HOKAH, Minn. — Technically, the "Hokah Forever" painted on the concrete wall along Minnesota Highway 44 near Hokah began as vandalism, a Halloween prank.
But somehow it has morphed into a part of the town's heritage and pride. The town is even fighting to protect it.
It was first painted on the wall in 1966 by some local teens out "ridge running" during Halloween. As they were painting the wall, one of them remembered his uncle using the phrase "Hokah Forever," so they added that phrase, too. Barb Bissen, now the town's librarian and historian, was one of those teens.
A Minnesota Department of Transportation crew painted over part of the graffiti, but not Hokah Forever. The wall soon became part of the town's identity. Subsequent generations of teenage girls have moved, enlarged and improved the sign, with the city's blessing. The current sign is now big, bright and even has a flower.
It's also threatened with being torn down.
During the 2007 flood, the wall began to bow out. MnDOT wants to tear down the wall and slope back the area, planting it with grass, said city council member Jerry Martell.
The city wants to either cut out that section of wall and move it to another area, or have a new wall built. That new wall would then be "revandalized" by local girls, and "Hokah Forever" would return to the little town southwest of La Crescent.
Bissen recalls that night when the whole thing began. "I was there, yup," she told the Post-Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1t7ygrD).
On that Halloween night, she and friends were on a joyride. They put a dummy in the road and then someone decided to paint the wall.
"We figured they would cover the whole thing up" but it's stayed, she said. Other teens have kept up the tradition. "It's become part of the kids growing up," she said. "It's sentimental."
One of the re-paintings was in 1992, when a woman talked her son into painting it, she said. His grandfather only had black and gold paint, which happens to be the school colors of Caledonia. He moved the words closer to some steps so he could hide beneath the steps if someone drove up, she said.
The next year, another group repainted the sign in bright colors. And in 1999, another group got paint from Valspar to redo the sign, she said.
The sign is so popular that people have their photo taken in front of it It's been on postcards, Bissen said.
"It's hometown pride," she said. "This is just sort of a Hokah saying. They've got Hokah in their hearts."
And now, that part of Hokah pride is going to be coming down. But Hokah is going to make sure those coming into the town from the west are still greeted by "Hokah Forever."
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