Emlen Tunnell, the first African-American inducted in NFL HOF, Gets Statue

First published in The Spirit Newspaper on July 26

By Katie Kohler


In a backyard studio in Bucks County, a seven-foot sculpture of Emlen Tunnell is basking in well-deserved attention. Members from the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum are taking a few minutes to reflect the fruits of their labor from the Emlen Tunnell Statue Fund. Sculptor Jennifer Frudakis-Petry is enjoying a bittersweet moment before she says ‘goodbye’ to the project she has worked on for close to nine months. Brothers Larry and Randy Welker, owners of Laran Bronze, are sizing up Tunnell the way a wide receiver may have looked at him before crossing the middle of the field. The Welkers will take the statue apart to transport it to their foundry in Chester where it will be cast in bronze.

For all of them, especially those involved with the Sports Legends of Delaware County, Tunnell is finally getting the attention he deserves. Hopefully, it’s not only for today but when the statue makes takes permanent residence at the Radnor Township Building which houses the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum (301 Iven Avenue).

“We are trying to figure out the best way to transport it. The best way for our mold makers and how we want to cast it and in what pieces,” said Larry Welker. “It’s easier when it’s winter. Since it is over 90 degrees the clay is soft.”

The process takes ten to twelve weeks and after the pieces are cast in bronze they will be welded together.

Chuck Weems, a photographer for Sports Legends of Delaware County and former semi-pro football admitted he did not know of Tunnell until this project.

“I just went to a football camp and several pro football players knew nothing about him,” said Weems. “That’s why I think this project is going to be so great. We want to make this known to football minds all over the United States and the world. It should be known who he is.”

August 5th will mark the 50th anniversary of Tunnell’s induction into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame as the first African-American. He is also the only athlete from Delaware County inducted into a professional sports Hall of Fame.

“Nobody really had a full grasp on who this man is,” said Phil Damiani, vice president of Sports Legends and co-chair of the Emlen Tunnell Statue Committee. “This is what he really deserves. He had a phenomenal career and a phenomenal person. During his military career he saved two men.”

Some of award-winning sculptor Frudakis-Pertry’s previous work includes bronze portrait busts and figure sculptures for the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame. She started the project with a small-scale model of Tunnell and presented it to the committee in November.

“What an amazing life he led,” said Frudakis-Petry. “He was so courageous and fearless. There was nothing in his life he didn’t think could do. I loved working on it. You get to a point, it’s ready and I’m worried about the temperature. I’d like to see it in the foundry and not out here.”