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Making Connections, Part Two

Arcola’s Pop the Top Walldog meet embodied the best of the sign industry.

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In the last newsletter edition, ST Publisher/Editor Wade Swormstedt discussed how much he enjoyed face time with sign-industry professionals at ISA’s Supplier/Distributor Conference earlier this month. I enjoyed a similar feeling when I attended the Walldogs Pop the Top Meet, which took place in Arcola, IL, June 20-24. It was incredible to be with more than 100 supremely talented signmakers and muralists, who collaborated to design and execute 15 murals that reflected local culture and historic local events. They even humored me and let me help (help being a loose term; rework was required in one instance) paint two of the murals. To be in the midst of such an assemblage of talent (and ego-free, to boot) was awesome in the most authentic sense of the word.

Scott Lindley, a signmaker from Mt. Pulaski, IL, collaborated with the Arcola Beautification Committee to develop the event, and did a Herculean task in making sure preparation and logistics were handled flawlessly.

Although all were remarkable, the most compelling project (in my opinion) paid tribute to Joe Ernst, a local hero from “The Greatest Generation.” In 1941, Ernst, then 17, was working the graveyard shift alone at an Arcola restaurant. A bus pulled up outside. An African-American woman walked out (an unusual occurrence in Arcola) with a large entourage. She asked if he would serve them (local laws of the day forbade serving people of color in restaurants). He said yes, if they could pay. The guests cooked their own food, and the woman ran the cash register and ensured everyone had paid. Ernst discovered the lady was Ella Fitzgerald, and she and her weary bandmates had driven for hours after a Chicago show looking for a meal. Fitzgerald serenaded him with a song to show her gratitude. The owner closed the restaurant after he heard what happened.

Ernst’s courage also shined  when he served in the Navy during World War II. He embarked on a “suicide mission” –the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach, the most heavily fortified shore of the Normandy beaches of German-occupied France. After four-plus days of withstanding heavy German resistance, he was one of the few survivors from his unit. He received numerous medals for his valor.

Ernst came back to Arcola and became a local businessman, and his heroics remained largely unknown for more than 60 years. Dr. Robert Arrol, a local physician, had heard snippets about Ernst’s life and sat down with Ernst to unearth his story. Arrol conveyed his story to local officials, and they made sure to dedicate a mural to Ernst’s legacy. Dave Correll, owner of Brushwork Signs (Fairbault, MN), designed the mural, which portrays a youthful Ernst and conveys his hospitality to Ella Fitzgerald and heroics at Omaha Beach.

I’ll provide a complete gallery of photos and meet recap in ST’s September issue.
 

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