Sandy Shoemaker wasn’t sure what she had gotten herself into by agreeing to take a man she did not know around to see Highland County barns. But she had read a group email from Vicki Knauff with the Highland County Historical Society, learned that someone was looking for barns to paint, and figured she would reach out.
“I noticed that nobody answered the email and I said, ‘You know what, I know a lot about barns in Highland County,’” said Shoemaker, who was raised on a Highland County farm and spent 27 years working for the local Farm Service Agency.
So Shoemaker gave Knauff a call and told her to give Robert Kroeger, the former Cincinnati area dentist interested in painting local barns, her phone number.
Before long Kroeger had an appointment to meet Shoemaker at her Grabill Road home.
Shoemaker said she still wasn’t sure what she’d got her self into, but when Kroeger pulled up in a Lexus, she felt a little better. Before long they were checking out barns all over the northern part of the county.
“He said, ‘I don’t want pretty barns, I want old ones that are almost falling down, ones that are a 100 years old or more,’ Shoemaker said. “The best thing he likes about a good barn is the story that goes with it.”
That made Shoemaker rethink where she’d take Kroeger, but that didn’t take long and, “We had a grand time and hit it off really well,” she said.
“The one thread that was common was that every barn we went to seemed to have a 4-H animal in it,” Shoemaker added. “No matter where we stopped, there was a connection to 4-H.”
That connection between barns Kroeger had long admired and 4-H, something he knew little about, piqued an interest. Not long thereafter, following an invitation from Sandy and her husband Tim Shoemaker, Kroeger attended his first Highland County Fair. It was there, while watching a goat show, that it dawned on him what he wanted to do with his paintings – help 4-H.
Last Saturday, five of the paintings Kroeger donated to the Highland County Extension Support Committee raised $1,700, a large portion of the $6,000-plus the committee raised during its annual fundraising dinner.
“As I mentioned when I addressed the audience, this wasn’t just about raising money; it helped preserve a lot of Ohio history and bring it to life – especially through your publishing my essays on the barns,” Kroeger said in an email to The Times-Gazette this week.
After Kroeger announced his interest in local barns, he contacted The Times-Gazette to see if it would be interested in publishing the essays he writes that go along with his paintings. It’s his way of preserving a piece of history he admires.
As part of a larger project, Kroeger has painted barns from all over the state. When he gets to 50, he hopes to publish a book containing the paintings and essays. He’d also like to help 4-H programs in other parts of the state.
But he’s not done with Highland County yet. Sandy Shoemaker said that just last Saturday she and Kroeger visited 12 more barns, mostly in the southern part of the county. He plans to paint and write about them, too, then sell some of the paintings to benefit the Highland County Historical Society. That’s because it was the historical society that put him in touch with Tim and Sandy Shoemaker.
“It would be a great fundraiser for us and we would certainly be appreciative,” historical society member Avery Applegate said.
She said that will likely take place sometime next summer.
Meanwhile, Jeff Parry, chairman of the Highland County Extension Support Committee who also owns a barn Kroeger painted, said the $6,000-plus the committee raised last weekend was more than it raised last year. He said the crowd was larger, too.
“The paintings definitely helped,” Parry said. “We were very excited and very appreciative or Mr. Kroeger’s generosity. For him not being from Highland County, he’s been really helpful, and I think the stories in The Times-Gazette helped, too.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.