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From the Mouths of Babes

Understanding the importance of signs is elementary.



“People everywhere like signs. They just don’t know it until they really think about it.”
–Dillon Chavez, Mrs. Johnson’s fifth-grade class, Mark Twain Elementary, Oklahoma City.

If anyone can compose a more profound statement about signs, please let me know.

David Onken had an idea for a scholastic essay contest. His nebulous concept percolated for several months until his moment of clarity arrived via a letter from the Oklahoma City Public Schools. The state was instituting math and reading proficiency tests for third through fifth graders. The city school board wanted to assemble 150 reward packages for students who performed well on the tests. Consequently, it sought donations of money and/or gift certificates.

Then the lightbulb came on for David, the president of General Lighting & Sign Services Inc. (Oklahoma City). His donation would spawn a student essay contest as to “What I like about signs.” Subsequently, he donated $500, with the following allocations:

• $50 for the student who wrote the best essay

• $100 for that winning student’s teacher, for buying supplies


• $350 to the general reward-package fund.

The results are a fascinating read, as some basic logic occurred to some young minds. And, no, none of the children are the offspring of sign-company employees. I asked.

“One time, we were going on a trip, and we couldn’t find the gas station until I spotted a sign that said Shell. So, if it wasn’t for signs that light up at night, people couldn’t find any places.” –Osiel Sanchez, fifth grade.

“Sometimes, you can’t see regular signs, but if it is a neon light on a sign, you can see the sign better.” –Jordan Rhodes, fifth grade.

“If we didn’t have signs, there would be recks every five minutes.” –Ethan More, fourth grade

“Signs helped me to learn to read.” –Bianca, fourth grade


“In the future, billboard signs will be really small, because hover cars can fly up to them.” –Ingrid Moreno, fourth grade.

“If you get lost, the signs could help you get back home.” –Edith Sanroman, third grade.

“If we didn’t have signs, this would cause us to have lots of recks.” –Sarah Carrizal, third grade.

“We need signs for our streets, neighborhoods and stores because they keep people safe.” –David Fernandez, third grade.

Clearly, there is a distinction. Mostly, these children contemplated traffic signs, including stoplights, which are mere cousins to the on-premise sign industry. However, other children, including Dillon, mention Taco Bell, McDonald’s and, in one case, the benefits of a pawn shop versus a chain store when searching for a VCR.

But, just as Richard Schwab showed a decade ago – that legibility minimums for directional highway signage are equally applicable for retail signage – so too do the safety aspects of directional signage spill over into retail signage (see Bob Klausmeier’s “Moving Message” column, page 52). Numerous children noted how illumination, especially neon, improves safety at night.


The Oklahoma City essay contest involved approximately 150 students from the third through fifth grades.

In neighboring Texas, the Texas Sign Assn. has a similar, higher-level program. Each year, it offers 12 college scholarships. Applicants are required to write a 250-word essay about “The Importance of Signage,” although the essay doesn’t factor into the selection process, reports Leona Stabler (yes, Lonnie’s wife), the relatively new executive director of the Texas Sign Assn. (The loss of TSA Executive Director Marcie Funchess – who will become executive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors-Fort Worth/Tarrant County Chapter – will be a blow to the sign industry. She’s a marvelous lady. We’ll have an announcement next month.)

The Oklahoma City essay contest produced fascinating truths. Whether it’s young adults or young children, understanding the value of signs is, well, quite elementary. Perhaps a Samuel Langhorne Clemens quote could be ascribed to those who don’t understand signs and would dismiss the views of Dillon and the other students at the author’s namesake school as childish: “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.”

Many thanks to David Onken for sharing his experience with us. I’d love to see more such efforts. Now if I could only find the coloring book the United States Sign Council produced a decade or so ago, the one entitled “I Like Signs,” as I recall. “Whether it’s young adults or young children, understanding the value of signs is, well, quite elementary.”



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