Pull up to any one of the 32 Scheels’ massive sporting goods stores throughout the United States and you’re immediately struck by the array of large bronze statues flanking the building.
You might see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, or even Ronald Reagan. Then there’s a military statue – a soldier laden down with equipment from all the different eras of combat history.
You’ll also see a bowhunter, a snowboarder, a fly fisherman, and a mountain biker. All told, each Scheels stores features 4 “monument-size” and 8 “life-size” statues. Some stores contain statues customized to the area – such as a hockey player in Minnesota.
“We wanted the experience to start when you drove up,” Jason Loney, Vice President of Store Development at Scheels told me. “We wanted people to have a Disney-like experience.”
Scheels likes to say their store started with potatoes – or more specifically, from the $300 that founder Friedrich A. Scheel culled from his first harvest after emigrating in 1902 from Germany to Sabin, Minn, with his wife, Augusta. With those modest proceeds from their farm, the Scheel family put a down payment on a small hardware/mercantile.
Over the next few decades, the family would open additional stores within Minnesota and North Dakota and broaden their offerings. Post-World War II saw additional expansion, and by the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the company’s footprint extended throughout the Midwest.
By the time Scheels celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2002, it hardly resembled its founding – but for its values, standards and commitment to customers. The now signature Scheels Ferris wheel first arrived in their new Omaha, Neb., store in 2004. And by 2006, Steve Scheel, the company’s chairman of the board and a great lover of history, decided upon the idea to commission the now signature bronze statues both outside and inside its stores.
But to whom would they turn to make the monuments?
“I didn’t know anything about statues,” said Loney. “We met with several sculptors and decided upon the Lundeens.”
Like Scheels, the Lundeen Sculpture company is a family affair. George and Cami, husband and wife, along with artists Mark, Bets and Kelly, are all Lundeens.
The Lundeen foundry in Loveland, Colo., has been up and running since the late 1970s, when George moved from Nebraska. He originally took a job working for someone else but eventually started the family company.
Mark Lundeen, George’s brother, can’t remember his first statue, but thinks it was probably back in junior high.
“We grew up working with our hands,” he said. “Our father was an inventor, and he had a shop and allowed us to work and experiment with things. He was an inventor, creating lifting systems for machinery and equipment.”
The Scheel/Lundeen partnership has been a marriage made in heaven from the beginning.
“They’re great people,” says Mark.
Beyond quality merchandise and a fun, family-friendly store environment, Scheels is known by many for boldly acknowledging their Christian convictions. For example, on Christmas and Easter, the store has been known to run “advertisements” noting the true reason for the season.
“He is Risen!” said one ad, then quoting Matthew 26:13: “He is not here. He has risen, just as He said.”
When a customer wrote to the corporate office and thanked them for their boldness, the company responded:
Thank you very much for the kind words regarding our Easter message. We are proud to be able to share our Christian beliefs with our customers.
Is it this faith connection that makes the Scheels/Lundeen partnership work so well? What role does the Lundeens’ faith play in their work?
“You might want to check out our website, where we feature our ‘Stations of the Cross’ exhibit,” Mark said, in response to my question. Raised Lutheran in the Missouri Synod, Mark was ordained a deacon in the Presbyterian church.
In collaboration with other sculptors, the Lundeens were commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, to create a display for the “Cloisters on the Platte” retreat center in Gretna, Neb. It consists of 62 seven-foot statues across the 14 stations depicting Christ’s journey to Calvary. Mark says it was his favorite and most meaningful project of them all. A second set of identical statues are being made for a group in Kalamazoo, Mich.
This coming Wednesday, the Lundeens will be in Washington, D.C., for the dedication of a new seven-foot statue of Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic alone. Her statue will be unveiled inside Statuary Hall as one of the two statues representing Kansas, Earhart’s home state.
At a time when historic monuments and statues are being toppled, torn down in protest, or quietly removed, the rising generation deserves to know more about the mortal men and women who were etched in stone or cast in metal. It’s refreshing to see a company unapologetically celebrating our nation’s founders and its many heroes. And it’s especially heartening to see two Christian families like the Scheel and the Lundeen families leading the way.