Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

April 5, 2010

Gnome-bers crunch

Strasburg's tiny, trademark citizens to be counted in census

STRASBURG — For residents of the small community of Strasburg, there really is “gnome place like home.”

    A couple of years ago, residents chose the garden gnome to represent the village, and now, organizers are looking to take count of their village mascot with their own census — one that focuses on the mythical creature and its place in the yards of homes throughout the community.

    The Gnome Census is modeled after the U.S. Census currently underway. However, instead of focusing on a household’s inhabitants, it asks residents about their gnome status. “How many do you have?” and “Are they male or female?” are just some of the questions being asked in the Gnome Census. Other questions include “Where do they come from?,” “Do they stay here all the time?,” “Which gnome came from the farthest away?” and “Which gnome have you had the longest?”

    Youth will go door to door April 17 to get the answers to those questions and, at the same time, do some charitable work. The census committee will have a food drive in conjunction with the census and collect nonperishable food items to donate to local food pantries.

    Yards throughout Strasburg are landscaped with gnomes, with more appearing as the weather warms.

    “People either like them or they don’t,” said Pam Clark, who is part of the committee conducting the census. “They make me giggle.”

    The census has some residents curious about just how many gnomes reside in Strasburg.

    “One guy told me he can’t wait to find out how many gnomes there are,” said another census organizer, Jane Giertz.

    Census results will be revealed in the Strasburg newsletter, “Strasburg Gnome News,” which has earned the town statewide recognition. The village and its Strasburg Community Action Network that produces the newsletter received the Innovate Project Award for bimonthly publication at the 21st Annual Rural Community Economic Development Conference in Peoria. The village also was used as a model during the “Strategic Doing: Planning into Action” session at the recent conference.

    It’s not the first time Strasburg has been recognized for its work. The village won the Governor’s Home Town Award last year for beautification.

    SCAN had been searching for an icon for its newsletter when resident Les Sentel came up with the idea of gnomes.

    “I opened up one of my gardening magazines and it had an article ‘Gnome Place Like Home,’ that talked about German heritage. Since Strasburg is German, I pitched the idea,” said Sentel.

    Giertz said the idea won out over other suggestions, such as a windmill and barn that would serve to highlight Strasburg as a farming community.

    Sentel believes the mascot will make people who normally pass through stop and see what’s in town, and perhaps, it will make Strasburg a destination spot.

    “There’s a town in Wisconsin that calls itself the troll capital of the world,” he said. “We thought we could be the gnome capital.”

    Sentel has several gnomes at his home that he has collected over the years, but it wasn’t until the mascot was adopted around 2008 that Sentel decided to try his hand at making one out of concrete. Sentel is familiar with concrete, having made concrete stepping stones.

    “I thought maybe I could make a few to go along with the theme,” he said.

    Sentel has since made around 100 concrete gnomes with molds he purchased from eBay and has sold them at community events. He has just one problem, though.

    “I’m always looking for someone to paint them,” he said.

    Around every corner of the Sentels’ yard sits a gnome he has collected, along with some he made. His wife estimates he has about 40 of them.

    Giertz, who lives down the road from Sentel, also displays the mascot in her yard and has become quite acquainted with the mythical creature since it was declared a village trademark.

    “I wanted to know where they came from,” she said. “So, I got on the computer.”

    Giertz discovered gnomes are vegetarians, they live in the forest, are male or female and aren’t exclusively German. They also can be Scandinavian or Bulgarian, just to name a few.

    Giertz began collecting gnomes after they were made the official mascot.

    “Everywhere I go I look for gnomes,” she said.

    Giertz has even dressed like one for Halloween, earning her the nickname of Strasburg gnome.

    While Giertz and others are promoting the mascot themselves, they are looking for bigger ways to promote it to people outside of Strasburg and have tossed around the idea of a festival.

    “We’re just talking about it,” said Giertz, who added the idea was taken from other communities, such as Shelbyville, which has a Spores ’N’ More festival.

    Giertz said the project and others the village has done leading up to this have gotten “a town that was dying fired up.”

    “It’s just neat, I think,” she said.

    Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or cathy.thoele@effinghamdailynews.com.

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