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Park sign brings back memories

This sign, warning that “Drinking + Driving = Disaster” hung at the 29th Street entrance to Roberts Park fornearly 80 years. CHS grad Steve Barrett is responsible for getting it taken down for rehabilitation and, now, the creation of a replica which will be hung in May. The original will be given to the Fayette County Historical Museum.

A sign that was hung at the 29th street entrance to Roberts Park in 1940 may have seemed like a small thing at the time. Now, 80 years later, the sign means quite a bit to many local residents.

A conversation between Sharon McQueen and former resident Steve Barrett at Rick Coleman’s art exhibit more than a year ago spurred a restoration of the sign and quite a discussion of its origin. Some wanted to link local painter Fritz Conwell and others to its beginning but, as it turns out, another local painter made and painted it.

Richard Barnes was born in 1923 and graduated from Connersville High School in 1942. In 1939-40 he was in the vocational shop class of teacher Roy Knight, who had begun his teaching career the prior year and was to continue teaching until 1960. He later owned Knight’s Gun Shop for many years.

In 1939, under the direction of Knight, Barnes made and painted the sign. Anti-drinking driving campaigns were widespread during this era. Prohibition, ending in 1933, had led to more use and open consumption of alcohol. Drinking and driving was a somewhat unknown and new phenomenon as cars were not widespread before Prohibition. Campaigns and many songs preached against drinking and driving, including Little Jimmy’s “Sign On the Highway.”

After Barnes graduated, he went on to serve in World War ll from 1942-1945. He fought in Normandy and received three bronze stars. Later, he was employed by D&M as a graphics designer and was very well known for many beautiful paintings he created.

When Barrett was visiting from his home in North Carolina in 2018, he decided to help begin a restoration project for the sign. Having been repainted dozens of times over its decades, the sign was beyond restoration. It was decided that a new sign replicating the old one would be made.

Terry Hreno agreed to paint the sign and it now is scheduled to be dedicated in early May. The old sign is to be donated to the Fayette County Historical Museum at the same time.

Steve Barrett explained that he just wanted to do something positive for his hometown. His mother, Lizzie Mae Barrett, a former teacher, still lives here at 102 years of age. She now winters in North Carolina with Steve and his family.

Barrett explains that he wishes more people would do things like finding something broken and fix it. Try a little to make things better.

This sign is a great example of how the community working together can accomplish good things.

Brad Colter is superintendent of Connersville Utilities and president of Historic Connersville Inc. He writes Looking Back for the Connersville News-Examiner.