Commemorative presidential coins discovered in Rancho Santa Fe will travel the country with the Spirit of Liberty Foundation


By Karen Billing

The recent remodel of the Rancho Santa Fe Library Guild’s offices and Book Cellar unearthed a treasure of commemorative presidential coins, large bronze pieces representing the presidents from Washington to Nixon. Book Cellar regular Richard Rovsek purchased the coin collection housed in a table last week and plans for the coins to travel the country with his Spirit of Liberty Foundation’s Freedom Bell.

“We are excited that we can be a part of history,” said Susan Appleby, Library Guild membership director.

Nobody knows exactly how the coins and table ended up at the library.

For years it had been in the guild office, and had always been used as a workstation — a cover had been placed over the coins and the desk was topped with shelves. During the move in June, Library Guild member Terri Weaver uncovered the coin collection after taking off the loose top.

“It didn’t look like anything at first, but I started to wipe the dust off and it looked like something exciting,” Weaver said.

The coins sit framed inside the table and flip so both sides are viewable. Rovsek plans to leave the coins in the wooden frames but remove them from the old table for traveling.

Rovsek’s Spirit of Liberty Foundation is a non-profit that supports men and women in the Armed Forces with an emphasis on wounded warriors and fallen heroes. The Freedom Bell was created just a few months ago, from a Rovsek design scribbled on a napkin to being cast in bronze at a 171-year-old foundry in Ohio. Some of the metal in the bell is from the World Trade Center.

The bell bears the official seals of all of the branches of the Armed Forces and the words “Honoring our Armed Forces past, present and future.” The foundation travels with the bell, allowing people to ring the bell in honor of a family member or friend who has served or is serving in the Armed Forces. The bell has tolled from the deck of the USS Midway to Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

“The bell has taken on a life of its own,” said Rovsek.

When it was unveiled in Philadelphia on June 14, one of the first members of the public who rang it was a little girl, ringing the bell in memory of her father who was killed in Iraq. A 94-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor rang it for his shipmates who did not survive.

During the bell’s time in San Diego on the Midway over the July 4 holiday about 500 people came to ring the bell.

Michael Rainey, the executive vice president of the Spirit of Liberty Foundation, said the stories they hear from the people who ring the bell are very sentimental and touching.

“It affects the Vietnam vets like you cannot believe,” Rainey said. “Many have been silent about it for so long and for them it’s a way to say thank you to friends who fought alongside them.”

Rainey said one man planned to ring it five times for five friends he lost in Vietnam but couldn’t get past the second ring, he was shaking and had been reduced to tears.

The bell so far has made stops in places like the veteran-heavy Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota and was returning this week from Minnesota.

Plans are for the bell and coins to be in New York on 9/11 and this Veterans Day it will be at Arlington National Cemetery.