The New Year is all about fresh starts, including one for a longtime military landmark in Sioux Falls. The Battleship Memorial at 12th Street and Kiwanis Avenue is undergoing a one-man makeover in an effort to restore the World War Two-era naval vessel to its former glory. A local artist is sounding battle stations for the USS South Dakota.
The USS South Dakota withstood hostile fire in both the Pacific and Atlantic theaters of World War Two. But time and the harsh elements of the prairie are mounting an attack upon this old warship, dry-docked in Sherman Park.
"When I came out here and checked on it this summer, there was paint falling off in sheets," artist Robert Ruf said.
It's been more than a decade since the battleship last had a fresh coat of paint, back when Robert Ruf served as the Chief of Command of the Sioux Falls Naval Reserve.
"This is a nice town; it's got some nice things like this and you got to take care of them," Ruf said.
So Ruf has taken it upon himself to repaint the battleship. The prep work is already underway.
"So what I'm doing is taking it all the way down to the metal, all the way down to the concrete with a pressure washer and then doing a thorough scraping and priming it and then I'm going to put the finishing coat of paint on it when it warms up," Ruf said.
Ruf estimates the paint project will cost up to $20,000.
"I'm not a wealthy guy, but I do projects around town and I use the proceeds from my artwork to get them done," Ruf said.
So Ruf, the artist, is selling his oil paintings to raise money for the Battleship Memorial Makeover.
"I have a whole house full, so I got plenty to go around," Ruf said.
Ruf hopes to generate even more interest in funding the battleship project by posting a YouTube video explaining what it takes to keep the USS South Dakota ship-shape.
"I've already gotten a little response. I've sold some paintings to folks out of town. So I'm hoping the more people that see it, they'll pass it around and help me out with the project," Ruf said.
Ruf, who served 15 years in the Navy, knows what it's like to have all hands on deck.
"On the ship, people are constantly prepping and painting. So I'm used to that kind of work, done it a lot; you gotta keep the ship looking pretty," Ruf said.
But Ruf will have to keep his artistic instincts in check and stay true to the original color scheme when he's painting the ship.
"It's all haze gray and underway, but my usual paintings are a little more colorful than that. But I don't think they'd like it if they came out here and saw a psychedelic ship. So I got to stick with the haze gray," Ruf said.
Weather permitting, Ruf hopes to finish his restoration work in mid-May, just in time for a reunion of the USS South Dakota crew members this summer.
"And these guys are late 80s, early 90s. So this might be one of the last ones to get the crew together. So, I want it to look good for them," Ruf said.
The Battleship Memorial is an enduring symbol of our military's might and the brave sailors who served on board. Ruf hopes by a applying a brush to this sprawling canvas, he'll preserve that high-seas heritage that no one in a land-locked state like South Dakota should miss.
"Every time I pass by her, I always take a look at it because I have a personal connection to it. So I'll feel a lot better when it's looking good," Ruf said.
Nyberg's Ace Hardware is supplying Ruf with the paint for his project.