Julie McDonald Commentary: Chehalis Renaissance Team Paints the Town — Literally


It’s not often you hear a pastor urging people to paint the town or inviting them to join in subversive tagging of public property.

But that’s exactly what happened Friday morning when the Rev. Ed Wegele, senior pastor at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, gave an entertaining tongue-in-cheek report to the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team (CCRT), describing the Design Committee as “the most subversive.”

Laughter erupted frequently during his short report, first describing the amazing flowers and interesting Chehalis facts painted on downtown garbage can lids, a city-sanctioned project spearheaded by Design Committee Chair Michele Gallagher. The lids were painted by artists Irisa Kennedy, Emily von Flotow with Organdy Salvage Art & Design and Thomas Sutley with Vryheim, described by Wegele as the “culprits.”

“We have been doing renegade tagging across the community,” he announced. “First we attacked tan areas and beige areas, and the latest of our tagging events has been right behind the Chehalis Coworks.”

He presented a picture of a mural of red roses and hearts on a black background behind Chehalis Coworks, a shared community workspace at 478 N. Market Blvd., painted by Kennedy and Sutley. Earlier in the summer, Sutley and von Flotow painted a large mural on Ewe and I and another on downtown public restrooms. Von Flotow completed two other murals on the restroom a year ago.

“Then we decided to attack gray,” Wegele said.

People driving through Chehalis can see red and pink flowers with orange butterflies on an electrical box at Sixth and Market, painted by von Flotow; a deep forest scene with streaks of sunlight in a blue sky at 13th and Market, painted by Kennedy; and a fall harvest scene at Chamber Way and State Street, painted by Sutley. Next, von Flotow will feature local agriculture on a box at State and Main near Jeremy’s Farm to Table.

“She’s so gung-ho,” said Annalee Nelson Tobey, the CCRT’s executive director. “She’s just so happy when she paints.

The CCRT covered the cost of painting the murals, lids, and electrical boxes.

“It’s an incredible team working together and we have much in store for the future,” Tobey said.

Larry Cook of Second Chance Services described the colorful electrical boxes as “surprisingly bright mood enhancers.”

“I want to say that whoever the fairies are that paint that magic, bless them,” he said.

Jill Anderson, Chehalis city manager, said she heard incredulity in the voices of Public Works employees who described the latest plans of the CCRT — to paint utility boxes, not just one color but with murals.

“I have to say that I’m like the biggest supporter of that project,” she said, adding that the utility boxes “look awesome.”

 Anyone who wants to join the subversive committee can see them at their hidden location, which is the Chehalis Coworks, the first Thursday of the month.

“Tagging is necessary,” Wegele said.              

Later, he issued this warning: “If you sit too long on a bench, we cannot guarantee that you will not become painted.”

Chair Andy Skinner of Reliable Enterprises noted that the CCRT was formed a decade ago to create a more vibrant, healthy and beautiful Chehalis. Its mission is outlined on the https://experiencechehalis.com/renaissance/ website. “Driven by voluntary leadership, broad community participation and using disciplined project management, implement the plan as approved by the Chehalis City Council in May 2009.”

Now, 10 years later, the nonprofit organization is contracting with the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance to assist in strategic planning. A UW professor and grad student pursuing a master’s degree in business will work with CCRT leadership “just to make sure we’re on the right path,” Skinner said.

It’s fun to see the camaraderie among business owners, public agency leaders, and directors of nonprofits working together to improve Chehalis.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian in Toledo, may be reached at chaptersoflife1999@gmail.com.