Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

October 15, 2013

Man leaves lasting impression of maps

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Gene Alexander has been retired for 23 years. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working.

He just doesn’t get paid.

“Mr. A,” as he likes to be known, was in Effingham last week to paint a United States map on St. Anthony Grade School playground. It is the 230th U.S. map he has painted since retiring as principal of Logan Elementary School in Benton in 1990. That’s not counting maps he has painted of the Holy Land and Europe at other schools.

Alexander, 78, said he never charges for his artwork, even though it takes him about nine hours to complete each map. He has another reason for painting the maps.

“I get the feeling that I am involved in the educational process, even though I am 78,” Alexander said.

Alexander said his love of maps stems from his childhood in Benton when his grandmother gave him a United States map puzzle.

“I knew the states before I could read,” he said.

Alexander’s father died when he was still in school, so he enlisted in the Army. After his Army hitch, he used the GI bill to receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Illinois University.

He spent more than 30 years as a teacher and principal in various Benton schools before retiring in 1990.

Alexander said the process of painting a map on a playground isn’t difficult as much as it is time-consuming.

“I have sheets of plastic that I lay down,” he said. “Then I chalk out the shapes of states.”

The house paint he uses is mixed with gritty sand to keep the paint from being sticky in rainy weather.

St. Anthony Grade School Principal Brandi Borries said the map will be an invaluable educational tool for teachers in all grades.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.