cross-community projects and fighting for peace.

“There is a lot going on there, fighting and peace-making, and this is our way of showing those people that the United States supports them,” Whitely said.

Parade preparation. In the days leading up to the peace train parade, organizers are seeking tractor owners willing to donate the use of their machinery for the Ashtabula event. The tractors will be fitted with a plywood body made to make each tractor look like a train, and will pull a flatbed wagon carrying program participants.

A prototype of the wooden body was unveiled Feb. 15 at Witmer’s. Seventeen more tractors are needed for the parade, Whitely said. Organizers are seeking medium-sized tractors of all makes.

“We’re looking for tractors with around 40 horsepower. They’ll be used to pull the floats, so we don’t need a lot of power,” Whitely said.

Donations of wood are also being accepted so volunteers from Salem First United Methodist Church can continue to build the train bodies. Each train costs approximately $170 to build, according to Whitely.

“The tractors won’t be shipped over to Ireland, but the plywood facades will,” Whitely said, noting the July event will be patterned after the Ohio parade.

“Everything will be recreated there,” he said, and those who donate a tractor’s use will be worked with so they may travel to Ireland for the international event.

“The event in Ashtabula will be spectacular. We’re planning on celebrating with green fireworks,” and supporters of Whitely’s project from across the nation will be present, he said.

For more information about the peace train or to make a donation, contact Whitely at 440-974-0729 or e-mail mwhitely@inspirationalmedia.org.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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