Rosalie Sisson was horrified when she learned Boise’s Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was vandalized earlier this week. Then she took action.
Sisson and her husband, Pete, both active or former attorneys, donated money when the memorial was built 15 years ago for a seat that carries the names of their daughters, Allie and Mimi.
Now the Sissons — who are getting ready to move to Seattle after 25 years in Boise — have given $20,000 more to pay for repairs.
“It just felt right to us. We had been involved since the beginning and it was a way for us to give thanks to the community before we leave,” Rosalie Sisson said.
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Racist and anti-Semitic slurs were found Tuesday on two different tablets at the memorial, located next to the Boise Greenbelt at 777 S. 8th St. Two days later, offensive writing made with a permanent marker was discovered on a sign dedicated to Bill Wassmuth, a former Roman Catholic priest in Coeur d’Alene who battled hate groups in North Idaho before his death in 2002. He is the namesake of the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights located next to the Boise memorial.
Efforts to clean the tablets damaged them further and they will have to be replaced.
“It’s a bit nauseating to imagine happening because the memorial is a really special place for the whole community and has meant a lot to our family since it was built,” said Sisson.
The Wassmuth Center has received two large donations. The other one, also $20,000, came from Meridian resident Dena Gray, who had similar thoughts of disgust when she found out the memorial had been targeted with hate speech.
“At first, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Something like that was so offensive to me,” said Gray, a retired Portland furniture store owner. “It just made me sick when I saw it.”
The Boise Police Department is treating the vandalism as potential hate crimes.
Dan Prinzing, the Wassmuth Center’s executive director, said he’s grateful for the gifts from the Sissons, Gray and dozens of others who have offered funds for the repairs and who have condemned the vandalism. By late Friday afternoon, two other fundraisers by the Wassmuth Center and the Friends of the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial had raised a combined $11,000.
“The community outpouring has just been overwhelming,” Prinzing said. “This story has also gone nationally and internationally. The eyes are on the Boise community and how the community has responded.”
Repairs so far will cost $20,000 or more. The money raised beyond that will go toward construction of another Wassmuth Center project, the Marilyn Shuler Classroom for Human Rights. That project is intended to help the thousands of visitors who tour the memorial each year to better appreciate the struggle for human rights, through the use of audio and visual displays. The classroom will also serve as a meeting room where speakers can address visitors on various topics.
Marilyn Shuler died Feb. 3 at age 77. She was a longtime leader and activist for human and civil rights.
“This will be a classroom built in the memorial that will house the history of human rights in Idaho,” Prinzing said. “It is capturing the impact of the triumph and tragedy of human rights in our own state: African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, Mormons, Jews, refugees, the LGBTQ community — the whole broader story.”
The center hopes to break ground Aug. 16, the 15th anniversary of the Anne Frank memorial.