After Toni Copeland, a United States Olympic Education Center athlete and NMU student, and NMU student Cass Huckabee drowned in the waters at Picnic Rocks in the fall 2005, Laura Salani, a local high school student and friend of Copeland’s, began petitioning for warning signs to be posted in order to create awareness of the dangers of swimming in this particular area of Lake Superior.
On Aug. 7, a memorial was held to officially dedicate a sculpture and warning monument that alerted visitors to the dangers of swimming in that area and recognizing people who have lost their lives there, including Copeland and Huckabee.
Although the large rocks in this spot are not far from shore and seem easily accessible because of shallow waters, currents along a sandbar make it unsafe for swimmers. Yet only within the last year have these risks been posted publicly at Picnic Rocks as the result of Salani’s interest and tenacity.
After her friend’s death, Salani went to the NMU Constructors, a student organization comprised of students within the construction management program offered through The School of Technology and Applied Sciences, with a proposal to erect a memorial. Chris Cardinal, a senior in NMU’s construction management program who lived across the hall from Huckabee, was president of the Constructors at the time and he was immediately interested. He has played an integral part in organizing, designing and completing the project.
While Salani handled fundraising, Cardinal worked with a committee to plan and monitor development. He also maintained regular contact with Earl Senchuk, the artist who sculpted the angel that stands atop the stone monument. In recognition of Cardinal’s work with this project, as well as others, he received the D.J. Jacobetti Student of the Year Award and a Homebuilders Association Scholarship.
Nearly two years have gone by since the drowning deaths of Copeland and Huckabee, but with the work of Salani, Cardinal and many others, the chances of future tragedies in that area have been greatly reduced.