Ian Stepleton is the editor of the Ripon Commonwealth Press, and been with the paper since September 2000. Starting with fall 2016, he also is an adjunct professor of journalism at Ripon College, and advisor to the college's newspaper, the College Days.

Jonathan Gatzke and Lelani Sanchez with their truck

A couple weekends ago, Jonathan Gatzke and Lelani Sanchez knew they wanted to participate in the vigil in downtown Ripon, but wanted to be sure that they had a safe space in which to participate.

Why not park their pickup truck on the square? they thought.

That would ensure social distancing and that they would have somewhere to sit.

So they parked right in the middle of the square in a prime position, and waited — only to find out the square was being blocked off to traffic anyway. Plenty of space for social distancing.

“Then they said, ‘Well, since it’s here, can you just flip [the back gate of the truck bed] down and we’ll use it as our podium?’” organizers asked them. “‘Yeah, sure.’”

And that’s how a pickup truck, painted from end-to-end with flowers and hearts — with the word “Aloha” across its back — became a focal point of the Sunday, June 14 vigil in downtown Ripon.

Jonathan and Lelani acknowledge that it’s bright, quirky, maybe a little silly — but hope that regardless whether people are laughing with them or at the truck, they’re smiling all the same.

“Two months ago, our church congregation, Ripon Congregational Church, wanted to make a parade, to visit people out of town, people that hadn’t been going around a lot,” Jonathan said, “so [we’d] make a car caravan and go around and honked horns [to greet these members].”

Participants were encouraged to make signs and decorate their vehicles in a cheery manner, he explained.

Lelani, Jonathan and sons Orion Bear and Memphis Fox went a step further.

They painted every inch of Jonathan’s pickup truck, from tip to tailgate.

The once “macho” pickup truck now is adorned with flowers and hearts, yellows and pinks.

Even the tires are decorated.

“We were trying to think of a message that was big enough that our churchgoers could see, and ‘Aloha’ means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and it just had so many more positive connotations than ‘hello,’ so, it just felt like more bang for your buck to say ‘Aloha,’” Lelani said.

It didn’t bother Jonathan one bit.

“I like colorful things, so it looks nicer to me,” he said with a grin, noting the theme “kind of [came to us] as we were painting it ... It was on the fly, whatever looked nice.”

Read the full column in the June 25, 2020 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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