Look upward at the 100 hanging baskets that will soon be sprinkled throughout Antigo’s downtown, and just a bit above that basket, more often than not, you’ll notice a plaque in memory of or in honor of a loved one.
The 6-inch by 18-inch markers—white lettering on a red plaque to match the paved brick in the Fifth Avenue sidewalk—are the brainchild of Cheryl Belott of Chase Bank.
“I really got involved at an Antigo First meeting in June 2021 at the senior center,” said Belott, a 34-year employee at the downtown bank. “I lost my dad (Richard Estreen) to COVID on Nov. 17, 2020, and I had an idea to honor him with a plaque.
“I told the committee I would run with it, if they liked it enough. I knew many, many people who had lost a loved, particularly due to COVID, and that made me want to get involved.”
By that time, Carol Caffero of Banquet on a Bun had already started to raise funds for the hanging baskets for the downtown. The idea was to go back to those 26 businesses that had agreed to sponsor a basket to see if someone there would want to sponsor a plaque to be placed above the basket.
The basket sponsorship was $50 a year for three years; the plaque cost was a one-time fee of $150.
“In December, I took my week’s vacation and went to the downtown businesses,” Belott said. “I went into new businesses, old businesses, businesses that I knew nothing about. It was overwhelmingly successful. I had no problem selling them.”
The businesses cannot have their name on the plaques; it must be from individuals.
Frisch Greenhouses has a contract with the city to provide the hanging baskets and care for them throughout the summer. City crews will install the plaques.
The hanging baskets and plaques are part of a larger beautification program for the downtown that dates back more than decade but really took off around 2015.
In 2011, the Peaceful Valley project began at Sixth Avenue and Field Street. There were decorative light poles with hanging baskets and poles set up for self-watering. There were also ground planters in the boulevard and parking lots.
Things changed in 2014-15.
“Bob Curran and I got together and started donating to try and get the old railroad ties (wooden planters) fixed up and/or off the sidewalks,” said Gordon Neve of Neve’s Floors To Go Furniture and Mattress Gallery. “(I) have been working with the city ever since. We try to remind people that we do have a vibrant downtown, and work with the city to keep going forward.”
Roseann Hoffman, who runs her own accounting business on Clermont Street, reorganized the businesses into the Antigo First committee, with beautifying the downtown one of its first projects.
“The old planters with the railroad ties had broken down, were filled with salt and were really just falling apart,” she said. “The city and Antigo First joined together to get the planters off the ground.”
In that first year, 15 of the 50 baskets were sponsored at a cost of $100 a year for three years.
Today,, there are 100 hanging baskets with a commitment of $50 a year for three years, plus $150 memorial plaques.
“It’s been a nice project since the beginning,” Hoffman said.
Since 2016, Antigo First has annually donated $3,500 to the program. This year’s contribution is $5,000.
For five years—ending when COVID began—a comedy show was held to raise funds for the program. Today, the annual summer beautification program costs $19,000.
Hoffman said Belott and Caffero were major players in this year’s fundraising campaign.
“Cheryl’s knowledge and acquaintances with people goes everywhere,” Hoffman said.
Reconstruction of Fifth Avenue in 2020 halted the program for a year, but it returned in 2021 with hanging baskets and new concrete planters.
Caffero joined the Antigo First committee about six months ago.
“We bought a business on Fifth Avenue last year, so I thought this would be a good way to network with other business owners,” she said.
Caffero said she took an interest in the project because of her love of flowers, especially daisies.
“Our downtown was looking abandoned,” she said. “Now, we have new shops, new people. It’s a great step forward with the new sidewalks, the street and the stores. It’s a great way to let people know, “Look, we’re here again.’”