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Published On: Sun, Apr 2nd, 2017

‘World Needs God’ Will Glow With New Neon

HILLSBORO — A sign that put Montgomery County on the map and into national news two decades ago will be back on display, weather conditions permitting.

The neon sign that proclaims “The World Needs God,” which has previously hung on the front end of the Historic County Courthouse for nearly six decades until a takedown was enforced via a lawsuit. Prior to the recent takedown due to weather-related damage, it had hung on the north wall of World Harvest Church for the past two decades. It makes its return to that exact wall, thanks to Hillsboro-based Dunn Neon Signs.

“The neon sign is fully restored and Hillsboro Electric will try and reinstall it on the church,” according to Jeff Dunn, who took on the task of restoring the historic 12-foot sign.

People donated money for the needed material and labor to restore the sign, which cost less than $1,400 using the best materials available.

“The sign was in horrible shape after being outside for 76 years,” Dunn said.  “The red, white and blue part of the sign was made of three porcelain panels.  The porcelain was in great shape and I cleaned and reused the panels.  The other 95 percent of the sign was thrown away and replaced with new.” Gabe Murphy and Dustin Jones made the new sheet metal case on which the sign is mounted.

Dunn had discovered a 1949 newspaper clip that mentions the original neon on the sign was green, so the newly restored sign will glow green again, instead of the more recent orange neon.

The sign was hung front and center of the old courthouse in 1940 when Orrie Hancock of Hillsboro, a Sunday School teacher representing the Federated Bible Classes of Hillsboro, got permission from the county board of supervisors.  The Federated Bible Classes organization was to pay for the sign and the county board was to pick up the electric bill for lighting it.

“When Mrs. Hancock was recognized by Gordon Kellogg, chairman of the board, she responded by quoting a verse of Scripture then asked the supervisors to bow their heads in a short silent prayer asking for guidance in their deliberations,” according to a Aug. 12, 1940 clipping from The Hillsboro Journal.  It went on, “The supervisors not only granted permission to erect the sign in a place agreeable to the courthouse committee, but also to furnish the small amount of electricity which will be required to operate the sign.  Mrs. Hancock said she hoped to get the sign erected before Old Settlers Day, which will be on the last Thursday in August.”

She didn’t make it.  The sign was installed the first week of October in 1940. Two decades later, the sign was taken down when they sandblasted the old gray paint off the courthouse and remained down until a November 1968 request from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union before the board to put it back up, which was approved and reinstalled.

The sign remained up until February 1996, resulting from a 1992 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit involving two anonymous county residents and a Federal judge decision ordering that the sign had to come down because it showed bias toward Christianity and was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. It was eventually donated to the neighboring church, World Harvest Church, whose members placed it on their north-facing wall, visible to those passing through Hillsboro on Routes 16 and 127.

The sign has remained there since, until it was taken down last fall so repairs can be made to the brick located behind the sign, while Dunn undertook the project to replace the neon and the overall restoration project.

Dunn traces the historical significance of his business back to Walter Ledder, who opened a neon shop on the west side of the courthouse square in 1932, who made the sign. “Now I’m using some of Walter’s original equipment to produce neon tubes,” Dunn said. Between Dunn and Ledder, Richard “Dick” Smith and Joel Lohr maintained the signs from 1957 to 1967 and from 1967 to 2010 respectively.

About the Author

- Jake Leonard is the editor-in-chief of Heartland Newsfeed. He is general manager of Heartland Internet Media Networks and an active contributor to four newspapers for Pana News Group. He also serves as chairman of Tri-Counties Libertarian Party and Capital Area Libertarian Party, deputy candidate recruitment director for the Libertarian Party of Illinois and as chairman/co-founder of the Libertarian Party Millennial Caucus.

‘World Needs God’ Will Glow With New Neon