Many get involved to keep banners flying in Chatfield

New banners hang on the lampposts along Main Street in Chatfield. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Chatfield: Home of the Envy Factor.

“We have an ‘envy’ factor. Over the years, many other communities have admired our program and have sought our input to learn how we did this and have tried to create a similar program, but none have succeeded in replicating what we have done,” said Dan Hollermann, a member of the Chatfield Commercial Club. “This speaks to the community’s commitment, along with our access to resources and the support of our businesses and city crews. Everyone who has made an inquiry about our project has completed a project, but none of them manifested into a similar project of this magnitude.”

So…everyone else is envious of how Chatfield’s Main Street, while thriving, is most definitely flagging. Hollermann explained exactly how that is.

“The theme of Chatfield’s downtown banner program was – and still is – ‘Home to…or ‘Home of’ something,” he said. “We have to be a little careful not to make this an advertising project, as it is illegal to advertise on these poles in this fashion. Our approach to hanging banners downtown is informational, like tourism-type information. The intention was to show Chatfield as a vibrant community with many facets of living here on display. Taken as a whole, the banners do indeed show off our community, its spirit, and let folks visiting and traveling through know that we have a ‘pride of ownership’ in our town.”

He stated the banners hanging from the Main Street — original and the recently-replaced — are made possible through contributions to the Chatfield Commercial Club.

“Each organization that joins the program is asked to underwrite $500 of the program,” Hollerman explained. “This amount offsets the initial banner production costs and provides a residual to the banner sinking fund. I was the project chair, along with Rick Scott, when the project started with the Rotary Club. When the Rotary Club disbanded, we moved the project under the Chatfield Commercial Club. I was and still am a member of the Commercial Club and have continued to oversee the project and its funding and work with the city of Chatfield’s maintenance department to help maintain the assets of the project.”

As Hollermann noted, the banners hanging from the lampposts along Chatfield’s Main Street were the original project of Chatfield’s now-disbanded Rotary Club, but the members of that club set forth a tradition that will likely hang out for a few more decades, from south of downtown to the bend of the highway on North Main Street.

“Rotary started planning the initial project in 1995, did fundraising and project planning in 1995 and 1996, production in 1996, hung the first few banners just before Western Days in 1996, and had all the banners hung by winter of 1996,” Hollerman recalled.

He said the initial project was funded with contributions from all service clubs, with major contributions from leading businesses in town. Some $19,000 was required to fund the initial project, and it was all local money from local sources and support.

“We focused on the Highway 52 corridor from north to south city limits, plus the east and west entrances on Highway 30,” Hollerman stated. “Downtown saw heavier saturation simply because there were more light poles to hang banners on. All the wooden poles outside of the immediate downtown corridor required permission from Interstate Power — at the time — to hang the banner on them. We were not allowed to use any poles that had high-voltage transmission lines on them.”

He shared that the collaboration to place banners along Main Street resulted in plenty of statements made about the city.

The original project consisted of 41 large banners and 23 smaller banners for each of six seasons, or 138 total seasonal banners.

“There are six seasonal banners that are on the smaller light poles in the downtown area,” Hollerman said. “They are spring, summer, fall, winter, Christmas and Western Days, and because these banners see much less sun time, they are all in great shape and we expect them to last many more years as they are.”

The original banners have lasted 22 years, Hollerman continued. Some saw damage from storms and were repaired, a few were lost in wind storms, disappeared completely and were replaced.

“The original plan had a sinking fund built into the funding, and this fund was fueled for several years by many of our service clubs,” he explained. The Chatfield Commercial Club is the only club that remains an annual funding source for the project. The original funding project asked the city of Chatfield to accrue 50 percent of the projected funds needed to replace and sustain the project.”

He also said the banners were originally expected to last five years but have actually lasted 22 years thanks to the ongoing maintenance and funds not including the city’s accrual.

The major replacement project currently underway has required those funds from the city to be released and used in support of the project this year.

“The new banners are funded through the sinking fund, the city of Chatfield accrual, contributions from the new participants and funds requested from specific donors such as the VFW, VFW Auxiliary and Chatfield Booster Club,” Hollerman said. “We did not need to do a widespread funding effort, as the original funding plan for this replacement was solid and supported most of the replacement effort.”

The Commercial Club has undertaken the replacement of worn banners and added more information about what Chatfield is “Home of” or “Home to” on the new ones.

“Today, we will replace all the large banners, all the brackets and fiberglass rods and will add a few, with the new net total being 43 large banners,” he said. “The 138 original banners remain in use, and the size of the banners is deceiving because they are 30 inches wide and seven feet tall, and the top edge of each banner is about 18 feet high. There are now 41 banners — 37 messages and four welcome banners — supporting service clubs, non-profits in the community, and other messages of interest regarding our town and surrounding area, including things to do.”

The replacement project includes many of the original banner themes and messages, with a new and fresher look. Several of the original participants are no longer operating, such as Rotary, Jaycees, Toastmasters, Chosen Valley Women and their spots have allowed for new organizations to join instead, like the Pope & Young Club, Wits’ End Theatre, Chatfield Center for the Arts and the Masonic Lodge.

“Each message is in support of a service club or support of the ‘Home of’ theme,” Hollerman said. “Hopefully, the banners spur interest beyond face value and rouse curiosity to look further into the subjects on display on banners.”

Hollermann remarked that he and the Commercial Club are aware of the 2019 Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) Highway 52 project that will improve the concurrent highway and Main Street, but also uproot Chatfield’s lampposts.

“I am aware that the configuration of light poles will change with the 2019 Highway 52 project and these changes will require us to rethink our layout a bit,” he said. “The exact details of this have not been determined, but we will find a way to keep the banners flying and on display.”

Ultimately, Hollerman said he is proud of the community effort it has taken over the past two decades to keep Chatfield flagging.

“Chatfield’s banner project is unique. It has always been unique because our community had, and has, the resources to create a project like no other. The individuality of our banners exists because we worked with Country Art Gallery and Harvey Bernard Jr. They silk-screened the messages on a one-off basis. In 1995, this was unheard of simply because large banner production companies could not capitalize on production levels that small, and the cost of single banners was prohibitive. Along with time and talents from Tuohy Furniture’s upholstery department, and fiberglass poles from Strongwell, we were able to craft the banners locally also. Sewing skills needed to maintain the banners over the years have been vended to many local persons who had the time and equipment needed to conduct this work,” Hollerman explained.

He continued, “Today, our sewing is done by Eidem Upholstery in Rochester. Mark (Eidem) used to work for S&K Upholstery. Service clubs originally hung and changed out the large banners and the seasonal banners, but that duty fell to the city of Chatfield’s maintenance department over time. The city crew manages all maintenance for hanging, tightening and switching out the seasonal banners. If a banner needs repair, they get it to me and I see that it gets done and back to them to be hung.”

Also, the city is able to retain its originality by using heat-set vinyl — instead of silk-screening — with Lisa Vaupel and her employees at Threads. They do the creative redesign work and the production work. “This project supports our hometown in spirit and monetarily,” Hollerman said.

In conclusion, Hollerman stated, “This program shows what can happen if you involve people. Many persons, organizations and businesses were asked to step forward to create and fund this project, originally. Many more have been asked to step in and help as things changed over the last 22 years. No one has said ‘no’ when asked to help. Everyone just stepped up to the plate and pitched in. Though it goes largely unnoticed, there is a sizable commitment from many folks to keep these banners in good shape and continuing to fly. We should thank everyone who is, was or will be involved in any part of making this project a continued success in Chatfield. We should extend a huge ‘thank you’ to the city maintenance crew who does the heavy lifting on the maintenance work today.”