S I G N & D I G I TA L G R A P H I C S •

August 2013 • 1


Emotional Paycheck
Youth memorialized in Joplin, Mo.

Aug. 19, 1992 - May

Will Norton

22, 2011

2 • August 2013 • S I G N

Reprinted from S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S • August 2013 & D I G I TA L G R A P HICS

Photo by Josh Smith

Matt Charboneau owns and operates Drake, Colo.-based Charboneau Signs, an overthe-Web sign design service. Matt has 23 years of experience in hand lettering, commercial graphic design, sign design, sales, fabrication, project management and installation. He can be reached through his website at www.mattcharboneau.com or admin@ mattcharboneau.com.


inancial gain… these are the opportunities we nurture in the sign industry. We seek out the challenges and offer solutions that provide our customers with hope and optimism that their business will now have better visibility that will hopefully attract more customers (and in turn, buy more signs from us). However, in some instances, the opportunity to provide an advertising medium is completely different in scope, form and function than the typical sign projects we seek. Sometimes, it’s not about selling anything. Sometimes it’s about creating something magnificent in scope and form that not only provides a little hope to a devastated community, but also honors a young man whose life ended tragically. I’ve designed for John Hipple (owner of Sign Designs in Joplin, Mo.) for many years. On this particular occasion he called and asked me if I would have time to assist with a special project that he was involved in, and of course I said yes. Then John began to tell the story of Will Norton and the Miracle Field project that was being supported by the local Rotary Club and Keller Williams Realty as a tribute to an amazing young man. As John described the project, I started to search online for information about Will, and I found a plethora of info. As John spoke, I stared at dozens of photos and watched a few videos of Will and it struck me how similar Will and my own son are in appearance, personality and their contagious sense of humor and optimism. It was a little unnerving. When my call
Reprinted from S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S • August 2013

Photos by Josh Smith


with John ended, I lost my composure and tears streamed down my face as I struggled to watch the Youtube videos Will made before the tragic accident. In the blink of an eye a deadly tornado would change the Norton family’s reality forever. The 2011 Joplin tornado was a catastrophic  EF 5  multiple-vortex tornado  that struck  Joplin late in the afternoon of Sunday, May 22, 2011.
It Happened So Fast

The high school graduation ceremony had just finished, and Will and his dad jumped into his Hummer H 3 and headed home. Will was at the wheel and his dad was in the passenger seat. When the winds struck the vehicle, the massive vortex winds sucked Will out of the Hummer through the closed sun roof. His dad was unable to save him. Mark did everything in his power to hang onto his only son and keep him inside the SUV . With both arms he wrapped himself around Will trying to keep him inside, but the winds of a tornado are just too strong and unforgiving for anyone to overpower. Looking at photos of the smashed and mangled H 3 lying upside down on its roof, it’s a miracle that Will’s father survived. This very easily could have been a double tragedy. Will’s body was found a few days later in a pond close to where the vehicle came to rest.
New Sense of Purpose

I approached the monument shop drawings with a new found focus and sense of enthusiasm that helped me transform the original 3-D design intent illustration (created by Jorge Leyva of Joplin) into a set of fabrication drawings for production. The first challenge to address was the hub assembly and how I was going to design this key feature in order to pass engineering. This hub assembly is what keeps the cage and channel letter structure balanced on the 23' long, (2,500 lbs. each) baseball bats. (See Illustration A ) Next up was the cage and the bat assemblies. I experimented with one design idea for the caissons and bat ends that included multiple internal gussets and dual caissons for each bat base. (See Illustration B ) Um, well… let’s just say this turned out to be complete over-engineering on my part, however, it did create an opportunity for exploring a simpler, smaller set of gussets (as recommended by the engineer) that were ultimately much easier to install, more effective and much less expensive to produce.
The Fabrication Process

At that moment I realized this project was much more than just a sign, and I had been given an opportunity to be part of an unbelievably amazing project of hope and remembrance for the Joplin community devastated by loss, pain and suffering caused by the massive storm. Suddenly, things like steel thicknesses and overall dimension details took on a completely different meaning. This was more than just a sign. More than 400 different donation sources comprised of individuals and organizations helped to make this project possible. You could say that the community was watching and expecting great things from John and his team—and I had a lot of work to do on it.

Once my shop drawings received final approval by engineering, the fabrication process began at John’s shop in Joplin. The cage and hub assembly went smoothly in the shop while the posts and caissons were set into the ground per the engineering specifications. It was decided that the parts would be dry fitted in the shop prior to final welding. In this way they were able to ensure a smooth installation without errors in the field. One of the challenges was keeping the bat handles’ tapered transitions true and straight during the process of welding and fitting the pieces together. The 23-foot-long, 2,500 lb. steel baseball bats were very difficult to move around the shop. John waited to attach the Will Norton Miracle Field channel letters in the field during installation so they could guarantee a straight, even and balanced look when viewed from the walkway, or from any angle. The entire project utilized 476 man hours, not including design and engineering, and left John’s entire staff

with a feeling of extreme accomplishment for a job well done. Mark Norton and the family have visited the memorial to Will on many occasions and they are overwhelmed by the entire facility. Mark told one parent how happy it made him to see kids using the facility and how much joy it would have brought Will. Will’s sister, Sarah, said that Will was playful and was always smiling. He never wanted anyone to feel left out. This entire complex was built to make children with disabilities feel like they are just as important as everyone else—just like Will would have wanted! The memorial structure provides the perfect beginning to a wonderful and unexpected adventure for these very special kids. You can read more about this amazing project at facebook.com/willnortonmiraclefield or you can go to youtube.com/will for videos and stories about this amazing young man and the legacy that was built in his honor. Signs tell customers who, where, when, what and why, but they rarely tell the back story. Hats off to everyone who made this project a reality and created a memorial that speaks volumes beyond the 10 reverse pan channel letters that adorn the structure. This memorial sings a song that everyone can hear—a tribute to a young man who shared his laughter, his love and his kindness with anyone who needed it. Will’s spirit for helping others was the catalyst for the Miracle Field, and it’s a shining tribute to a young man who often put the needs of others before his own. As for me, I feel privileged to be part of this project. I shall never forget the impact that Will’s story made on my life. It’s motivated me to hug my kids a little longer, a little tighter and cherish them a little more than usual; it’s a lesson in mortality that I hope I never forget. See, sometimes the sign business does have some warm and fuzzy benefits beyond the typical comments we hear, like “Hey, nice sign mister—but you spelled apartments wrong.” Oh well, time to dry the eyes and get back to business as usual I guess.

Reprinted from S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S • August 2013

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