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Not Your Average Joe Book Launch | Community Voices

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Not Your Average Joe book cover
Rich Saal
Not Your Average Joe

Thank you to the Grab-a-Java team: Bill Legge, Rich Saal, Meg Evans, the late Pete Lazare and staff for the wonderful evening of friends and the art of Pete at the Myers Building. Proceeds from the sales of the book and silent auction benefit the Sierra Club of Sangamon Valley and NPR Illinois to the tune of nearly $4,000 each.

Rich Saal
NPR Illinois staff receive check from Bill Legge, owner Grab-a-Java, outside the 6th Street drive-through in Springfield. The donation was the result of the Not your average Joe art event in August 2021 (L-R: Vanessa Fergusson, Randy Eccles, Bill Legge, Terri Hempstead, Bea Bonner, Jen Bettis).
Not Your Average Joe.JPG
Randy Eccles
Mostly masked crowd of coffee and art lovers at the Not Your Average Joe in the Myers Building in downtown Springfield.

Pete Lazare's banners flew for nearly 20 years in front of Grab-a-Java. They were funny. They were punny. They became a local treasure. In an effort to capture the artwork in a manner that can be enjoyed by all (i.e. - not 10 feet tall), Bill Legge, current Grab-a-Java owner has had Rich Saal Photography shoot them and create a coffee table book featuring 67 banners.

First 100 People that purchase a copy of the book will receive a limited edition 13x19 art print featuring 25 of Peter's beloved banners. A printed and matted, limited single-copy of each banner will be on display and for sale at the book launch/art event. Only one copy of each banner is being produced.

All proceeds raised from this event, and the sale of all the books and art prints, will be donated 50/50 to both the Sierra Club of the Sangamon Valley and NPR Illinois in Pete's memory.

A fun night of art and friendship supporting two causes that were near and dear to Pete!

The event is free. Books and art prints will be available for purchase.

Listen to the Community Voices discussion with Bill Legge and Meg Evans Lazare.

Painted banner stating This Is Your Brain on NPR Illinois
Mia Woods

Edited for time and clarity:

Randy: Welcome back to Community Voices. For the Community Voices team, I'm Randy Eccles. I'm very excited about an event that's coming up and I'm thrilled to be able to talk to a couple of the key people behind it.

Bill: My name is Bill Legge. My wife and I own Grab-a-Java here in Springfield.

Meg: Hi, I'm Meg Evans. I'm the former owner of the Grab-a-Java coffee shop. I then handed the reins over to Bill. I'm currently living in Chicago, Illinois.

Randy: We want to tell you about a special event Friday, August 6. Bill, tell us about the event then we'll get some background on what's happening.

Bill: We're having a book launch and art show at the Myers Building, One West Old State Capitol Plaza. It's going to be from 6 to 9 p.m. to honor the artwork and the legacy of Peter (Lazare) who created some wonderful banners outside Grab-a-Java for over 20 years.

Randy: For folks who don't know the background, Grab-a-Java is a coffee shop that is on 6th Street headed downtown.

Bill: Yes, we're a drive-thru only coffee shop. We've got two locations in town, the original location is on 6th and Spruce Streets. The second location was built in 2004 on the west-side of town on Headley Road. The banner poll that was built is on 6th Street. It catches a lot of attention as folks are heading north into downtown.

Randy: Many people noticed it over the years, the unique signage that sits on that pole. That's what this art show and book are all about. Meg, can you tell us a little bit about how this started? This is not your traditional signage.

Meg: Originally, Peter started painting the banners as a mechanism to get more traffic into the coffee shop, to Grab-a-Java. The building sets back a little bit from the road. He really didn't start out as an artist, but more or less as a person with a problem to solve. Over time, he became an artist. You can see his evolution as the banners got better and better. They became iconic in Springfield.

Randy: Peter Lazare is your late spouse. He got interested in getting more business into the coffee shop and he started painting custom signs.

Meg: He always challenged us and stretched us out of our comfort zone. His banners often had political or cultural themes. I believe they created a dialogue. He could say a lot in a few words with his pictures and his comments.

Randy: He always tied them back to coffee.

Meg: Right and always used his wit and humor. That's what people always appreciated.

Randy: Bill, after taking over as the owner of Grab-a-Java, how did you figure out what to do with the signs?

Bill: When word started to get out that we were buying Grab-a-Java from Megan, the most common question asked wasn't about the coffee, wasn't about the business model, it was all about the signs. Pete became very well known around town for his very witty, very funny artwork and I quickly realized that was going to be a challenge I needed to solve. We wanted to keep the spirit of the banners going. Unfortunately, I'm not a very talented artist. I wouldn't even want to try to attempt it. We've connected with several local artists that have helped us keep the banners going and keep them relevant and fresh. When we were in the process of the sale, Meg asked me what to do with all the banners. They're quite large. They're about nine-feet tall by six-feet wide. They're painted on Lowes drop clothes. Peter would go to the local store and buy these painters' drop cloths. He'd have to safety pin them and stitch them together to get them to be the right size. He would go to the bargain shelf, where you could buy mis-tinted paint. I remember being in Peter's basement. The Wall was filled with all these gallons of mis-tinted paints that he'd collected over the years. The challenge we had is the material they were painted on does not last forever. It starts to wear out in the sun and the weather. We quickly realized that while these pieces were beautiful, they really can't be flown anymore without being damaged almost right away in the wind. They just become too brittle. I was very fortunate to connect with a talented photographer in the area, a gentleman named Rich Saal. He has decades of photography experience in the journalistic and studio world and he agreed to take this project on. It took several people to capture all of them on film. Then we decided to make a coffee table book out of all the pictures.

Randy: We're (NPR Illinois) very fortunate. You mentioned how large they are. Pete was kind enough to make one of those signs to feature NPR Illinois during one of our fun drives. He gave it to us afterwards and it's really large. They're tremendous, it's very cool, and we're very honored that he did that. This is a fundraiser to help out both NPR Illinois and another organization, right?

Bill: What we've done with all the pictures, we've created a beautiful coffee table book that I think we ended up with 67 banners that he created over the years. We've made this beautiful coffee table book that features all of the banners and some quotes from local people, friends, and family of Peter, and former coworkers and customers. We also created one art print of each banner. I believe they're 13'x 19'. Then we've had those matted in the 18'x 20' format, which is a very standard size. We're going to have each art print -- a limited one-of-one edition -- at the event. They'll be up for auction. All the proceeds from the sale of the book and from the art prints are going to be split between two charities that we felt were the right ones to honor Peter. Those are NPR Illinois and the Sangamon Valley chapter of the Sierra Club, which is an organization that really pushes for environmental causes here in the area. They're part of a nationwide network as well.

Randy: We're talking with Meg Evans Lazare and Bill Legge about Pete Lazare's sign art that's going to be featured at a special event Friday night August 6, 6 to 9 p.m. at the Myers Building in the Old State Capitol Square area. You're listening to Community Voices. The name of the book is Not Your Average Joe.

Meg: Yes, that's the name of the book and we're so thrilled about it. We lost Peter to pancreatic cancer two and a half years ago. This project has just been a work of love for us to remember Peter and his charming funny controversial self. I'm delighted our family is going to be coming to the event.

Randy: He would have been very busy painting banners, probably, over the last couple years.

Meg: Was he was a real activist in his heart. He would have been.

Randy: We're looking forward to everybody getting together and getting to look at these different prints. Bill brought a Rich Saal over to take some of the photos at the studios using the Suggs Studio. Bill, how has the production gone? Originally, this event was planned for almost a year ago.

Bill: We had this event, scheduled for March 20, 2020. We had all the books and the art prints made heading into March. We were really rattled. It was a few weeks away from the event. All of a sudden COVID got in our way. We had to cancel the event and warehouse all the prints and the books to keep them safe, but we're so excited now. Here we are, over a year later, and we finally get this project moving forward again and can't wait to gather together next Friday night. A really good chance to get together again as life starts to get a little bit back to normal.

Randy: You both have had to look through all these and review them over the period of time you put the book together. Which one stands out for each of you for whatever reason

Meg: Peter had such a lot of ingenuity in how he presented the banners. I remember, specifically after Trump was elected, he had a banner, the arrow pointing towards the coffee shop and then an arrow pointing up and towards Canada. It is interesting how people interpreted it. Some people said, "Yeah, let them go to Canada." They don't like it. Others said, "Yeah, I'm going to Canada." So, he just had such an interesting way, but he tied coffee in and that was a really clever one. I love the one where he said, "Drink locally. Think globally," showing the world. I think everybody can agree with. He was very clever. His messages were never heavy handed but they sparked conversation.

Randy: Bill, how about you?

Bill: When I looked through all the photos and the banners that he created over the years, I was really delighted. There were many I hadn't seen because they were several years sitting down in Megan and Pete's basement. It became clear to me that Pete was really passionate about what he believed in. You can tell, by looking through a lot of these that he had a kindness and a belief in people and in people's rights. One, for example, he painted right after the Supreme Court ruled on gay marriage. Two coffee cups hugging each other with a rainbow over them He painted it very quickly and very timely and had it up shortly. He was also very quick to respond to what was going in popular culture. We found a banner that he had painted from 2006 or 2007. There was a lot of buzz in town that Barack Obama was coming for an announcement, but nobody had the confirmation of what it would be. There was a lot of speculation that he was announcing his run for the presidency, which he ended up doing on the steps of the Old State Capitol. Peter, being very witty, painted a portrait of President Obama with the tagline that just said, "I just came here for the coffee." That really shows his wit and his ability to respond to what's current and happening in the world but to do it in a way that was very light-hearted and in a way that caused everybody to smile.

Randy: So on Friday, August 6, people have a chance to buy the book, which has all 67 posters in it -- Not Your Average Joe. Everyone, if they want to recollect their favorite sign they passed by on the street, will be able to buy a book. You've had special prints made of each banner, each sign that there will be on silent auction?

Bill: Yes, that's correct. We've had them made on a high quality art paper. We have them matted and poly bags to protect them, ready for your frame, for the purchaser to take home and go get a frame that matches their home decor. They'll be up for auction during the event. Again, all proceeds are going to charity split between NPR Illinois and the Sierra club.

Randy: So, the ones you just mentioned, like the Barack Obama or the mugs hugging each other with the rainbow over them are going to be possible for somebody to bid on and be able to put in their home?

Bill: Absolutely, there's a lot of classics in here. He did a really cool one -- Make Lattes Not War. That'll be available. I think it will catch a lot of people's attention. The Vincent Van Gogh - Coffee to Go was one of my favorites as well as he did an homage to the Maurice Sendak book, Where the Wild Things Are but changes up to be Where the Wild Drinks Are that I’ve always thought was just wonderful.

Randy: Meg, I'm sure the last two years have been quite the process for you and the family. How, through the sale of Grab-a-Java and doing this book, how are you doing?

Meg: Thank you for asking. It's been rough. We miss Peter tremendously. He was such a unique and amazing dad and husband and friend. I'm so grateful to Bill Legge for making this possible, to Grab-a-Java people, and the Springfield community are so, so dear to my heart. We really love this town. We're okay. We miss Pete a lot. We're living in Chicago now because of jobs and things like that, but I visit now the pandemic is over. I really love the idea of coming back and seeing everybody again.

Randy: Bill, how have things been since transitioning into coffee shop ownership and going through this pandemic for the past couple of years?

Bill: This has been a very challenging year I think for everybody around the world, but specifically to folks that work in food service and even specifically, within that, folks that work in food service with a drive-thru. To put it mildly, our staff have just been phenomenal. They're some of the kindest, smartest, and most caring people that I've ever encountered. It's really thanks to their spirit and their attitudes that Grab-a-Java has been able to come through this and still be okay. I'd be lying if I didn't say that it was hard on them. This has been a really tough year for everybody. My hat is off to anybody in the food service world over the past year. It's been tough. As with most other businesses right now, is it tough to find people to work. There's a lot of factors that go into it. For us, we have a lot younger workforce that in many cases are local college students that with UIS having been online for most of last year, a lot of the students didn't stay in town. They went back to wherever they're from. Even at Lincoln Land, which services more local students, there hasn't been as many opportunities to go out and connect with people that that might be looking for a job. It's been tough. Again, we're very fortunate, very lucky to have the team that we've got at Grab-a-Java. We're probably biased on this but I think they're the best baristas on the planet.

Meg: I agree.

Randy: Bill, previously you were the head of a nonprofit. How do you think the nonprofits have fared?

Bill: It's been a very strange year for all the nonprofits. Going into the pandemic, I think everybody was panicked. What I think we've seen throughout much of is that, lo and behold, we live in a generous community of caring people. There were a lot of people that really put their money where their mouth was or where their heart was and made a lot of very generous donations to help support the agencies that were doing the work on the ground. I was involved with the Boys and Girls Club for quite some time and it's my understanding that they've done pretty well but not without their own sets of challenges. They're very fortunate to have an amazing staff that weathered through this as best as possible. The biggest struggle is going to be the next couple of years as the new normal starts to set in. What's that going to look like? That applies to the food service world as much as it does to the social service world. We're all trying to predict the future here but we're in uncharted territory and that's hard to do.

Randy: You're listening to Community Voices on NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS. I'm Randy Eccles and we're talking with Meg Evans Lazare and Bill Legge who are telling us about a special event to honor Pete Lazare and raise funds for the Sierra club and NPR Illinois. Thank you for that. The book launch and art show for Not Your Average Joe, which is the signage that Pete painted over the years for the Grab-a-Java signage. Several NPR Illinois staff members will be at the event, Meg already said that she and some family will be there, and Bill. Anything else you'd like to tell us about?

Meg: I have a new little grandbaby and his name is Peter Lazare and hopefully he'll be coming along to the event. As much as we miss Peter, there's some beautiful ways that he's in our lives. And this is one way of reconnecting with our Springfield community which we love so much and celebrating the things he contributed to the culture of our town and our lives. And we'll bring our new grandbaby, little Peter. That's a real a real joy for us.

Bill: We're very excited to come together again. We're going to have Just the Basics Mobile Bar set up for refreshments. The folks at Cafe Moxo have been very generous and donated some food to help cater the event. There's no admission charge for the event. It's free for all to attend. Feel free to come and look around at Peter's beautiful art and if you're so inspired, you can bid on some of the artwork to help us raise funds for two charities that were very near and dear to Peter's heart. Of course, we'll have the book available for purchase at the event as well.

Randy: Thank you so much for joining us today on Community Voices. We look forward to seeing you at the Not Your Average Joe book launch.

Randy Eccles is thrilled to be talking with community members and joining them in becoming informed citizenry. Please reach out at randy.eccles@nprillinois.org.
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