COLUMBIA -- U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond gazed at the head-and-shoulders bust, part of the model of a Statehouse monument to honor the 96-year-old Republican, then said, "I hope I look that good."
The nation's oldest-serving senator showed up Wednesday for the unveiling of the model. The monument will be sculpted by North Carolina artist William Behrends.
The bust, which depicts Mr. Thurmond in his mid-40s, will be part of the 17-foot-tall monument scheduled to be in place on the capital grounds by June. It will cost $562,800 and is being funded with private donations.
Add in the planned dedication ceremony and some additional expenses, and the total cost is about $850,000. A commission overseeing the project still needs about $193,000 to cover that. About 2,700 donors have contributed.
"It's been a labor of love," said state Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, the commission's chairman.
Mr. Thurmond, a Democrat-turned-Republican who has been in the Senate 44 years and is its longest-serving member, shuffles when he walks and is a bit hard of hearing, but he is as feisty as ever and still draws an appreciative crowd.
"I love hugging pretty women," he said as he wrapped his arm around Republican Rep. Becky Meacham of Fort Mill to pose for a photo. Several dozen lawmakers and their staff wanted autographs and pictures with him.
The bust is part of a life-size model that Mr. Behrends said he will finish before he casts the full 9-foot-high sculpture in bronze.
The final sculpture will depict Mr. Thurmond striding confidently. A 16-inch model of that also was on display.
Mr. Behrends, of Tryon, N.C., said the sculpture shows Mr. Thurmond as he looked in 1948, the year Mr. Thurmond unsuccessfully ran for president as a "States' Rights Democrat."
The artist said he chose that because it was a time of transition, before Mr. Thurmond, a former judge and governor, was elected to the Senate in 1954. Mr. Thurmond's stride represents his eagerness as he moves on to new challenges, Mr. Behrends said.
The 9-foot bronze statue will be put on an 8-foot-high marble base. Names of donors who contributed $75,000 or more will be displayed on the base.
Mr. Thurmond's likeness will face south, between state office buildings named for Wade Hampton, a Confederate general and U.S. senator and the state's first governor after Reconstruction, and for longtime former state Senate President Pro Tem L. Marion Gressette.