Karin Yoder's chalkboard sharings lifting spirits in northwest Columbus
The sport utility vehicle traveling on Loch Ness Avenue slowed to a crawl one recent morning as the woman driving it mouthed the words displayed along the roadside.
"I think my soulmate may be cake."
She grinned and exited the Olentangy Highlands neighborhood in northwest Columbus.
The motorist was another satisfied visitor for 72-year-old Karin Yoder.
Although they don't gather in groups or visit inside one another's homes, Yoder said she hasn't felt closer to her neighbors since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
And a sandwich-board sign made it all happen.
Since late March, the retiree has used chalk to share kind, funny and inspirational messages on the sign with her neighbors nearly every morning, weather permitting.
A daughter-in-law suggested the idea when Ohio officials first enacted a stay-at-home order, saying it might cheer up neighborhood walkers out to get some fresh air.
"I hope they get a kick in their step, or a smile, or a thought," Yoder said.
Neither expected the kind gestures that followed.
It started with an unsigned thank-you card left in Yoder's mailbox, which included a fitting gift for the times: a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Then a neighbor from around the corner invited her for a porch visit.
"My husband and I pass by her house every time we leave to go anywhere, and we're always really eager to see what new sign she's put out," said Jo Ann Carpenter, 75, a retired English teacher.
"One day, I thought, 'By golly, I'm just going to knock on the door and tell whoever's responsible what a pleasure it's been.'"
Other fans stop by for small talk or to express their appreciation while she's watering her flowers.
"I wish I did this nine years ago, when we moved in," Yoder said. "It makes me so happy that people are happy about it."
Yoder finds most of her sayings online, then tries to select ones that are easy to relate to, she said. Her intricate fonts sometimes include illustrations.
"You can never be mediocre" was a favorite inspirational reminder.
Her message after a thunderstorm downed several tree branches in the neighborhood? "Paper cuts: A tree's last revenge."
"One day, it said, 'You can't trust atoms; they make up everything,' " she recalled. "A lady stopped me and said, 'I particularly like this one because I'm a chemist.' "
Yoder's husband, 78-year-old Mike, lugs the sign to the curb.
He places it near the speed bump in front of their residence, just before their street, Loch Ness Avenue, empties into Linworth Road. The spot is a popular thoroughfare for drivers exiting the neighborhood and walkers headed to nearby Perry Park.
"Usually, the sayings give you a smile or a hug," he said. "I prefer the smiles."
The Yoders have lived in the neighborhood since about the time they retired from their jobs with Nationwide Insurance and downsized into the ranch-style house.
Karin was a trainer, a job that included making flip charts and posters, to which she credits her creativity. Although she doesn't like to call herself an artist, Mike is quick to point out her knack for crafting.
She has a necklace made of bright blue glass that she had shaped herself, he said.
Karin said she plans to continue to sharing her sandwich-board messages until wintertime.
"It takes, at most, 30 or 40 minutes a day," she said. "If it's touched anyone, it's worth it."