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New sign, same iconic warning

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Artist Terry Hreno, second from right, shows some of the brush strokes on the old sign that has been donated to Historic Connersville Inc. for display in the Fayette County Historical Museum. Pictured from leftare Marvin Geisting, Judy Dalton of HCI, Sharon McQueen of the Whitewater Valley Arts Association, HCI President Brad Colter, Hreno, and Steve Barrett, the Connersville native who instigatedrestoring the sign.
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Marvin Geisting affixes strapping to hold the new Drinking = Driving = Disaster sign onits decorative post at Roberts Park on Friday.

A shiny new sign proclaiming an eternal message now marks the 27th street entrance to Roberts Park.

Faded and chipped, a bit rusty, the red and white Drinking + Driving = Disaster sign that had hung there for about 80 years had fallen into disrepair. Steve Barrett, who grew up here and now lives in North Carolina, decided that it needed to be repainted.

After conversation with Sharon McQueen, Whitewater Valley Arts Association president, he made contact with Terry Hreno, the local artist most responsible for several downtown murals. After getting permission for restoration from the city, Barrett and Hreno met Marvin Geisting at the entrance, and he took down the sign.

When Hreno got it to his workshop, he realized the old sign couldn't be restored. So it came to be that Hreno re-created the old sign on new metal, using bright red for the background and white lettering and artwork.

The same group gathered Friday to put up Hreno's work, along with WVAA's McQueen. Two representatives of Historic Connersville Inc. joined them to receive the old sign for display in the Fayette County Historical Museum.

Hreno said that "getting up the nerve" had been his biggest challenge in making the new sign. It's been such an iconic part of Connersville that he knew there'd be a lot of critics if he got it even a little wrong. "I didn't want to mess it up." Along with the lettering, the sign includes a skeleton, and Hreno said that had been pretty easy to paint.

The community's concern over the sign had manifested itself in debate over who originally painted it. Many people expressed theories and some said they remembered relatives who had repainted it over the years.

Brad Colter, Historic Connersville's president, investigated and came to the conclusion that Richard Barnes had painted it in 1939 in a Connersville High School class, under the direction of teacher Roy Knight.

Barrett said he had decided to have the sign restored as a way of contributing to the town where he grew up. He wishes more people would take on small community improvement projects. Find something broken and fix it, he said, try to make things better a little bit at a time.

As the group gathered for the hanging, passing motorists noticed. One honked as he drove past, giving the group a "thumbs up" sign. Barrett posted a photo of the activity on his Facebook page and, within eight hours, it had received nearly 400 comments and thumbs up.