All Joe Wehri wants is to bring his adopted city a little joy.
His home-crafted effort has succeeded so well that it’s become a traffic-stopper on West 36th Street, just east of Bde Maka Ska.
Wehri is the 35-year-old behind the “I ♥ MPLS” lighted sign that adorns his side yard just off Humboldt Avenue South. That’s where Wehri shares a Craftsman-Tudor style home with husband Nathan Soland and Maddie, their Burnese mountain dog.
Wehri’s painstaking creation is rooted in his affection for the city in which he’s lived for 13 years and in a desire to bring light in darkness.
“It’s a way to celebrate winter. I love giving people joy in the darkest time of the year,” he said.
He moved to Minneapolis fresh out of college to go to work at Target Corporation headquarters downtown. His work there involves training bosses to become better managers. He also met Soland here. They bought their East Calhoun house three years ago, attracted by its landscaping and the proximity to the lake, where Wehri runs three seasons of the year.
“I just have so much love for the city,” he said. “It’s brought me so much.”
His lit expression of that love is his second such marriage of sign and affection. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where he majored in biopsychology and cognitive science, the northwest Ohioan crafted a large lit “M.” He hung it from his dorm window and then later at a rented house.
Wehri took pains to craft his Minneapolis sign in the fall of 2017. First, he outlined on paper the 2-foot-high serif block letters that comprise it. Then he took to his neighborhood’s Nextdoor network to beg for any wire coat hangers that his neighbors could spare.
Bending the stiff wires to conform to the stencil he’d created was a painstaking task. He employed a pair of pliers but the work still took a toll.
“My hands ended up being bruised,” he recalled.
He then crafted a clever method to make sure each letter blazed with light, red for the heart and white for the letters. Each string of 50–100 lights was wrapped around its coat hanger template to make a greater density of lights. They were fastened in place with about a thousand ornament hooks that he’d straightened. They held all of the lights aligned in the same direction.
Last winter’s maiden expression of his love for his city was short-circuited after a month when squirrels gnawed through the wiring. This winter’s sign is farther from the trees they inhabit and uses better-quality lights.
This winter, he suspended the letters by the hooks of coat hangers. He hung them from picture-hanging wire that was suspended between steel U-posts that he’d driven into the ground before it froze.
The result literally stops traffic. Fortunately, there’s a parking lane adjacent to the sign. The pair get a good glimpse of spectators from their dining room window and the sink where they do dishes. Both look out over 36th and Lakewood Cemetery. Passersby snap photos of the sign and themselves. Some even took pre-holiday family photos.
The cemetery’s residents don’t object.
“I wanted it so bright that people stop. It just brings me such joy,” Wehri said.
He posted a photo of the sign on Nextdoor, thanking those who donated coat hangers. In response, dozens of neighbors thanked him for the display. Meet Minneapolis, the convention and visitor bureau, saw his Instagram post and asked if it could repost it.
The sign went on the day before Thanksgiving and Wehri expects to keep it lit through the Ides of March.
It’s all a labor of love, Wehri said.
“I love what the city stands for,” he said. “It’s progressive.”