FALMOUTH – After almost 30 years of marriage, Dana Phares knows the best strategy is agreement, so when his honey-do list includes finding 300 pound rocks for his wife to draw big plump hearts on, he is more apt to make suggestions for where to find rocks than to question the wisdom of the quest.
A year ago at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, Karyn Phares, Dana’s wife and an art teacher at the Lawrence School, Falmouth’s public school for seventh and eighth graders, wanted to spread joy and hope through the simple act of leaving a small rock with a heart on it in front of the homes or businesses of people she knew.
Dana recalled his wife saying, “I want to do something for people, but I want to stay anonymous.”
One year later, more than 700 heart rocks have been distributed in Falmouth and they have grown in size to hundreds of pounds. They are being requested by friends and acquaintances all over the country and even the world.
“Karyn is just someone with a big heart,” Dana said.
Dana has become an integral part of the operation. “At some point, she needed the labor. That’s where I came in,” Dana said.
After the initial small rocks started disappearing as people brought them into their homes, Karyn started looking for bigger rocks that would stay put outside where she placed them.
Dana recalls his wife asking, “Where can I get some big rocks.” The only person he could think of was Bill Bonito who has a contractor yard on Thomas B. Landers Road. Now months into the use of larger rocks, Dana says Bonito has sort of “adopted” Karyn and her heart rock project and supplies her with all the rocks she needs.
The operation of distributing heart rocks throughout town requires a multi-phased approach. Borrowing a trailer from Karyn’s father, they first go to Bonito’s facility to load up on rocks. One recent rock they loaded on the trailer was over 300 pounds.
As the rocks have gotten bigger, Dana cautioned his wife, “I’m one guy. I’ve got to go to work on Monday!’”
But they continue. They bring the rocks to their home in North Falmouth to be cleaned and painted.
Karyn gets up at 3 am, hours before she needs to be at work, to paint the rocks. Their back porch is full of rocks of all sizes, some painted and others waiting to be painted.
The next phase is delivery.
They install the rocks in a “secret nighttime operation so we don’t cause a spectacle,” as Dana puts it.
On a rainy Sunday night earlier this spring, Dana said, “We went on a night operation all over Falmouth.”
Karyn had the locations for the rocks all mapped out with a diagram of which rock would go where. As she was giving careful directions to her husband, Dana, losing patience, said, “Just tell me the address. I’ve lived here my whole life.”
One of the biggest rocks went to Peg Noonan Park on Main Street where Karyn had placed rocks previously but they kept disappearing.
“I guarantee they won’t steal this one,” Dana said.
There was only one incident of a heart rock being refused. Karyn and Dana were putting a rock at the Steamship Authority terminal in Woods Hole and a worker came out and told them they didn’t want the rock.
But many have reacted enthusiastically to the rocks, even people outside of Falmouth. News of the rocks has spread on social media and Dana has received numerous requests for rocks.
Fortunately, through his job as a UPS driver, he gets a discount on shipping. “I’ve shipped Karyn’s rocks to friends in California, Florida, even Spain.
A future plan for the project, Dana said, is to make T-shirts with the help of their son, Ryson, who works as an industrial designer. The shirts will have Karyn’s signature design, the big plump heart with the black outline.
“I’ve got to give her credit; it’s turned into a nice thing,” Dana said. “It’s spreading good vibes. I embrace it.”
For some, the heart rocks have taken on added significance, as they have put the hearts on grave stones. “We’ve gotten the nicest notes from people,” Dana said. “It’s all about making people feel good.”
Did he ever caution her against the idea? Like any good husband, he has stayed supportive. He said with a laugh, “I always tell her ‘great idea.’ If I object at all, I’ll pay down the road.”
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