Fountain Valley News - Your Hometown Community Newspaper

giant gladiator still stands strong 30 years after it was built


April 19, 2017

Samantha Briggs

Duane Swanson, former automotive/welding teacher at Widefield high School stands between the knees of the mighty Gladiator in front of the school.

Charlie, the 15-foot gladiator outside of Widefield High School, is turning 30 years old. The statue, made entirely out of chrome car bumpers, still stands strong today and celebrated its milestone with a special reunion.

Some of the students and staff who helped bring Charlie alive gathered in front of WHS to reminisce on a vision that became a reality through the welding classes of industrial arts teacher Duane Swanson.

"I didn't want to do the project. I was not an artist and didn't know anything about art. Patt Dikeman talked me into it," said Swanson.

Dikeman was the art teacher at the time and was inspired by a similar statue in Breckenridge. Students began drawing sketches in the spring of 1986. The final drawing came from Al Rivera who graduated that year.

That fall, the gladiator began to take form with the help of two passionate seniors, Pete Walter and Steve Walker. The two worked many late hours and weekends in the welding shop putting together the hundreds of car bumpers donated by local auto part dealers.

Unfortunately, the students graduated before completing the project. Charlie only had his bottom half at this point. The Class of 1987 purchased a plaque for the statue and stored it, and other students took up the challenge of finishing the project during the 1987-88 school year.

There were a lot of hands who helped create the Gladiator including Gerry McCabe, John Cleaton, Tony Ellerd, Wyatt Bonner, Mike Hammer, Eric Huntsman, and Keith Weaver, to name a few. Staff members also played a role in the creation. Jim Skadden was a physics teacher at the time and calculated how much concrete would be needed to withstand 100 mile per hour winds. After the January windstorm this year, it seems Skadden knew what he was talking about.

In May of 1988, the final piece of the statue was complete, welding the head to the giant body. The high school carpentry class taught by Lynn Kopaz constructed the form for the 8 by 10 foot cement base in front of the school. And on the morning of May 14, the two-year project was lifted by crane and permanently placed by Joe Mulready. Science teacher Linda Overlin did the final landscaping around the gladiator.

Students welding bumbers together to create the Gladiator statue in 1987.

"The moment I realized we had something neat was at the unveiling ceremony. Seeing the crowds around Charlie wanting to take a photo made it all worth it. It was a great idea," said Swanson.

Charlie's fame quickly grew into several honorable recognitions including being registered with the Smithsonian Institute. In 1993, El Paso County Parks and Recreation registered every piece of outdoor art as part of a program called "Save Outdoor Sculptures." Charlie was one of the pieces highlighted on a poster showcasing unique art in El Paso County.

The Gladiator still towers over Widefield High School today and serves as a daily, visible reminder of the love this community feels for their school and all its rich history of memories and traditions.


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