One of the signs that helped establish Sycamore as the place where “life offers more” was recently returned to prominence downtown.
In August, city officials – with the permission from the owner of the building where Auto Meter has an office on Somonauk Street – hung one of the old five-panel signs that used to greet visitors to town and people just passing through. You can see it looking north from the intersection of Somonauk and Elm streets.
It’s a beautiful sign, with a vintage look. It’s not in pristine shape, but it looks pretty good considering it’s been exposed to the elements for decades.
The five-panel sign is one of five originally manufactured by Deco Porcelain Inc., 50 years ago.
According to a January 1969 Daily Chronicle story, the Sycamore Chamber adopted the “Life offers more in Sycamore” slogan and commissioned the manufacture of 8-by-15-foot, five-panel signs to be installed in the spring of that year.
The signs were made of steel panels fused with porcelain enamel and a glass finish. At the time, Deco Porcelain Vice President Allan Cherry told the Daily Chronicle that they would last 15 to 20 years.
The signs were to be installed by the DeKalb-Ogle Telephone Company in locations including the east and west entrances to town on Route 64, north of town on Route 23, and to the south on Somonauk Street.
The signs became a point of pride for the town, with service groups including the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs helping to maintain them over the years.
By the time the last signs were removed in the late 1990s, a generation of visitors and passers-by had come to know that “Life offers more in Sycamore.”
There are two signs known to still exist, one that’s mounted overlooking the municipal parking lot on Somonauk, and another that’s in storage on the Engh farm property, where the DeKalb County History Museum is now located at 1730 N. Main St. That one, apparently, isn’t as presentable.
For years after it was removed, the sign on display was stored outside at the city’s public works yard. Sycamore City Manager Brian Gregory said he came upon it five or six years ago, and decided it should be moved indoors.
This year, city leaders decided it should once again go on display, and the Auto Meter building seemed like the ideal spot, as it overlooks an area that’s home to many summertime community activities – and the kiddie carnival rides during the Pumpkin Festival.
“Today we’re focused on service delivery, but we also talk a lot about preserving the past and preparing for the future,” Gregory said. “That sign is symbolic of preserving the past, it’s our identity.”
Story behind the slogan
“Life offers more” wasn’t always part of the town’s identity, and it wasn’t Sycamore’s first slogan.
In 1948, the Sycamore True Republican newspaper and the Chamber had a city slogan contest, with first prize a $25 government bond. A woman the paper identified as Mrs. Charles Rosene won for her entry, “Sycamore, the city of opportunities.” Second place went to Stanley Gullberg for his suggestion, “There’s always more in Sycamore.”
Brothers Jim and John Ward their late father, James “Dayt” Ward, finally hit on the just-right tagline for the city. Dayt Ward owned and operated the Fargo Hotel along with his wife, Phyllis, for many years in town. He was locally active, a member of the Rotary, the chamber, and was a longtime DeKalb County Board member.
Jon Ward, 75, remembered his dad trying to think of the right slogan.
“At the dinner table one night, I can remember him blurting out things ... I can remember him saying, he was shouting these phrases, raising his voice, and he came up and said, ‘Life offers more in Sycamore,’ ” John Ward said. “And he said, ‘I think that’s the one I like the best.’
“I know he put quite a lot of thought into it, and cared very much.”
Both John and Jim said there might have been a contest of some kind where a local schoolgirl had the same suggestion. It’s possible this was the contest in ’48 – if there was another, I couldn’t find a mention of it in news archives. Then again, I couldn’t find anything specifically crediting Ward with coining the slogan. But the brothers tell me they’re confident their dad had a lot to do with it.
Dayt Ward died in 1972. Jim, now 78, went go off to college and later joined the Army as an officer before embarking on a career in the telecom field, but after retirement he returned to his old hometown.
John, 75, who was the Chamber’s Clifford Danielson Outstanding Citizen for 2017, remained here. He resumed farming land that had been in his family since the 1830s and now lives a few miles east of town on Mt. Hunger Road, where he raises crops and hogs.
John Ward said he used to tell his dad, “there’s your sign,” when they’d drive past one of them together. Both brothers agreed that their father was proud of Sycamore, what it had done for him and the kind of place it was.
Jim Ward said that when he heard from Mayor Curt Lang that the sign was once again on display, he drove over to get a look.
“I just thought, ‘Well, dad would be happy about that,’ ” he said.
Both brothers agreed that most of all, they’re happy that an iconic part of the city’s history is back on display. It captures something about what Sycamore has long tried to be – a small-town kind of place where things are special.
“It’s a slogan,” John Ward said, “that just really keeps on working.”
• Eric Olson is general manager of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.