ROUND LAKE -- Motorists driving past the Leonard Garms farm east of Round Lake have been greeted with the giant smiling face that has adorned the upper portion of the barn for nearly two decades.
It was Garms' dad, John, who constructed the two-story barn back in 1916 to house the family's work horses and milk cows. When Leonard took over the operation, he continued to milk cows, and then raise pigs in the traditional wooden barn.
Garms retired from farming in 1982, bringing an end to the sound of snorting pigs and clanging feeders in the barn. Today, it stands as a beacon on the farm site, and is home to a lone cat named Felix.
A few years after he retired, Garms decided to do a little something special with the barn. He wanted it to serve as a greeting to passers by. During a family reunion, his three children and grandchildren discussed ideas. It was his daughter, Lois Hurley, who developed the winning design of a smiling face.
"I always thought it was a good place to put a face, especially for the people who worked at Campbell's Soup and Sathers," Garms said. "They could go by and see the smiling face in the morning on their way to work."
It was Garms' way of telling them "Good morning."
Yet, over time, the warm summer sun and age have weathered the smile considerably. A fading smile simply wasn't acceptable for the barn's owner, however. At a spry 85, Garms wanted to see the barn -- and its smile -- preserved for at least another 20 years.
Over the weekend, he saw that wish become a reality. Four generations of the Garms family gathered Friday through Sunday for a reunion and old-fashioned barn painting. Adorned in green T-shirts and painter's caps, nearly a dozen family members took brushes to paint and slathered a fresh coat of paint to the barn and its smile.
"Last time we painted the face, the grandkids were too small to paint," Hurley said. "Now, this year, they're going to be up there painting and us older folks will be down here."
Hurley and her husband, Ed, came from Atlanta, Ga., to help with the barn painting. They were joined by her brothers, David Garms, of Fairfax, Va., and Daniel Garms of Round Lake, along with third and fourth generations of the Garms family. David's daughter, Diantha, traveled the farthest to take part in the event -- encompassing a two-day journey from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Planning for the barn painting and reunion began in January with Hurley consulting the Old Farmer's Almanac to see what weekend in May would be most conducive to painting. As it turned out, this past weekend was the only one that didn't have rain in the forecast.
"I think we've looked at it as fun," Hurley said of the barn painting. "Of course, it's hard work, but it's an opportunity to get everybody together."
"It's good to see the younger generation here and helping out," David Garms added.
Repainting the barn means more to Leonard Garms than just having a bright new smile to greet motorists.
"I want it restored and in good repair as long as I live," he said. "Most of the barns around here of that age are already gone."
Garms said the changes that have taken place in farming have changed the look on farmsteads. Traditional barns with a hayloft have been torn down to make way for metal confinement barns.
"Very few of them have much livestock anymore -- they have hog barns and just no cattle around this part of the country," he added.