Gene Paris didn’t realize a simple act would turn him into a local celebrity.
In fall 2006, he decorated his Eighth Street front lawn with a scarecrow for Halloween. It was simple enough, even after he embellished it with a coffee cup and a rake. When Halloween passed and Old Man Winter blew in, Paris replaced the scarecrow with a stick figure pushing a snowblower.
Over the next decade, his displays have delighted passersby and made him a public artist of note. In 2014 John McGivern interviewed Paris for his “Around the Corner” feature on public television. On Tuesday, Mayor Mike Palm handed Paris and wife Barb the Baraboo Gem Award.
“It’s an artsy day in Baraboo,” Palm said.
Paris said he was honored to be listed among the recipients of the award, given to citizens who make Baraboo a better place to live. “I greatly appreciate all the people who have stopped me on the street with words of encouragement,” Paris told the City Council, “and also the many people who have sent me cards and letters telling me how much they – and their extended families – look forward to each change.”
While not always a celebrity, Paris has been well-known around town for decades. He and Barb moved to Baraboo in 1953 after buying the Harvey Larson Garage and Standard Oil station on Eighth Street. They sold the garage 12 years later, and Paris went to work at Hill Ford, now known as Glacier Valley Ford. He went on to work at Baraboo Equipment Corp. and Koenecke Ford in Reedsburg.
The couple became devoted members of Emanuel United Methodist Church, with Gene serving on the committee that guided the church’s construction. He later served as a prisoner transport driver for the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department.
Yard art was always a hobby. But it’s one Paris devoted increasing effort to as public appreciation grew. Paris has designed, created and displayed more than 300 scenes in his yard. His wife has been an integral part of creating these displays, finding needed props and costumes at yard sales and thrift stores.
“Putting up a different display every two weeks or so has been a lot of work,” Paris said, “but when you enjoy what you’re doing, it doesn’t seem like work.”