It looks like an iconic part of the holiday season in Batavia will continue to have a bright future for years to come, thanks to a fundraising campaign that organizers say is close to reaching its goal.
Members of the Batavia Parks Foundation as well as the Batavia Chamber of Commerce confirmed that the “Peace on Earth” project launched this past spring is nearing its goal of raising $50,000 in order to replace the seasonal wooden letters that hang currently on the Batavia bicycle-pedestrian bridge over the Fox River during the holidays.
The new, permanent letters saying “Peace on Earth” are planned to feature LED lighting, officials said.
Parks Foundation President Britta McKenna said the total as of Thursday morning was $43,500 and that the group is “encouraging people to keep in mind year-end giving.”
“We don’t have the bids in yet for the letters and the lighting and we have merchandise we’re marketing that we have to pay for, but we’re very close. If we can get there by the first of the year that would be awesome,” McKenna said. “It’s not a mandatory sort of thing. Our bids will be going out the first quarter of 2023. We will hit our goal one way or the other. We’ll have to see if year-end giving will get us there, or we’ll continue to actively market our goal.”
Local barber Craig Foltos, 69, first constructed the wooden letters for the sign on the bridge – now known as Peace Bridge – years ago and has been hoping a more permanent solution could be found.
“We have enough money and we’re going to make sure that everything is OK with the park district and then we’re going to put some new letters and lights on the bridge,” Foltos said. “We’re going to reach our goal by Christmas I’m quite sure.”
Margaret Perreault, president and CEO of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce, said the foundation’s initiative represents “something unique and beautiful and shows how wonderful our town is and how we wish for good things throughout the whole world.”
“I know a lot of our businesses are in support of this project including Craig Foltos who is a big proponent of this and has been selling clothing items,” Perreault said. “I think all the businesses are very excited about it (the sign) as people from out-of-town will come see it and a lot take selfies on the bridge. It brings more people walking in town and visiting our businesses and restaurants.”
McKenna also spoke about having a timeless installation made permanent in town and said “Peace on Earth” is an iconic symbol in Batavia.
“The sign that Craig (Foltos) and his efforts made, it’s kind of led to an iconic symbol of Batavia that people really enjoy, not just from Batavia, but people come from all over,” McKenna said. “It’s an artistic message of hope that we want to make permanent and have it be there all year-round and not just for the holidays.”
Don Hubbard of Batavia said he has lived in town 72 years and is excited about having the permanent letters installed.
“Of course, I know about the sign and it’s going to be awesome,” Hubbard said while visiting downtown Batavia Thursday. “It’s been years in the making and Craig’s been making it happen and now everybody is on board. If a message of ‘Peace on Earth’ goes out to the whole world, it would be incredible if we could spread it, if people would just pick up on the message and live it.”
Steve Ferrell of Batavia was walking across the Peace Bridge mid-afternoon Thursday and said he has lived in town 45 years. Like Hubbard, Ferrell said it would be wonderful if Batavia’s message of peace could impact the world, even in a small way.
“This project is a wonderful thing. The initial inspiration was just that, inspired, and I think they want to kind of make it a little more permanent,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if little old humble Batavia could contribute to that, offering a message of peace and make a difference.”
Foltos said seeing the goal within reach “is a good thing” and that he “continues to get so many comments from people telling me” what the bridge means to them.
“One of my friends, they dumped his brother’s ashes off the Peace Bridge. How can you not feel good about something?” Foltos said. “First, I didn’t like the guy dying, but that was a peaceful place for him and you know so many people get these sweatshirts we’ve been selling as a fundraiser and give them to their parents who are in their 90s. A mother of one of my friends just passed away and she had her ‘Peace on Earth’ sweatshirt and that’s all she wanted to wear every day. When people tell you stories like that, you go, ‘Man, I’m pretty lucky to be part of something like that.’”
David Sharos is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.