You mention it and he’s probably made a sign for it

April 21, 2008

Delano’s Ted Ganzel recognizes 50 years in the sign business

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

As a youngster, Ted Ganzel may not have known he would grow up to be a sign maker, but he did know he was creative and had a passion for art.

In 1943, after graduating from Johnson High School in St. Paul, he was drafted into the Army, where he distributed mail at the Seventh Base Post Office in Australia.

Even in the service, his artistic talents were utilized, and his commanding officer asked him to draw a map of the southwest Pacific.

Three years later, he was back home living with his parents in their two-story duplex, and this is where he met his future wife. The duplex was on a corner lot and sat on a hill; from there, he could look down and watch people getting on and off the busses.

“For several days, I watched this cute blonde,” Ted Ganzel smiled. “She would get off the bus, go up the hill ,and pass the garbage cans to her house. One day, I made a point to take out the garbage.”

Sixty years later, Ted and Mildred are still together, and living in Delano, where Ganzel has had his sign business for 25 years. They have five children, Richard, Harvey, John, Ginny, and Wayne. They also have six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

When he attended Minneapolis School of Art, Ted never wanted to become a sign maker; in fact, he hoped to be a commercial artist for the Saturday Evening Post or a similar publication.

“I kept sign making in the basement,” he admitted.

By the time he finished school, he and Mildred had three children. He transferred to Northwestern College to learn more about the Bible. While working in Mound, as a part-time grocery clerk, he began making paper signs for the store, using his dining room table as his work area.

Eventually, Ganzel was asked to make signs for the local Chevy dealership, and later left the grocery store to do assembly work for JR Clark Company.

For a short time, he sold advertising for the Minnetonka Pilot newspaper, where he also wrote a column entitled “Ted’s Two Cents.”

With his growing family, he kept doing sign work on the side and eventually, a local sign shop owner took Ted under his wing.

“Harry Peters owned Tonka Sign Shop in Excelsior,” said Ganzel. “It was a one-man shop and he asked if I wanted to learn the business.He taught me everything from Gold Leaf to building and servicing neon signs.”

Ganzel made signs in the Mound area for 25 years and one time, came to the Delano area to make signs for the Granite Works delivery trucks.

He really liked Delano, and it just so happened that in 1978, a family friend left them farm property in Delano.

As a religious man, he and his wife have taken mission trips, and they have been very involved members of Maple Plain Community Church.

Throughout his 50 years in sign making, Ted has created many different types of signs. His work has traveled as far as Ecuador, Guatemala, Israel, China, and Japan.

“You mention it and I’ve probably made a sign for it,” he said. “But I never do water towers – they are too high; and I never do beer or alcohol signs, because of my beliefs. It’s the devil’s favorite drink.”

From ice rinks to ballfields and boats to fire engines, Ganzel has left his mark in many places.

He has made banners for evangelist Billy Graham, one of which was 30 feet wide and 30 feet tall. Ganzel is the first to tell you that he doesn’t use a computer.

“Everything I do is by hand,” he stated with pride. “No computers needed, but I have used a projector and own a sign boom. I still have a steady hand and a knack for it – as long as people want signs, I’ll do ‘em. It keeps my mind busy and healthy.”

When he says, “by hand,” he truly means it, from putting the base coat on the board, priming it, to adding two or three coats of paint to lettering, he does it all by hand.

He has never used stencils for lettering his signs.

“Stencils,” he shook his head. “Now, that’s a dirty word.”

He no longer installs the signs, but he will find someone to do the installation.

A drive through town for Ganzel, is like a trip down sign making memory lane.

With a history of making signs for local businesses such as Landscape Structures, Linda’s Photography, Janzen’s Auto Body, and All Season’s Clinic, his talented hands are well known in Delano.

When speaking about changing times, computers, and the new ways of making signs, the sadness is visible on his face.

“Vinyl lettering has pushed me out of business,” he said while looking at the floor. “I fear handmade signs are soon to be a thing of the past.”

Currently, Ganzel is working on a sign for under the scoreboard at the Delano ballpark and, if he has his way, his hands will be busy making signs for many more years.

For more information on a handmade original Ganzel sign, call (763) 972-2276.

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