Flag, YMCA help bridge the communities together

A class works out in front of a large American Flag which previously flew over the Tom Rukavina Bridge building project. The flag was donated to the Mesabi Family YMCA .

MOUNTAIN IRON — You can’t miss The Stars and Stripes displayed at the Mesabi Family YMCA.

The 20-by-30-foot American flag was hung recently in the Y’s gym, where it is visible through windows from the lobby.

Members and visitors have been admiring the huge, vibrant, polyester “Old Glory,” which takes up a good portion of the wall.

But few know of its significance, said Chad Buggert, Mesabi Family YMCA CEO.

It is the flag that flew over the Highway 53 Bridge during the bridge’s public dedication ceremony on Sept. 15, 2017, attended by politicians, key leaders of the project and the community.

The celebration at the bridge was a culmination of a two-year, $156 million project that involved more than 100 construction workers and 165,000 hours of labor. More than 10 million pounds of American-made steel beams and 800,000 pounds of rebar were used to build Minnesota’s tallest bridge, rising 200 feet over the Rouchleau Mine pit lake.

The bridge — constructed so that mining could continue in the area — quite literally “connects” Iron Range communities, Buggert said.

Representatives of Kiewit Infrastructure Co., based in Omaha, Neb., the project’s general contractor, wanted the flag to go to a community organization, since it would not be used again, he said.

When Kiewit employees were closing up shop and leaving the area, the flag was donated to the Mesabi Family YMCA.

“It’s a great honor” to house the symbol of American pride and freedom, Buggert said. Especially a flag that is so prominent.

Such a large bridge, spanning 1,1000 feet across the pit — that required such large cranes to build — called for a sizable flag.

It took some time to figure out how to display the flag, said the CEO. It was too big for any of the community flagpoles in the area, he said.

Eventually, volunteers steppedforward to hang the flag horizontally against the Y’s gym wall.

It’s all quite symbolic, Buggert said.

Just like the bridge, the Y “bridges the community together.”

America is a “melting pot,” and so is the Y, which states that its cause is to “work side-by-side with our neighbors to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.”

The Y is welcoming to all ethnicities, genders and races, Buggert said. The Mesabi Family YMCA provides opportunities for all generations, from youth to active older adults, he said.

And a number of members are veterans, Buggert noted.

While he can’t say for sure, the flag may be the largest one at any Y in the country, he said.

“It’s so big and bold,” he said. It very clearly makes a statement.

Buggert said he is thankful the flag was able to stay in the community — “for the entire Iron Range.”

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