Big plans to follow tall cross: Group's campaign will emphasize parental love
by Amy Burch/H&R Staff Writer

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EFFINGHAM -- As cars enter a bend in the highway where Interstate 57 and Interstate 70 merge at Effingham, it almost seems as if a huge cross appears out of nowhere.

The men who arranged to put the $1 million, 198-foot structure there may never know whether it gives the tens of thousands of drivers who pass the site a sense of peace, comfort or hope.

That's why they've decided it won't be their only medium for such messages. The white cross located near the city's industrial park is nearly completed, but the Cross Foundation wants to do more than simply erect the nation's tallest cross.

"This is just one project of the foundation," said Craig Lindvahl, the nonprofit organization's spokesman. "We have great plans that will go beyond this."

Another has already been put into motion.

St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital in Effingham agreed to participate in the foundation's new "I Love You" card program. The parents of each baby born in the hospital started receiving a wallet-sized card last week encouraging them to make it a tradition to say "I love you" to their children every morning and night.

"It's just a good, positive thing, and those are the kinds of things we want to do," Lindvahl said.

The organization intends to pitch the card program to hospitals across the nation. Within a month, it will also have a printable version of the card on its Web site at www.crossusa.org.

Bob Schultz, a Foundation board member, said the group wanted the cross to be a "launching pad" for programs. Both efforts, he said, fall in line with the foundation's mission to have a positive influence on society.

"We see (the card program) as something that can really hit coast to coast," Schultz said. "We're looking to expand it as rapidly as we can. The best way to start this is with the newest families in America."

The foundation conceived the cross idea more than two years ago, after local businessmen spotted a similar cross along a highway near Amarillo, Texas.

J.C. Harrison, a 33-year-old man from the St. Louis area, wants to duplicate the cross project in O'Fallon. He's been exploring the idea for several years and stopped by the site recently when he was in Effingham for business.

"I'd love to see crosses in St. Louis, so I had to see what it's all about," Harrison said. "There's all kinds of reasons (to build one). The Lord just gave me a conviction in my heart. I'll be talking to these people here to get all the details."

The project, however, hasn't developed without criticism. The cost of the project has been a common gripe, Lindvahl said, from people who think $1 million could be better spent to help the homeless or at-risk children. The group raised the money through private donations.

But the foundation has no regrets.

"It's hard to put a value on one soul or one life that might be changed just from stopping by here," Lindvahl said. "Sometimes you do things for the glory of God because it's the right thing to do."

Future plans for the site include a visitors center with parking lots, an amphitheater, small chapel and statues depicting moments in Jesus' life. The foundation is raising funds for those projects but doesn't have a timetable for completion. A temporary visitors center will be erected in the interim.

Lindvahl has been filming the cross construction and plans to create documentaries to sell at the site.

Tom Layton, an 85-year-old Effingham resident, believes about 80 percent of the community supports the project. He pulls up in his Buick on a road alongside the cross daily to take photographs and scribble notes for a scrapbook he's making.

"I was struck with admiration for anyone who could conceive such an idea and then have the means to put it into operation," Layton said. "I have volunteered to serve in some capacity. I would like to be a source of information ... to greet people and tell them what it's about. Everybody has a ton of questions."


© 2005 The Effingham Cross Foundation