After hearing Vice President of the United States Mike Pence reference “that timeless wisdom enshrined on that old sign on M‑99” during his 2018 Hillsdale College commencement speech, city resident Ted Jansen said it was time to bring the “It’s The People” sign back to Hillsdale.
“I said, ‘You know what, he just gave us a million dollars of PR’,” Jansen said. “People want that recognized — the goodness of the city.”
Jansen has currently received about half of the $800 in donations he needs in order to put up a newer version of the old sign, which will be labeled, “Welcome to Hillsdale, It’s The People,” and will be located on the property of Frank Beck Chevrolet on West Carleton Road. A similar sign had stood along M‑99 until the fall of 2016, when the Hillsdale City Council and Hillsdale College coordinated to replace the signs with “Welcome to Historic Hillsdale, Home of Hillsdale College” signs, funded by the college. The removal of the old brand stirred controversy among city residents, and many now say they are happy to see the “It’s The People” sign returning to Hillsdale.
Jansen said shortly after starting his sign project he received five or six phone calls from city residents.
“One of them told me, ‘Mr. Jansen, I’m 84 years old. I was going to get my hair done this weekend, but I’m going to give you $25 for my hair appointment to donate to the sign’,” Jansen said. “I said, ‘Ma’am, I’ve been collecting the funding, and if I run short, I’ll give you a call back. I really appreciate the offer.”
The caller, Jauretta Lamb Moore, told The Collegian that she was a member of the very first kindergarten class to attend Joseph Mauck Elementary School, which property is now owned by the college, and that eight of her high school graduating classmates of 1952 still live in the vicinity of Hillsdale. Her father, Willard Lamb, was an outdoor custodian for the college during the Great Depression era, and her cousin, Donald Lamb, was a member of Hillsdale’s Hall of Fame. Moore herself formerly advised a college service club, the Hillsdale Kiwanis.
“I was born and raised in Hillsdale, and for sure, it’s the people,” she said.
Another resident, 80 years old, called Jansen saying she is a former English teacher and that the new sign should read “Welcome to Hillsdale” instead of “Welcome Hillsdale,” like the old sign, since the latter version would be “grammatically incorrect.” Jansen complied, and also decided to make the new sign slightly larger — 5x8 feet instead of 4x8. The sign also has a more “modern” appearance, according to Jansen.
The “It’s The People” slogan originally came out of a contest among elementary school children around 1990, according to county resident and Hillsdale Garden Club member Connie Brumbaugh. The Garden Club then raised $4,000 to create two signs with the slogan at the bottom, and provided landscaping around them.
Jansen reached out to several businesses to find a location for the current sign, and eventually Frank Beck Chevrolet agreed to display the sign on his property. Garin Ellis, general sales manager at Frank Beck Chevrolet, who coordinated the agreement, said they are hoping to have the sign up by the end of the year.
“I talked to the Beck family, and they said ‘absolutely,’” Ellis said.
City Council Member Bruce Sharp said Jansen spoke with the council a few times about funding for the sign, but the council turned him down.
“If we did that people would come to us for everything,” Sharp said. “If he wants to get private donations, good, more power to him… I’m not comfortable paying tax dollars on a sign when we have all these other projects going on.”
Sharp added that while a number of people initially caused a stir about the sign’s removal on social media, “most people don’t care about the sign anymore.”
Jansen said he was not a part of the controversy surrounding the decision to replace the old sign in 2016. He says the college sign is “fabulous” and “really well done” and that he’s not trying to compete with the college’s sign.
“People say it’s controversial,” Jansen said. “The only controversy was the way it was taken down. I love the college sign, it’s a beautiful sign. We’re just bringing back what we also enjoy having.”
Jansen has contributed to several projects around the city in the past.
“I rescue things that need to get rescued,” he said. “I just say, let’s do it. I don’t know what my next crusade is, but for now, it’s the people.”