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Signs Sell Precious Goods: Compassion, Courage

Date: August 02, 2003



In a sea of billboards hawking everything from banks to beer and from steaks to strip clubs, they are simple messages of human determination along some Toledo roadways.

Compassion, reads the sign with a profile of Mother Teresa. Pass It On.

Courage, reads another that features a lone citizen standing up to a line of armored tanks Pass It On.

Quick captions. Simple photos. Letters in red highlights: Perseverance. Integrity. Class.

They are messages based on the idea that "people are basically good," said Gary Dixon, president of the Foundation for a Better Life, which paid for the production of the billboards.

"All they need is a reminder," he continued. "We don’t need a program where you come in for six weeks to learn to be courageous or compassionate or determined."

The signs that have been appearing along
Toledo’s streets give very little indication of who sponsors them or why they’re there.

And though Mr. Dixon was tight-lipped about the financing, he confirmed earlier reports that Philip Anschutz,
Colorado founder of Qwest Communications and the Anschutz Foundation, is the driving force.

The space is donated by billboard companies, like the Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising Co. and its
Toledo office, he said.

Greg Churilla, Lamar’s general manager, said at least five dozen of the poster panels and bulletins have appeared around
Toledo since the campaign again.

The billboards were to be launched on
Sept. 13, 2001, but the terrorist attacks two days earlier sent the foundation’s staff back to the conference rooms.

And that’s why, while some of the billboards feature well-known visages such as Abraham Lincoln, Whoopi Goldberg, and Muhammad Ali, another highlights a somber firefighter covered with ashes.

Yet another showcases a 4-year-old girl perched on her father’s shoulders. In her outstretched arms: an American flag.

And there’s just regular people, like Mike Masiello, a
Long Island mechanic who works out of his family barn.

His larger-than-life image hundreds of miles away first peered down on motorists at
Monroe Street and Harvest Lane near Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park and most recently has watched drivers along the Anthony Wayne Trail near downtown.

"Couldn’t fix it," read the sign. "Refused Money."

"Integrity. Pass It On."

Speaking from his
Long Island shop, Mr. Masiello seemed somewhat embarrassed by the idea that he embodies such a word.

He chuckled at the idea that his face looks down at passing traffic along a couple of
Toledo’s busiest roadways, saying he doesn’t feel "particularly powerful."

But he was convinced to pose for the picture, he said, because it seemed like it was for "a good cause."

And really, that’s the whole point, Mr. Dixon said.

"You use the analogy [that I’m] coming out of a game and a guy lets me in, I just let the next guy in," he said.

"These billboards give you permission to do what you naturally want to do."


The Toledo Blade, by Robin Erb


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