Road-side signs often offer good advice and a chuckle

Jun 25 2012 - 1:10pm


Les Ingram changes the sign in front of Lawn World in Roy. Ingram regularly changes the phrases on the sign to inspirational or humorous.

This State Farm Insurance sign carries a message about success.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Chris Heiner (left) and Shawn Heiner stand in front of the Heiner’s Insurance Center sign in Ogden, where a message is displayed.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The sign in front of the Quail Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Ogden contains a humorous message.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The message on the Mountain View Baptist Church’s sign has a religious tone to it. The church is located in Ogden.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Les Ingram changes the sign in front of Lawn World in Roy. Ingram regularly changes the phrases on the sign to inspirational or humorous.

This State Farm Insurance sign carries a message about success.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
Chris Heiner (left) and Shawn Heiner stand in front of the Heiner’s Insurance Center sign in Ogden, where a message is displayed.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The sign in front of the Quail Pointe Veterinary Hospital in Ogden contains a humorous message.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner
The message on the Mountain View Baptist Church’s sign has a religious tone to it. The church is located in Ogden.

KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner

On those crazy hectic days, when rushing from Point A to Point B in our motorized transporation is a chore, how welcome to encounter some unexpected comic relief.

Along the roadside, up pops a sign: "Raising children is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree."

A smile slowly creeps across our tense face; the road ahead of us somehow feels a tad cheerier.

From jokes like "I got a dog for my wife -- great trade" to words of wisdom like "Aspire to inspire before you expire," we've all spotted those community message boards that leave us with something to ponder as we drive away. We went in search of a few Top of Utah businesses, churches and the like that use their signs to send passing motorists a chuckle or two, or even offer a little inspiration. 

Here's what we found.

Lawn World

People drive out of their way to see the sign at Les Ingram's business, but not to find out about Lawn World's latest special -- they're looking for laughs or a few words of wisdom. 

"Enjoy life now, it has an expiration date," one side of the sign said recently, and the other side read, "Dyslexics are teople, poo."

Originally, Ingram used the sign for advertising. Inspired by a business in Salt Lake City, he decided to entertain with a clever saying.

"It's snowballed," he said, estimating he's been doing it for 17 years.

He keeps a notepad with his box of sign letters.

"I have a list of everything I've ever put on there, and what I want to put on in the future," Ingram said. 

He gets ideas from listening to the radio and reading newspapers, and tweaks them to fit the space.

"I've got grandkids helping me find sayings, and friends and customers, too," he said. "I've got a list of about 200 to 300 sayings."

People call to comment on the sign on a weekly basis. A message that captured attention was "Navy Seals 1, Bin Laden 0."

"That one had a lot of people pulling over and taking pictures," he said.

Fun signs from the past include "What if the hokey pokey is what it's really all about?" and "Some days you're a pigeon, some days you're a statue." "Keep your words sweet, in case you have to eat them" and "Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need more" are favorite pieces of wisdom from past signs.

"One that got some comments was, 'A man who can't dance thinks the band is no good,' " said Ingram. "A couple of people called and said, 'Yeah, that's my husband.' "

To drive by: Lawn World, 1969 W. 6000 South, Roy

Heiner's Insurance

It all started one Pioneer Day as the Heiner family looked for something to post on the sign at their insurance company's new location.

"Don't squat with your spurs on" was company founder Jay Heiner's suggestion, so up it went. Then in poured the positive reactions from folks whose funny bones were tickled as they drove by on Ogden's Washington Boulevard.

That was 1990 and the humorous quips have been posted weekly ever since, says Shawn Heiner, Jay's grandson, who now tends the family store along with his father and son.

"We try to brighten other people's day," Shawn Heiner says. He adds, "I think everybody's looking for a good laugh somewhere."

Recent messages have included "Keep calm -- nobody else knows what they're doing either," "When the chips are down the buffalo's empty," and  "Life begins where your comfort zone ends."

Drivers will stop on the roadside to get a better look at the sign, Heiner says, or even pull into the parking lot and write the message down.

"We've wondered if we've caused some accidents," he jokes.

Occasionally, a quote prompts a complaint, like the posting "Litigators are alligators." A woman called in to remind the company, "My husband's an attorney; he has to buy insurance."

But Heiner says, "You can't please all the people all the time, so we just do the best we can."

To drive by: Heiner's Insurance, 606 Washington Blvd., Ogden

Quail Pointe Veterinary Hospital

Quail Pointe Veterinary Hospital is 90 percent funnier than other hospitals. That's what the sign outside the facility once said, and it may be true. When the hospital needed to hire staff, the sign read, "Help wanted, but only if you're funny."

"We actually made them come in and tell us a joke as part of the interview," said Kathleen Ford, the veterinarian who owns the place.

Humor is often displayed on the hospital's sign.

"We deal with sad subjects, and a lot of heartache, so we try to keep it light out front," she said.

One of the more sensitive subjects, at least for men, is neutering a pet.

"We try to break the ice with a little humor," said Ford.

The ice was really broken with the sign "Real men neuter their best friends."

"I was working here late one night, when I heard a bunch of trucks pull up," Ford remembered. Worried it was an emergency situation, she looked out the window. "There were a bunch of guys out there taking pictures by the sign."

Not all of the signs addressing spaying and neutering are well-received.

"We had one that said 'Testicle Festival,' and we had complaints about that because people had to explain a medical term," said Ford. "One lady complained she had to explain it to her third grader on the way to school."

Sometimes the sign outside the veterinary hospital shares general pet humor, such as "I got rid of my husband -- my cat was allergic," and "If it's not wet and sloppy, it's not a real kiss."

For the most part, reactions to the sign messages have been positive.

"We've had people come in from the community and say, 'We don't have pets, but we wanted to bring you some brownies because we think your sign is funny,' " she said.

Brownies aren't necessary -- humor's just part of the service. As the sign once said, "A good vet visit, $42. Visit to a funny vet, priceless."

To drive by: Quail Pointe Veterinary Hospital, 868 N. 2000 West, Clinton

Mrs. Cavanaugh's

Inspiration may strike from anywhere for a new message at Mrs. Cavanaugh's candy shop in North Ogden -- even from a singing customer.

On the first day of school, manager Lorraine Tennant commented to a woman who pulled into the shop's drive-through window about the kids being back in class.

"She burst into song and said, 'It's the most wonderful day of the year," Tennant recalls. So that sentiment soon went up on Tennant's sign: "It's the most wonderful day of the year -- have some chocolate."

Funny messages, usually chocoholic in nature, have been a staple at the North Ogden business for 10 years, ever since Tennant won a controversial battle with the city over erecting the sign in the first place (but that's another story).

A message board is great advertising, says Tennant, whose parents own six Mrs. Cavanaugh's shops in Utah and have other such signs at other locations.

"With my warped sense of humor, I don't just say 'Chocolate -- $2.99.' To me, the day just goes better with a little humor," Tennant says.

So drivers may giggle over "My soul's had enough chicken soup -- I want chocolate," or "A balanced diet is a chocolate in each hand."

"Once in a while, I'll get a little political; that's just because I can't help it," Tennant says.

Her cocoa-inspired quotes come from the Internet or joint collaboration with her employees. Many come from her daughter who lives in South Dakota and texts Tennant humorous messages she spots on a sign at a town liquor store. Tennant will spin the saying in a candy-friendly direction, "because alcohol and chocolate have a lot in common I suppose," she says.

To drive by: Mrs. Cavanaugh's, 1993 N. Washington Blvd., North Ogden.

Faith Baptist Church

Tony Rondorf volunteered to take care of the sign at Faith Baptist Church, and changes the message about every two weeks.

"Some of them are from a daily devotional I have, some are from a Christian website I browse through, and some are from the Bible," said Rondorf. 

Sometimes the sayings are serious; other times, they're serious thoughts expressed in a fun way. One of Rondorf's favorites was "Don't worry, Moses was once a basket case, too."

"Any saying you put up on the church sign can affect people in so many ways," said Rondorf, so he tries to come up with something positive and supportive. 

"If I can help make the world a better place because of a sign, I'm all for it," he said. 

To drive by: Faith Baptist Church, 2430 N. Fairfield Road, Layton

State Farm

The way Ralph Dunkley sees it, he's got them coming and going.

One side of the sign at his Harrison Boulevard insurance office bears one message; the other side has a different one. That way, folks commuting to work or school on the busy road get something different to read on each leg of their journey.

"Success -- Never Final. But Failure Is," said the north side of the sign recently. On the flip side was, "One Way to Succeed Is Give It Everything."

"We know people read it because if we miss a word or put something up that doesn't quite make sense, we get phone calls," says the Ogden agent for State Farm insurance.

Anything is fodder for the sign, from quotations from Elvis -- "Ambition is a dream with a V-8 engine" -- to Christmas thoughts like "During the season, your presence is more important than your presents."

Generally, the messages are thoughtful or maybe motivational, rather than humorous, Dunkley says, although he's also gone with quips like, "Age is not important unless you're a cheese."

The sign's been in action for about 20 years and was started after Dunkley saw another company doing the same thing. 

His quotes come from the Internet, from calendars the company hands out every year to customers, or "sometimes we make them up," says the agent who changes the sign himself about every two weeks.

"We very seldom repeat -- we typically can remember what we have done," he says.

To drive by: State Farm Insurance, 3103 Harrison Blvd., Ogden

Mountain View Baptist Church

At Mother's Day, moms passing by this Layton church were reminded that, "Choosy Moms Choose Jesus."

That's because the sign at Mountain View Baptist Church is a mission project in miniature.

"Our point is to get the Lord -- his message -- into the forefront of whoever happens to drive by," says Kerry Tilley, a church member who, along with her husband, Thurmon, chooses the selections.

She adds, "Some of them are funny, but we try to make you think."

The Tilleys turn to the Bible for ideas but aren't averse to going to the Internet, either, Kerry says, joking, "I don't know how we lived as a society without Google."

The sign had been sitting blank for months before the Tilleys volunteered in January to head up the project.

Their first message was "World's First Wireless -- Prayer." 

"Need a New Life? God Does Trade-ins" was a recent posting and Thurmon says one of his all-time favorites was the Easter message: "3 Nails + 1 Cross = 4 given." 

The two keep a list of the messages they have used, and Kerry, the engineer in the family, has calculated exactly how wide every letter is and how many letters fit on each line -- from 15 to 20.

According to the National Evangelistic Association, Kerry says, 10 percent of adults who visit a church for the first time do so because of the sign. So the couple strives to make the messages thought-provoking, humorous and poignant.

One of her favorites -- spoiler alert -- is planned for the Fourth of July, Kerry says, explaining that she and Thurmon are both veterans.

For that holiday, drivers will see: "America is free -- and so is salvation."

To drive by: Mountain View Baptist Church, 2585 E. 3000 North, Layton

Pizza Runner

When Kierstyn Poole tells people she's manager at Pizza Runner, they ask, "Is that the place with the funny sign out front?"

The sign has attracted attention for as long as Poole can remember. Currently, it says "Give your papa a Mama." The Mama is a pizza on the menu.

"A while back, we had one that said, 'Free breadsticks for naked people -- no maniacs or minors,' " Poole said. "I don't think they really expected it to happen -- they put it on as just a joke.

However, some people asked about stripping for food. 

"We just gave them the breadsticks for being willing, because we didn't really want to see that," she said.

Many past messages were tied to local controversies -- those sayings stopped with the departure of the person who wrote them. 

Sometimes the sign asks trivia questions, and people call with answers. Other times, the questions are just musings, like "Why don't eggs taste like chicken? and "Why don't psychics win the lottery?"

Often, you have to read both sides of the sign to get the joke. A recent double-sided message referenced "Saturday Night Live" characters, saying "Party on Garth; Party on Wayne." 

Fans of the sign have until July 10 to turn in a suggestion for a funny message, with their name and phone number -- the winner of the contest gets a large specialty pizza.

To drive by: Pizza Runner, 3017 Harrison Blvd., Ogden


Is there a local sign that always causes you to rubberneck to read the message? Or do you have an all-time favorite quote that made you laugh or think during your travels?

We'd like to hear about your favorite signs or sign messages, and may use them in a future story.

Email your submissions to (put "Signs" in the subject line) or mail them to Signs, c/o Life Dept., Standard-Examiner, P.O. Box 12790, Ogden UT 84412-12790, or fax them to 801-625-4299.

You can also send us a photo of a sign with a clever message at Digital images should be in jpg format and high resolution, meaning at least 300 dpi and 10 inches at its largest dimension. Photographs may also be dropped off at our office, 332 Standard Way, Ogden.

Deadline is July 2.



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