Billboard a sign of girl’s love for her father

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 19, 2001

Kendra Blake always liked to hang out with her dad, Mark, at the family business, Blake’s Body Shop.

Monday, November 19, 2001

Kendra Blake always liked to hang out with her dad, Mark, at the family business, Blake’s Body Shop. But when Mark was diagnosed with a disease that attacked his nervous system and was no longer able to work, the 9-year-old was devastated.

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&uot;She hung out with him a lot on Saturdays, and she loved to page him here,&uot; said her uncle, Kevin Blake.

After Mark’s illness, Kevin said he could see Kendra was pretty down and out. &uot;So I told her to draw a picture of her dad at work here,&uot; Kevin recalled.

The result was a picture of her dad working on a green truck in the body shop. Over the loudspeaker are the words, &uot;Mark Blake, Line 2, Mark Blake.&uot;

&uot;We liked it so much, we decided to turn it into a business card,&uot; Kevin said. &uot;For years I had plain old business cards out and they just sat there. When I put these out, everybody started taking them.

&uot;That was such a hit, we decided to see if we could turn it into a billboard. In our business, we need to stay in front of the customer.&uot;

Of course, Kevin said he had no real rights to the piece of artwork, so he offered to buy it from his niece. &uot;I went to their house one day, and asked her what she thought was a fair price. She said she wanted $150 for it, but that her dad thought $75 was fair,&uot; he recalled.

&uot;I said, ‘Kendra, if you want $150 for the picture, that’s what you’re going to get,’&uot; he recalled.

Kevin worked with Jeff Keating of Tri-State Outdoor Media on getting the billboard made. Keating said it’s one of the more unusual projects on which he’s worked.

&uot;It’s not the usual thing we end up with,&uot; he said. &uot;And to duplicate children’s artwork is not the easiest thing.&uot;

But the billboard has received many, many comments.

&uot;It’s having a good impact,&uot; Keating said. &uot;We’re hearing a lot from our other customers about it. She’s created quite a stir.&uot;

Kevin wanted to surprise the rest of the family with the billboard, so it wasn’t until about a week before it was up that he told Mark’s wife, Kathy, about it. &uot;I drove her (Kendra) by it and she was so excited,&uot; Kathy recalled. &uot;She came home and jumped on her dad’s bed and said, ‘I made you famous, Dad!’ They used to hang out together all the time, and she had him wrapped around her little finger.&uot;

It was important to Kendra that her father see the billboard, so arrangements were made through Crossroads Community Hospice for Mark to take an ambulance ride to see it. The rest of the family was there, too, including Mark and Kathy’s 13-year-old twins, Cheyenne and Cody.

&uot;She had a smile that didn’t stop,&uot; Keating said of Kendra, adding he had her sign the billboard.

Not only does it make her father famous, but there are plans to put her picture on Tri-State’s web site and in its newsletter, which goes to five different divisions across the country, Keating said.

Kathy said it’s been amazing the people who have commented to her about the billboard. &uot;People I don’t even know are telling me how nice they think it is,&uot; she said.

Mark Blake was diagnosed with neuro dystrophy about 2 1/2 years ago. Because it affects the entire nervous system, his body won’t work for him, and he suffers from seizures, but his mind is still sharp. He is able to communicate with his wife through blinks of his eyes.

He entered the hospice program in May, and volunteers come into the home for about an hour and a half a day to sit with him. Home health aides also help Kathy care for him.

&uot;I’m so impressed with the program,&uot; Kathy said. &uot;The people are wonderful.&uot;

Kevin said the whole community has been supportive of the family since Mark became ill. &uot;From businesses, individuals and strangers, it’s been pretty touching,&uot; he said.