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Newport Beach weighs proposed memorial for lifeguard who died on duty

Proposed statue in Newport Beach would honor Ben Carlson, a lifeguard who died on duty in July

The newly remodeled lifeguard headquarters in Newport Beach was renamed this month in honor of Ben Carlson, the only lifeguard in the 100-year history of the rescue unit to have died on duty.

Carlson, 32, a veteran lifeguard, died July 6 while trying to rescue a swimmer in heavy surf. The swimmer survived.

Now the Newport Beach Arts Commission has approved a proposal by the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation for a memorial statue of Carlson that will also honor all lifeguards and rescue workers in the city. The plan will go to the City Council for final approval.

The foundation has a preliminary design for the 9-foot statue — Carlson's likeness holding a rescue tube and fins, his right hand shading his eyes as he scans the water.

Jake Janz, the project artist and Carlson's brother-in-law, offered a passionate case for the monument. He was accompanied by about a dozen supporters, including Carlson's mother, Terry, and sister, Stephanie Janz.

"This will be the greatest gesture besides renaming the [Newport Beach lifeguard] headquarters," Jake Janz told the panel, "and it should be done by the people who knew Ben and have their heart invested in this."

Commissioners discussed whether other concepts or artists should be vetted for the memorial, which will be placed on the Balboa Peninsula beachfront, though an exact site has yet to be determined.

"The presentation as is has merit," Smith said. "Jake may do a very good job with this, but this has to represent the whole city."

Commissioner Chuck Ware expressed the prevailing sentiment, noting that Janz's proposal represents "the deep and symbolic commitment between Ben and Jake that should not be broken."

Janz, 34, said advanced digital technology would enable him to complete the sculpture in about half the time it would normally take.

"We have the design. We have the technology. It's a click of the mouse and we'll have the [clay] mold almost immediately," Janz said. After that, he said, it would take about four months of artistic touches before casting the statue in bronze or stainless steel.

Janz credited Carlson's lifelong friend Danny Schmitz for the original monument concept. The artist said he would use images from the GoPro camera that Carlson used while surfing to sculpt the unique characteristics that would identify the statue as Carlson.

The foundation is conducting a donation campaign called Raise Up for Ben to try to fund the statue's estimated $125,000 cost. Janz said that is about half of what other sculptors he vetted would charge.

An art auction this month raised about $15,000 for the cause, and about $13,000 have been donated online, according to the foundation's website.

"The project is self-funding. We're providing the raw material. I'm not getting paid for this," Janz said. "It's a gift to the city in memory of Ben and honoring all the rescue workers who put their life on the line every day."

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